Fire Code May Block Rebuilds in Woolsey Wake

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby

Of all the questions that remain in the wake of the Woolsey Fire, perhaps the most pressing relate to how the rebuilding of hundreds of Malibu homes will take place—and in some instances, if rebuilding will be possible at all.

The issue first came up while the fire was still officially burning—during the very first emergency city council meeting on Nov. 20. 

At the time, City Attorney Christi Hogin seemed to suggest there was a possibility of current fire codes being compromised to allow for rebuilds that might not be up to modern code—especially when it comes to issues such as clearances, driveways and turnarounds. Some modern requirements may be too stringent for rebuilding to be possible on existing lots. 

“We’re working with the fire department to determine [what new rules will be enforced]. Sprinklers will probably be [mandatory],” Hogin said at the time.

According to quotes made Monday by Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby, speaking to a reporter from local radio station KBUU News, new rebuilds will have to conform to all county fire codes—no matter if that is feasible or not.

“Based on past experience, and I have been doing this for several decades—rebuilding in some communities is going to be tough. They are going to have to meet current code—that means water and access,” Osby said. “You know, some people may not be able to meet that code because it is going require certain driveway widths and access to their home—or certain gallons per minute as it relates to the fire flow to their house.

“They are going to have upgraded building features which are going to be costly,” the chief continued. “And then we are going to have conversations about some of the footprints that people build—are they really safe footprints to rebuild in?”

When asked by the KBUU reporter whether that meant Malibu residents who lost homes would not be able to rebuild, Osby suggested that would likely be the case.

“I can’t speak the houses right now in Malibu, but I can speak from past experiences—there have been situations where people have been unable to build,” Osby said.

That situation could prove catastrophic for some of those who lost their homes.

Some who spoke during the Monday, Dec. 10, Malibu City Council meeting suggested updating homes to be more fire resistant was necessary in the face of modern wildfires.

“We don’t want to build them back exactly the way they were. We want them to be fire resistant this time,” developer Norm Haynie suggested. 

New Council Member Mikke Pierson, a former planning commissioner, also said homes should be designed to be more fire resistant. 

“Part of my answer is we need to build homes that can defend themselves, more than our homes do now,” Pierson said, later adding, “This doesn’t mean your home can’t burn down, but it helps.”

KBUU News reporter Hans Laetz contributed to this report.