Fire and Rain Spell Trouble for Parks in the Santa Monica Mountains Area

Fog rolls in at Malibu Creek State Park

Nearly 100,000 acres of land burned in the Woolsey Fire, including a staggering 88 percent—or 20,839 out of 23,621 acres—of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). 

Most of Western Town at Paramount Ranch was destroyed as well as the 1926 Peter Strauss Ranch house, the Arroyo Sequit and Rocky Oaks ranger residences, an archives/museum building and most of the UCLA La Kretz Field Station.

Other park partners—California State Parks, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy—also sustained significant damage to their structures and land.

Western Town at Paramount Ranch, which featured a Western “main street” and buildings showcased in decades of movies and TV shows, is gone; only the train station and a church built for HBO’s “Westworld” remain.

SMMNRA Superintendent David Szymanski announced plans to rebuild the town by December 2020 through a fundraising campaign led by the nonprofit Santa Monica Mountains Fund.

The new town will not be an exact replica of the one that burned. According to Szymanski’s recent interview with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the NPS is working with film industry professionals to give the buildings movable walls to allow for better camera angles, more fire resistant construction, and improved amenities for film crews, tourists and special events.

In addition to the Strauss house, the Harry Miller House was also significantly damaged. However, the amphitheater at that location survived the fire and NPS will continue hosting its Tiny Porch Summer Concert Series as well as other special events there.

California State Parks in the Santa Monica Mountains also suffered the loss of acreage and a number of structures. At Leo Carrillo State Park, only the beach is open. The Woolsey Fire burned through the campground and several structures, including the visitor center, sector office, employee residences, three lifeguard towers, Leo Shop structures, the Junior Lifeguard complex and several restrooms.

State Parks Superintendent Craig Sap said in a phone interview with The Malibu Times the government agency hopes to have the campground open by the end of May, and that staff members have been working hard to remove debris, get the power and communications systems working, and put down new asphalt in some areas.  

“So much debris came down the creeks during the heavy rains and got stuck under the bridges,” he said, “in some cases affecting vehicle access.” The campgrounds at Thornhill Broome/ Sycamore Canyon and Malibu Creek State Park are also still undergoing some repairs, including repaving, shower water lines and general clean-up.

Malibu Creek State Park campground is still closed, although trails and day-use areas are open to the public. Most of the structures there burned, including employee residences, the historic Sepulveda Adobe, Red House, Hope Ranch (a.k.a. White Oak Farm, which housed historic Adamson rowboats) and the former Reagan Ranch.

A statement released by NPS explained that even though fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, “Too much fire can harm plant communities, reduce wildlife habitat and actually increase future fire risk.” Over the millennia, scientists estimate that coastal Southern California only had a fire about every 100 years—having fires every 20 years “isn’t natural.”

These too-frequent fires cause invasive weeds and grasses to establish themselves, which burn even faster than native vegetation, per NPS. 

For example, most have noticed the spectacular explosion of the yellow-flowered mustard plants covering many of the local hillsides after the winter’s heavy rains. The plant is actually an invasive, nonnative species called Brassica nigra. It begins growing early and crowds out native plants.

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, “The [mustard] tends to dry up by July or August, and along with invasive European grasses, serves as kindling during wildfire season.”

But it’s the dried weeds in combination with Santa Ana winds that worries authorities. The National Interagency Fire Center’s latest outlook predicts a busier wildfire season for Southern California because of the heavy grass crop.

In the meantime, park scientists “are closely monitoring over 400 areas with sensitive habitats to make sure invasive species aren’t spreading,” Algiers said. Some burned areas are being restored with native plants, including coastal sagebrush species and giant wild rye.

When it comes to the welfare of wildlife, NPS issued a statement saying that, in general, large animals like deer, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions were better able to escape wildfires. 

Recently, bobcats that survived the November blaze made headlines for two very different reasons. In mid-March, an adult male bobcat named B-361 was struck and killed by a car on Las Virgenes Road. Nearly a month later, a young female bobcat, B-362, gave birth to a litter of kittens in Westlake Village.

Smaller animals like squirrels, lizards and rabbits had a much more difficult time getting away from the fire.

NPS biologist Mark Mendelsohn explained that depending on rainfall and drought, “Most ecologists say it’ll take 10 to 20 years for the Santa Monica Mountains to look the way they did before the Woolsey Fire came through.”


The following is a status update on the natural areas headed by public agencies, including the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), California State Parks and the National Park Service.

MRCA parks open:

• Cameron Nature Preserve at Puerco Canyon

• Corral Canyon Park: Sara Wan Trailhead

• Fran Pavley Meadow 

• Las Virgenes View Trail

• Liberty Canyon Trailhead

• Seminole Overlook

• Triunfo Creek Park

• Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

• Zev Yaroslavsky Las Virgenes Highlands Park

• Escondido Canyon Park 

MRCA parks closed:

• Charmlee Wilderness Park 

State Parks open:

• Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa 

• King Gillette Ranch

• Leo Carrillo State Park (beaches and staircase only)

• Malibu Lagoon State Beach (Including Adamson House)

• Point Mugu State Park (Mugu Beach, Sycamore Cove, Thornhill Broome Campground, La Jolla Canyon Group Camp, backcountry trails and roads)

• Robert H. Meyers Memorial State Beach (El Matador, La Piedra and El Pescador beaches)

• Topanga State Park

• Malibu Creek State Park: day-use areas and backcountry only 

State Parks closed:

• Leo Carrillo State Park: campground, backcountry trails/roads and day-use area

• Malibu Creek State Park: campground 

• Point Dume State Beach: beach and nature preserve

• Point Mugu State Park: Sycamore Canyon Campground

National Park Service parks and trails open:

• Paramount Ranch 

• Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa 

• Cheeseboro Canyon 

• Palo Comado Canyon

• Solstice Canyon (except Dry Canyon Trail)

• Circle X Ranch (except some off-trail areas)

National Park Service parks and trails closed:

• Zuma/Trancas Canyons 

• Peter Strauss Ranch 

• Rocky Oaks 

• Arroyo Sequit 

• Backbone Trail (Corral Canyon to Kanan)