Beginning on Thursday, Jan. 14, and lasting throughout the entire Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend, Malibu was under a Red Flag warning issued by the National Weather Service, meaning the city experienced high winds, low humidity and high temperatures—all of which add up to increased fire danger.
That Red Flag warning was still in effect by midday Tuesday, Jan. 19, and forecasted to last until at least 10 p.m. The National Weather Service predicted winds gusting at up to 65 miles per hour on the coast on Tuesday.
Online, the City of Malibu described the winds that happened on Monday evening as the “strongest and most widespread Santa Ana event so far this season” and said the situation was “the most critical fire conditions in Southern California since October 2019.”
City of Malibu spokespeople also wrote the LA County Fire Department had amped up staffing and “pre-identified” resources “for strike team mobility based upon need,” in response to the forecast. The city also said it was coordinating with agencies such as the sheriff’s department and Caltrans to monitor the conditions and send out alerts as needed. It also said the Public Works Department was “patrolling city streets and canyons for downed power lines, tree branches and road hazards, and clearing debris from roadways.” Trancas and Charmlee Park were closed.
There were also six fires over the course of the weekend, though none spread into a major blaze. Thursday saw a brush fire around 5 p.m. near Olsen Road, another brush fire at Heathercliff Road on Point Dume around 10 p.m. and a half-acre fire at PCH and Corral Canyon minutes later. Then, on Sunday around 4 a.m., there was a fatal brush fire on Rambla Pacifico, for which residents were put on evacuation alert but never evacuated; there was a structure fire an hour later at Bayshore Drive. Lastly, LASD Lost Hills Station reported a stove fire at the 22800 block of PCH on Sunday evening. That stove fire resulted in traffic delays late at night on PCH, with the eastbound lanes blocked during the emergency.
Though Southern California Edison (SCE) issued a warning early Thursday, Jan. 14, that it may shut off power to the Cuthbert Circuit—the electrical network that covers most of Point Dume from Westward Beach Road east to Latigo—as a fire safety precaution, The Malibu Times heard no reports of power shutoffs in Malibu as of mid-afternoon on Tuesday.
SCE’s Public Safety Power Shutdowns (PSPS) are not without controversy. Cutting power to thousands of residents, some of whom need wifi to attend school, others of whom are elderly or ill-prepared to go without power for long stretches of time, has garnered the PSPS program criticism in the past—sometimes from Malibu’s own city council members. At a city council meeting in late 2020, Karen Farrer spoke sternly to an SCE representative, saying her power stayed cut for hours after the winds died down. The program was instituted in 2018 with the intention of avoiding powerline-sparked fires, after the power company was blamed for major fires including the massively destructive 2017 Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Despite the PSPS program, SCE was also found responsible for the 2018 Woolsey Fire.