Catalina Island Fire Spares Port Town

May 12, 2007
Update, 2 p.m. -- The brush fire that began Thursday on Catalina Island has moved away from the resort town of Avalon, a Baja cruise port. At this time, no cruise lines have announced itinerary changes for next week; Carnival Paradise is scheduled to call on Tuesday, Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas on Wednesday. Catalina Express, a company that provides boat transportation to the island, expects to resume service for visitors on Monday (right now, only residents, officials and emergency personnel are being allowed back on the island).

(May 11) -- Catalina Island, the tropical resort island located 20 miles off the coast of southern California, burned overnight with flames lapping at the main town of Avalon -- a port of call for ships on Baja itineraries and repositioning cruises.

Both Carnival Paradise and Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas make weekly calls to Catalina, anchoring in Avalon's harbor. A spokeswoman for Carnival tells us the line is monitoring the situation but has not made any decisions in terms of itinerary changes; at this point we have not heard back from Royal Caribbean about the status of upcoming calls.

We'll continue to post updates as we receive them, so check back often.

The island's dry tropical climate contributed to the spread of the fire, which began in the hills above the town and quickly spread. Winds pushed it towards Avalon, which was evacuated overnight with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, ferry operators and private yacht owners. Equipment and personnel were dispatched from nearby Camp Pendleton Marine Base via hovercraft, which could reach the island within an hour.

An overnight cloud cover luckily added some cool humidity to the climate; the fire was contained before it was able to destroy the town. However, the fire is only 10 percent contained. Favorable weather conditions and the influx of personnel and equipment has kept the fire away from Avalon but it isn't out of danger yet.

The only developed island in the chain of Channel Islands, Santa Catalina comprises 76 square miles, most of which is governed by the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy to protect its amazing abundance of wildlife species including bald eagles, North American bison and the Catalina Island fox. The 3,200-resident port town is also a popular resort for southern Californians, who arrive by ferries and hydrofoils from the mainland.

Celebrity Mercury and Celebrity Summit, Holland America's Westerdam, and Golden Princess also visit Catalina Island, with port stops planned later in the fall as the ships reposition from Alaska; their operations should not be affected.

--by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic Contributor