Firefighters battling the blaze that shut down traffic this morning at 2nd and PCH. Photo by: Trevor Jolly
With the help of neighboring fire crews, the Long Beach Fire Department extinguished a blaze this morning that burned through the nearly 50 acre area of the Los Cerritos Wetlands and forced evacuations of the Marketplace shopping center at the corner of 2nd and Pacific Coast Highway.
The fire started at approximately 9:45AM in the wetlands east of Shopkeeper Road. When the initial crews arrived, the battalion chief on duty made the decision to evacuate the shops and the Seaport Marina Hotel knowing that with the windy conditions the flames were likely to travel in that direction. Embers carried by the wind across PCH ignited a few balconies and parts of the roof of the Sea Port Marina hotel which were eventually put out before any structural damage occurred.
“This is the biggest brush fire I’ve seen, personally, in Long Beach in 20 years,” said Deputy Chief Fire Marshall Rich Brandt.
East bound traffic on 2nd street was diverted to north on PCH as the street was closed in both directions. A fire command center was set up in the intersection of Shopkeeper Road, where the coalition of firefighters worked together to stop the fire from spreading. The dual-county response was part of the Master Mutual Aid assistance program that calls for neighboring cities and counties to collaborate in disaster type situations.
Onlookers watched as crews battled the unpredictable blaze on land and sea. Marine Safety Officers sprayed down ships docked in the marina as a preventative measure while some shop owners took matters into their own hands by watering down their properties with garden hoses. Trevor Jolly, a cyclist who watched the action unfold said that although there was a lot of smoke and flames, both the response and the evacuation never seemed to be out of control.
Crews spraying down vessels and palm trees ajacent to Seaport Marina Hotel. Photo by: Trevor Jolly
“The police were knocking on the doors very aggressively, making sure that nobody inside would miss them,” Jolly said of the hotel evacuation. “There were a lot of people who were just packing a bag and walking outside.”
Adding to the problems presented by the wind and the muddy terrain causing accessibility issues for firefighters, the wetlands are home to several active oil wells. Fire Chief Mike Duree said that was a focal point of the strategy in putting out the fire.
“The firefighters did make a concerted effort to set up defensive positions around the active oil wells,” Duree said. “None of those were impacted which is great. So no environmental catastrophes.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation but is not believed to be connected to the arrest of a person who tried to set fire to the Mobil gas station just a few hundred feet from the wetlands.
Shortly before noon the fire was deemed mostly contained and street traffic was starting to reopen but Duree said it would be several hours before they would consider it fully under control. Units will slowly be dispatched from the location but a smaller contingent of firefighters will remain behind to continue the clean up and putting out of spot fires that spark up from the smoldering ash. The windy conditions will dictate that crews work into the early evening to prevent any future fires originating from the remaining embers.
“It's got me concerned a little bit because all these little hot spots, on a breezy day like today, can send smoldering ash and sparks up to a mile ahead of the fire,” Duree said. “So we have to be really cautious in getting way out in front of it and making sure nothing gets going again.”