Corral Canyon Call Firefighters Battled Woolsey Fire Without Fire Engine 271

In 2007, Malibu’s Matt Haines and some neighbors fought off a brush fire near his home using his own privately purchased fire equipment, and saved other homes as well. He was honored in 2008 with a Malibu Dolphin Award. With the county’s encouragement, Haines rallied nine other Corral Canyon residents to qualify to become Call Firefighters for Los Angeles County. 

Over the last decade, those Call Firefighters, who passed rigorous academy tests to become paid on-call firemen, have been training and working putting out small brush fires in Malibu. Haines was also instrumental in leading the Corral Canyon Fire Safety Alliance that helped secure the area’s auxiliary Fire Engine 271, which Haines pointed out is leased to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, even though it was community funded. It’s leased so the county can stock it with equipment, firefighters and be properly insured. It’s how the Call Firefighter Program stays official. 

The use of Engine 271 during the catastrophic Woolsey Fire is being called into question by some Corral Canyon residents who didn’t see it in their canyon as the disaster unfolded. Haines explained that local fire officials are aware that 271 is used for Corral Canyon jurisdiction; however, LACO Fire has the authority to redirect the engine where officials determine most useful.

According to Haines, Friday morning, Nov. 9, six Call Firefighters went to the top of Corral Canyon and saw the blaze. 

“The fire was headed to Kanan,” Haines acknowledged, adding, “We know fires have their own behavior. Corral could get it, but not any time soon.” The crew then started rallying residents and was dispatched to meet its mother engine at Fire Station 71. “At this point, Corral Canyon was not threatened,” Haines said. “We weren’t in the line of fire. It was heading west.”

At that point, a higher-ranking fire chief started making assignments as other resources joined. 

“We were about to put ourselves in service where we were needed,” Haines explained. Then a person of rank saw the Call Firefighter engine and told Haines, “Take all the Call Firefighters and your equipment off the engine. We’re going to staff it with full-timers,” Haines recalled.

Haines, along with other Call Firefighters, questioned the order, as they had been directed by Station 71’s captain to join 71 in a strike team. The ranking official made it clear the new order was to be followed. 

Haines says they were instructed to “go back to your community, protect it and do the best you can.” 

“We honored his direct command,” Haines said. 

The Call Firefighters then sped back to Corral, splitting to the Upper Bowl and El Nido. 

“They went into action. They staged on different streets,” Haines pointed out. “They were extremely effective. We had hoses on homes the entire time the fire came through.” No homes were lost in El Nido, even though the fire burned on all sides. A dozen neighbors stayed and fought as well. Two homes on a nearby ridge without access were lost, though. “There were sporadic resources up there. This went on for hours,” Haines described.

The upper bowl area got a Phos-check drop (a chemical retardant drop from a helicopter) that protected a number of homes, but 17 were lost after the fire breached the canyon. 

“In that time, the incident commander had been requesting a strike team over a dozen times during the course of the fire, but there were no resources available due to the Woolsey Fire enormity,” Haines explained.

In the time since the fire’s containment, some in the community have spoken out against the call to redirect the neighborhood’s engine.

“Battalion 5 never would have made that call,” Haines said of 271’s diverting. “It came from an official unfamiliar with the Call Firefighter program. 

“The main point is the Call Firefighters performed extremely well,” Haines said. “They protected a lot of houses. Since we spread ourselves out with hoses throughout the two subdivisions, we saved a lot more houses than we would have had we been on that engine. We were more effective with boots on the ground. 

“Some people told me who saw it, ‘This is the best thing that happened,’” he continued. “‘You guys on the ground directing us with hoses.’ We were more effective—six guys—with community members who chose to stay behind than we would have been had we been driving around together on an engine protecting several houses. We protected many more houses. 

“This Call Firefighter program didn’t fail,” Haines added. “The county spent thousands and thousands of dollars training us and giving us equipment. Yeah, we didn’t have the engine. So what? That was a small part of the puzzle. We had everything else we worked and trained for. We used it. We changed to Plan B, but we became more effective than our original plan.”

Haines, along with other local firefighters, worked putting out the Woolsey Fire for five 16-hour days.

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