Hume Road collapse leaves residents with no way out

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With fire season approaching, residents fear they may be trapped.

By Troy Dove/Special to The Malibu Times

Hume Road was the main artery in and out of the area for many local residents and with its recent collapse, residents fear they may have no escape in the event of a fire.

The residents in this area “are almost held captive by the weaknesses in various areas of the road system,” longtime Malibu resident David Kagon said. “Hume itself, that whole area, is unstable.”

With Hume rendered unusable, residents in the area now have to travel six miles up Rambla Pacifico, as opposed to one mile when Hume was operational, to gain access to Las Flores Canyon Road, which leads down the mountain to Pacific Coast Highway.

“The problem is, in a fire you’re going to have people up there going into the fire to get out of the canyon,” said City Councilmember Ken Kearsley. “That’s unacceptable.”

Typically, fires in this area come from the Valley, over the top of the mountain and toward the ocean.

With the Hume connection to Las Flores gone, residents would now have to drive on Rambla Pacifico toward the top of the mountain, and into the path of an oncoming fire to reach the nearest junction with Las Flores Canyon. A slide resulting from storms in the late ’70s and early ’80s closed access to Pacific Coast Highway from Rambla Pacifico.

“What we need is a temporary fire road in there,” Kearsley said. “You just can’t have people driving into [a] fire to get out of [a] fire. It’s a matter of life here.”

A 1993 fire, the Old Topanga Canyon firestorm, began in early November and burned for three days. Three people died, more than 300 homes were destroyed, more than 18,000 acres burned and more than $200 million in damages were caused by the 1993 fire.

“What we’re concerned about is a replay of that,” Kagon said.

The collapse of Hume Road not only presents a danger to local residents in the event of a fire, but also to injured people in the area in need of emergency medical attention.

“There’s already been an incident where one of our neighbors called 911,” Kagon said. “They [emergency response units] got lost and by the time they found their way up here, he’d almost passed away.”

A similar incident also occurred on Castlewood Road, said resident Dick Callahan who lives near the site of the Hume slide.

“The other day, a lady was riding her horse on our street, [Castlewood]” Callahan said. “She was thrown off the horse and they called 911 to get some emergency equipment out for her. An ambulance came, paramedics came and a fire engine came, and they all ended up in different places because they didn’t know how to get through.”

Kearsley said he plans to ask the City Council on Wednesday at its quarterly meeting to explore options on how to open a temporary fire road in the area before fire season begins.

“We’re looking at exploring the possibility of either going over the old [Rambla Pacifico] route,” Kearsley said, “or establishing a new right-of-way on private property to get a fire road in there.”

Kearsley added that the council would need to vote on any proposal before they can move ahead.

Some residents in the area suggested that the rupture of a nearby water main a few days prior to the fall of Hume might have hastened the slide.

“That’s not true,” said Ken Pellman, spokesperson for Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. “It was essentially just storm damage. The water main didn’t cause the sliding, the sliding was already going on.”

Pellman said prior to the fall of Hume, water works crews were in the area to raise the water main above ground as a preemptive measure, due to the developing slide problem.

“It was better to have it above ground than buried under ground at that time,” Pellman said. The water from the broken line “doesn’t compare to the amount of rainfall that area got” during the winter storms.

The county currently has preliminary plans to repair a portion of the collapsed roadway and to attempt to reconnect Hume to Briarbluff Drive.

“We’re going to present that [plan] to the community, along with a bunch of other things related to roads, and other things in that area at a community meeting,” Pellman said.

The meeting Pellman spoke of will take place Thursday, April 28 at 7 p.m. at Fire Camp 8.