I have lived in Malibu for 35 years. My wife was born and raised here. We currently live in the back of Serra Retreat. My wife was raised to stay and defend her home, which we have done on a number of occasions. Evacuating has never been an option. It has always been our belief that if you have the proper equipment (fires hoses, generator, water tank) to fend off the fires and you have what I call a “safe area,” you are better off staying.
The Woolsey Fire was devastating and has raised many issues for all of us that call Malibu home. This is the first fire I can remember that had an overwhelming lack of support from the multiple agencies that provide support during fire storms. I am not certain whether this was the result of the resources directed to the Paradise Fire or just the scope of this fire. I am certain that the authorities did all they could to bring every resource available to Malibu. But it was not enough.
I am sure the “mandatory” evacuation orders are the best course of action for most and I have no issue as to how and when they were issued. However, I have talked to friends all over Malibu that opted to stay with their house rather than evacuate. In almost every case, they were able to save their house only to watch their neighbors’ houses burn to the ground because they did not have support from the fire department. In years past, it seemed the fire department had trucks at every house. This year was different and I am certain that is why we lost so many houses.
In addition to the lack of fire trucks, what was also frustrating was what happened after. I have talked to a number of friends that live east of Carbon Mesa. Why it took five (5) days to lift the evacuation orders for these people I do not know. What worries me is that the frustration experienced by many will make them question if and when they want to heed the advice of the city to evacuate the next time we have a fire.
I do not know why this fire was any different than those in the past, but law enforcement put officers in the front and back of Serra Retreat. They advised us that if we left, we would not be allowed back in. In two cases, I advised them that I was out of food and that I just wanted to cross the highway to go to Ralphs. In both cases they told me I could not do so. They also said I would be arrested if I left and tried to gain re-entry. I also had a friend of my son (a longtime Pt. Dume resident) who stayed with me for three nights to help us feed our horses and to provide additional support if the fire approached our house. When he left our home, he was detained while leaving Serra Retreat. He was handcuffed by the Sheriff’s Department and his phone was confiscated as well as his wallet and other personal property. Fortunately, I was able to drive down to where they detained him. I asked them why they detained him and they stated “he was wearing a mask”. Yes, a surgical mask. Makes sense to me. In any event, they finally agreed to release him.
Stay or go—I am staying.
Peter W. London