Wildfire Engulfs Malibu: Hundreds of Homes Lost, Thousands Remain Evacuated

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A yacht carrying supplies arrives to the Paradise Cove Pier Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 14, 2018.

Hundreds of thousands of residents in Ventura and Los Angeles counties were affected by the devastation caused by the Woolsey and Hill fires, which started Thursday afternoon, Nov. 8 and continued to burn over the long Veterans Day Weekend.

The Woolsey Fire, which continues to affect a major portion of that area, was at 98,362 acres with 62 percent containment at press time Thursday, Nov. 15. The LA County Fire Department confirmed an estimated 504 structures were destroyed, and another 96 were damaged. There have been three civilian fatalities so far and three firefighter injuries. Only about 53 percent of the burn area had been assessed.

Parts of Eastern Malibu were opened to residents starting Tuesday, Nov. 13; western Malibu was still under mandatory evacuation.

The Hill Fire grew to 4,531 acres and was at 99 percent containment as of 6:50 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15. A total of two buildings were destroyed, and another two were injured.

Below is our record of events, as posted to The Malibu Times website.

[FRIDAY, Nov. 9, 12:25 a.m.] Firefighters were battling two fast-moving wildfires in areas just outside Malibu throughout the evening and into the night Thursday, Nov. 8.

As of 12:25 a.m. Friday there was no direct threat to Malibu, with no evacuation orders in place anywhere in the city.

Called the Woolsey Fire, a brush fire that began in Simi Valley grew to thousands of acres, enveloping the Bell Canyon area and causing mandatory evacuations north of the Ventura (101) Freeway between Valley Circle Drive and Lindero Canyon on Thursday evening. That evacuation zone grew to include Oak Park late Thursday—Oak Park High School had been used as an evacuation shelter before the fire began moving in that direction. Structures were reported burning in the blaze, though exact locations were not made available. Close to midnight, the mandatory evacuation zone had grown to include areas of Thousand Oaks from Thousand Oaks Boulevard north to Sunset Hills, from Oak Park west to Highway 23.

Voluntary evacuations were in place for all residents of Calabasas and Agoura Hills.

The other nearby fire began just after 2 p.m. in the Santa Rosa Valley. Called the Hill Fire, it started off Hill Road but by 2:15 had jumped the 101 Freeway and began rapidly moving across the Conejo Grade in Ventura County. As of midnight Friday morning, the fire covered several thousand acres, causing mandatory evacuations all along Pacific Coast Highway to the Ventura/LA county line—such as the area around Neptune’s Net, Sycamore Canyon Park, Point Mugu State Park and Naval Base Ventura Point Mugu. The fire caused the evacuation of California State University—Channel Islands and the Camarillo Springs neighborhood and burned several structures. The 101 Freeway remained closed overnight Thursday into Friday.

Due to the fires, school was cancelled for students across Ventura County for Friday.

Malibu schools were planning to remain open for a normal Friday schedule as of a notice sent to local media around 9:30 p.m. Thursday, though officials were monitoring conditions.

Red Flag conditions—low humidity and high wind—were in place throughout the region Thursday and expected to remain well into Friday. Power circuits in Western Malibu were being monitored for possible power shut-offs by Southern California Edison.

[1:25 a.m.]  Anyone located south of the 101 Freeway between Westlake Boulevard to the east, Las Virgenes Road to the west and Mulholland to the south is being asked to evacuate immediately, according to Malibu Search and Rescue.

[2:23 a.m.]  Power has been knocked out to an estimated 2,118 Southern California Edison customers in the Big Rock area of Malibu (the far eastern area of the city). According to the SCE Outage Map on its website, “Fire” is listed as the reason for the outage. Power was expected to be restored by 6 p.m. Friday.

[3:30 a.m.]  Fears remained the fire could jump the Ventura (101) Freeway, prompting a large area of mandatory evacuations between the 101 and Mulholland Highway. 

No areas of Malibu were under voluntary or mandatory evacuation as of 3:30 a.m.

Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station shared an image of the fire taken from outside the station, located on Agoura Road. 

[3:45 a.m.]  The City of Calabasas reported MUSE School and Viewpoint School would not be holding classes on Friday. Joining them on the list of school closures are the following Ventura County districts, according to the Ventura County Star:

* Conejo Valley Unified School District 

* Hueneme Elementary School District 

* Las Virgenes Unified School District 

* Mesa Union School District 

* Oak Park Unified School District 

* Oxnard Elementary School District 

* Oxnard Union High School District 

* Pleasant Valley School District 

* Rio School District 

* Simi Valley Unified School District 

* Somis Union School District   

As of 9:43 p.m. on Thursday, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District spokesperson Gail Pinsker said Malibu public schools would be open with normal Friday schedules. News media has not been informed of any changes. 

[4:23 a.m.]  Multiple sources have reported Pierce College—the place commonly used for large animal evacuations in Malibu and surrounding communities—is now full. Anyone evacuating a large animal should take it to Hansen Dam, located at 11770 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace, CA 91342.

The Ventura (101) Freeway was reopened heading northbound to allow for evacuations into west Ventura County, according to California Highway Patrol spokespeople in Moorpark. Southbound 101 was to remain closed.

[4:38 a.m.]  Dry, windy conditions were expected to continue into Friday, according to a NWS tweet. A Red Flag Warning was in effect in Malibu from 10 a.m. Thursday, expected to last through 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9.

[4:45 a.m.]  Pepperdine University has cancelled classes and closed both its Malibu and Calabasas campuses for Friday due to wildfires.

[4:50 a.m.]  Malibu schools will be closed Friday, according to information shared by the school district. 

[5:04 a.m.]  At last update around 4 a.m., 75,000 homes were under evacuation orders due to the Woolsey Fire in Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Oak Park, Agoura Hills and Calabasas. It was unknown how many structures were destroyed—Ventura County Fire Department simply listed “many”—but unconfirmed estimates (via KBU News) have put the numbers in the hundreds. The fire was zero percent contained and was being fought by a combined 400 firefighters under a unified command of VCFD, LACoFD, LAFD, LASD, LAPD and Cal Fire. 

[5:12 a.m.]  Unconfirmed reports stated the fire jumped the 101 Freeway at Chesebro.

[5:14 a.m.]  Emergency personnel confirm the fire has jumped the 101 Freeway heading south.

[5:40 a.m.]  The Ventura Freeway is fully closed in the area where the flames jumped across, between Reyes Adobe Road and Valley Circle Drive, according to sigalert.com.

The City of Malibu sent an alert at 5:41 notifying residents it was monitoring the Woolsey Fire.

[6:30 a.m.]  Malibu Search and Rescue issued an evacuation for residents of the Malibu area from Liberty Canyon west to Decker Canyon and south to Pacific Coast Highway. 

The City of Malibu is not confirming the evacuations, pending confirmation from the fire department. 

[6:58 a.m.]  A mandatory evacuation has been called for all of Malibu between Malibu Canyon Road and Ventura County line. All areas south of the 101, to the ocean, per City of Malibu.

Residents, pack up and leave. Do not delay.

[7:23 a.m.]  Evacuations are in place for all of Malibu west of Malibu Canyon/Las Virgenes, due to the Woolsey Fire, currently burning at between 8-10,000 acres and threatening about 75,000 structures in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

Anyone with large animals such as horses should evacuate them immediately. Take them to the Zuma Beach Parking Lot, which is being set up to handle animals, or Hansen Dam, located at 11770 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace, Calif. Pierce College is full. 

Lane closures and heavy traffic remain in effect on the 101 Freeway. An alert from the City of Malibu says a traffic signal is out at PCH and Coastline Drive, so delays are to be expected. 

SMMUSD spokesperson Gail Pinsker said “our Malibu preschools and before and after school programs are closed.” The Boys & Girls Club of Malibu will also remain closed. (All Malibu schools in the district are closed, as announced earlier today.)

Pepperdine students, faculty and staff at the Malibu campus must head to their designated shelter-in-place. Residents of on-campus apartments, Seaside and Drescher should head to Firestone Fieldhouse. Anyone with pets/service animals should head there as well. People residing at all residence halls, Towers, Baxter Drive and Tiner Court should head to Tyler Campus Center. For more details, visit emergency.pepperdine.edu.

For off-campus Pepperdine community, spokesperson Alex Forero said they are advised to follow the directives of their local law enforcement agency/fire department. Do not drive unnecessarily in the canyons. 

American Red Cross has notified the City that the nearest evacuation center for residents of Malibu is at Palisades High School, located at 15777 Bowdoin St, Pacific Palisades, per LASD.

[10:09 a.m.]  Mandatory evacuations are now in place for all of Malibu, including unincorporated areas. All residents, from Ventura County Line to the area of the Getty Villa and the 101 Freeway to the ocean, must evacuate as soon as possible. Take PCH. 

[12 p.m.]  Western Town at Paramount Ranch was a victim of the Woolsey Fire, according to information provided by Santa Monica Mountains officials. 

The fire continued to make its way into Malibu, with few specific details available. Evacuations were ongoing and remain mandatory citywide. 

Approximately 7,276 customers were without power in Malibu around noon Friday due to the Woolsey Fire, high winds and possibly other factors. That number grows to 11,000 if you include areas of unincorporated Malibu and Topanga—per the SCE outage map. 

[12:20 p.m.]  PCH was closed heading west (north) beginning at Webb Way and going all the way to the Ventura County Line. All PCH traffic is being directed east, toward Santa Monica. Residents continue to evacuate. Fire is impacting or soon will be impacting several Malibu neighborhoods in the western part of the city.

Power is out in Tuna Canyon, Civic Center and Malibu West.

Equestrian evacuation is available at Rolling Hills Estate Stables and Will Rogers State Beach.

The fire is now approximately 14,000 acres with zero containment.

The 101 Freeway remains closed in both directions through Agoura Hills and Calabasas.

All information from the City of Malibu. 

[12:27 p.m.]  “Fire is burning out of control, heading into populated areas of Malibu. All residents evacuate now.” – Emergency message from City of Malibu/LASD.

[2:22 p.m.]  Topanga Canyon is under mandatory evacuation. Zones 1-6 are to evacuate north toward the San Fernando Valley. Zones 7-9 are to evacuate south toward PCH.

[3 p.m.]  Campus Kilpatrick, a juvenile justice facility located in Malibu off Encinal Canyon, north of Zuma Ridge, is being evacuated, according to LA County Sheriff’s officials. Residents and staff from the facility were being moved to Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster. Campus Kilpatrick, formerly Camp Kilpatrick, had been torn down in 2014 and reopened in June 2017 as a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. All youth were accounted for, LASD said. The facility was designed to house up to 80 residents, but it’s not clear how many were living there on Friday.

Elsewhere in Malibu, there were unconfirmed descriptions of homes and structures burning in the area of Malibu Park, Morning View Drive and along Pacific Coast Highway near Kanan Dume Road. No officials have vouched for the validity of these reports.

[3:24 p.m.]  The school district is now aware of flames affecting Malibu High School, but is unsure as to the “extent of any damage.”

A video originally shared onto the 99.1 KBUU page appears to show part of MHS engulfed in flame. (It is not clear who took the video.)

“The district has convened its emergency operations center since this started last night and we’ve been monitoring the situation,” district spokesperson Pinsker said in a phone call with The Malibu Times

The emergency operations group, which includes Malibu school principals, facilities management and others, will meet at 4 p.m. today to discuss next steps. 

[5:05 p.m.]  SMMUSD spokesperson Pinsker could not confirm the extent of fire damage at Malibu High School or whether other schools in the community were affected. 

“We do not have information right now on the status of any of our schools,” she said. (District personnel have been prohibited from entering the area due to fire danger.)

Pinsker said the district anticipates keeping the schools closed at least until Wednesday, Nov. 14; the schools were already planned to be closed on Monday due to Veterans’ Day.

When the fire dies down, SMMUSD personnel plan to enter the school facilities to clear out smoke, change filters, check air quality and more to make sure the schools are safe and accessible.

[6:24 p.m.]  The Woolsey Fire continues to burn, with estimates at 35,000 acres and steadily growing. So far, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services said it “has issued evacuations to more than 95,000 people” in the last 24 plus hours.

At this point, there is zero percent containment.

The NWS said the next Santa Ana winds, as predicted earlier this week, would bring “continued critical Red Flag conditions” to the Los Angeles and Ventura counties from Sunday through Tuesday. The gusts are expected to reach 40-50 m.p.h.

Meanwhile, SCE said “there is no Public Safety Power Shutoff in the Malibu area” online. It attributed the power outages to current weather conditions.

The County of Los Angeles Public Health department has issued a smoke advisory for west San Fernando Valley and northwest coastal LA County.

“It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask everyone to be aware of their immediate environment and to take actions to safeguard their health,” LA County Health Officer Muntu Davis, MD, MPH, said. “Smoke and ash can be harmful to health, even people who are healthy.”

According to California State Parks, Leo Carrillo and Point Mugu State Parks, and Malibu Creek State Park are closed due to the Hill and Woolsey Fires, respectively.

[7:57 p.m.]  The LA County Fire Department confirmed a “very significant number of homes in the operational area [were] damaged or destroyed by fire.” 

The fire is burning at around 35,000 acres and is zero percent contained. An estimated 200,000 plus residents have been evacuated overall. 

For animal shelters: Hansen Dam Equestrian Center and Pierce College are no longer accepting large animals, as they are at capacity. Owners can take their large animals to the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, located at 2551 W. Ave H., Lancaster, Calif.

[8:45 p.m.]  The California Wildlife Center, located on Piuma Road in Calabasas, has relocated its animals to an alternate site in a “safe location,” according to a social media post. 

The status of its buildings in Calabasas is currently unknown.

[10:44 p.m.]  There are unconfirmed reports of two bodies found in the Malibu burn area. 

“We haven’t been able to confirm there’s any deaths related to the fire,” LA County Sheriff’s Department Detective More said. 

A representative with the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station was also unaware of any deaths.

As for the burn area, Malibu resident Mikke Pierson, who was fighting the flames with his son, Emmet, said Point Dume was in flames and that “most houses [were] on fire” at Wandermere Road.

California State Parks spokesperson Gloria Sandoval said “significant acreage has burned at Malibu Creek State Park, as well as some at Pt Mugu and Leo Carillo state parks. We are still assessing damage to structures.”

[11:20 p.m.]  Two bodies have been found in the Malibu burn area, as confirmed by Lt. Nani Cholakians with the LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner.

The deaths may be “possibly related to the fire,” she said in a phone call with The Malibu Times

“We can’t confirm any other information until the sheriff’s department is ready for us,” she said, referring to sending coroner’s personnel to the scene. 

•••

[SATURDAY, Nov. 10, 2:11 a.m.]  The LA County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau is investigating two bodies, which were discovered at approx. 4:43 p.m.

A LASD alert confirmed the bodies were found in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway. Homicide detectives will respond to the scene closer to sunrise due to hazards from the Woolsey Fire.

The deaths were first reported late last night, Nov. 9, when a spokesperson for the LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner confirmed the incident.

It is still not clear whether the deaths were caused by the fire.

[4:56 a.m.]  Fire has reached Pepperdine’s Malibu campus, where about 3,500 students and staff are sheltering in place, according to statements made by Pepperdine University President Andrew K. Benton. 

As of 4:56 a.m., sheriff’s watch Sgt. Patton confirmed Pepperdine was remaining under a “shelter in place” strategy. Eyewitness videos posted online between 4:15 and 5 a.m. appeared to show helicopters dropping water onto fires on campus.

Benton addressed a gathering of students sheltering in the Waves Cafe at around 11:40 p.m. Friday night, in a video released by a Pepperdine journalism student. In the statement, Benton described sheriff’s deputies arriving on campus, “with instruction but without authority,” attempting to evacuate students—in a direct contradiction of Pepperdine’s shelter-in-place strategy. 

“We’re not getting good communication from central command,” Benton said, later adding, “I’m very irritated that [the] fire [department] did not anticipate this, did not get assets here, did not realize we were going to have 3,500 people on this campus.” Benton told students the miscommunication with the fire department “frightened some of your brothers and sisters out onto the roadways and I don’t know where they are.”

[5 p.m.]  “Our city was hit very, very hard. Our 21-mile city is under mandatory evacuation, and the reason for that is that it is mandatory. We lost dozens and dozens of homes, and it would have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for these wonderful first responders,” Malibu City Council Member Lou La Monte said during a press conference Saturday. “The wind is coming back tomorrow and mandatory evacuation means exactly that. So, please stay away from your homes until it is safe for you to go back.”

Information was slowly emerging Saturday, Nov. 10, about the state of Malibu’s neighborhoods and businesses following devastation due to the Woolsey Fire. There was reported five percent containment of the Woolsey Fire, with a burn area of at least 70,000 acres, by 5 p.m. Saturday, according to the LA County Fire Department.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau officials were investigating two deaths that occurred during the fire. In an alert, LASD confirmed bodies were found in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway at approximately 4:43 p.m. Friday. It was not clear whether the deaths were a direct result of the fire and no further identification was made available.

By 4:30 p.m. Saturday, a full evacuation of Malibu and unincorporated areas around the city remained in effect. Pacific Coast Highway remained closed in both directions from Ventura County Line to Malibu’s eastern border, as hundreds of first responders worked to douse spot fires and workers from SCE began the task of cleaning up the downed power poles and lines throughout the city.

Winds died down during the day Saturday, but Santa Ana winds were expected to pick up, worsening fire danger into Sunday.

Over the course of the day Saturday, The Malibu Times was able to confirm a (partial) list of structures that survived the fire (as of 5 p.m.).

Several neighborhoods were hit very hard by the fire, which worked its way from Calabasas across Malibu Creek State Park and down many of Malibu’s western canyons. Especially noted was the Malibu Park neighborhood, which resident Rick Wallace said suffered losses of dozens of homes. Fire moved throughout the afternoon and well into the night Friday, taking out an unknown number of homes in the Malibu Park, Malibu West, Trancas, Kanan, Point Dume and Encinal neighborhoods, among others.

Pepperdine University—where students and faculty were instructed to shelter in place, per long-established university protocol—survived the fire bearing down on it throughout the night, thanks to water drops from helicopters that went on throughout the night and into the morning. There was controversy overnight regarding the policy.

Malibu Times classifieds advertising director and office manager Teresa Gelbman was in Malibu Saturday and described the damage she saw.

“It’s smoky as hell out there,” Gelbman described on Saturday afternoon. “The power poles that I saw on PCH—some of them were burnt in half and the top part was hanging. Some of them were still burning, and I saw one by Zuma [Beach] that was listing over into the street, but it hadn’t fallen over.”

“From what I could see—because you can’t see a lot from PCH—you actually have to go up the streets to see them—just from what I could see from the street, it looked pretty bad. It looks pretty bad,” Gelbman described. “It looked like—I don’t even know. It just looks bad. I haven’t seen anything like it in a really long time, that’s for sure. Usually, you get like one, or two, or three [homes burned], but to have whole blocks of houses wiped out, or neighborhoods gone—I wasn’t here for the La Costa fire, but it’s kind of reminiscent of that, I think.”

Gelbman also had a chance to speak to some of the firefighters still on scene.

“The fire guys that I talked to—they said it was overwhelming,” Gelbman said. “They had so many things happening all at once.”

[5:58 p.m.]  LASD confirmed the two bodies discovered on Friday, Nov. 9, “were found severely burned inside of a stopped vehicle located in a long narrow driveway.”

As previously stated, the incident took place in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway, around 4:43 p.m.

[8:28 p.m.]  The Ventura County Fire Department announced mandatory evacuations were lifted for certain areas of Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Long Canyon, Wood Ranch, Bridal Path and Erbes Road at 8:27 p.m. Saturday.

Evacuations have NOT been lifted for the Malibu area. 

Caltrans confirmed the 101 Freeway is still closed in both directions, from Reyes Adobe Road to Valley Circle Boulevard. Topanga Canyon Boulevard is closed from Mulholland Drive to PCH. Westbound PCH is closed at Sunset Boulevard, while eastbound PCH is closed at Las Posas Road. 

[8:59 p.m.]  The Woolsey Fire has grown to 83,275 acres, with five percent containment, according to CAL FIRE. 

The state department expects to have the fire contained by Thursday, Nov. 15, per an incident update generated at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10. 

It is classified as a vegetation fire, though the exact cause has not yet been determined.

As of now, 177 structures have been destroyed by the fire, and another two damaged; 57,000 structures are threatened.

••• 

[SUNDAY, Nov. 11, 5:45 a.m.]  On Sunday, the mandatory evacuation order for all of Malibu remained in effect. Much of the city was without electricity, internet, cell service and access to water. Pacific Coast Highway remained closed in both directions between Pleasant Valley Road in Oxnard and Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Threats remained to life and structures.

Santa Ana winds, which calmed Saturday, picked up Sunday morning, increasing the risk the Woolsey and Hill fires could continue to spread beyond their current footprints. 

State Senator Henry Stern’s office announced the senator will hold a community meeting on Sunday evening at 5 p.m. at Taft High School, which has been functioning as an evacuation center for fire victims. It is located at 5461 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills.

“Senator Stern, who represents the communities affected by the fires, is convening this discussion to give residents the chance to ask questions and learn directly from the officials managing the response to the Woolsey and Hill Fires,” according to a press release.

The City of Malibu cancelled all community events on its calendar for Sunday—and likely for the near future. That includes cancellation of the annual Veterans Day Ceremony, which was set to take place Sunday morning at Malibu City Hall. 

 

[TUESDAY, Nov. 13, 6:24 p.m.]  The LA County Fire Department, LA County Sheriff’s and City of Malibu are hosting a Malibu Evacuee Update Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall.

The meeting will provide “the most up-to-date information about the Woolsey Fire in Malibu,” and all Malibu evacuees are invited to attend. Free parking will be available at the Santa Monica Civic Center parking facilities, 330 Olympic Drive, Santa Monica.

Those unable to attend may watch a live stream of the meeting.

The meeting will include comments from Los Angeles County Fire Department, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), Los Angeles County Sheriff Department (LASD), major utilities, City of Malibu, state and local elected officials, according to information provided by the city.

Some of those evacuated from the Woolsey Fire attended a community meeting held at Taft High School (hosted by State Senator Henry Stern) on Sunday. That meeting became tense after Malibu residents questioned the validity of Pepperdine’s Shelter-In-Place policy, and demanded more information on the status of their homes.

 

[WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14, 9:38 a.m.]  A third body has been found in the burn area of the Woolsey Fire.

The remains were found in the 32000 block of Lobo Canyon Road in Agoura Hills and remained unidentified as of Wednesday morning, as investigators from the LA County coroner’s office were en route to the scene.

Sheriff’s and coroner’s officials could not confirm if the fatality was a victim of the fire, which burned through parts of eastern Ventura and northern Los Angeles counties on Thursday and Friday of last week. If the victim was found to have died in the fire, that would raise the Woolsey Fire’s death toll to three. 

As of Wednesday, the Woolsey Fire had burned 97,620 and destroyed an estimated 483 structures.