Firefighters extinguish the blaze by Sunday evening, with no injuries, property damage or dollar loss. Simi Valley fire threat to Malibu diminishes by Monday evening.
By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer and Lindsay Kuhn/Special to the Malibu Times
Other than a scare on Sunday, in which 25 acres burned at Corral Canyon, Malibu remained fire-free during a week in which many other parts of Southern California were not so lucky. There was some concern about the fire raging in Simi Valley, which at one point jumped the Ronald Reagan Freeway and reportedly moved 20 miles in a day on Saturday, but by Monday night fire officials said Malibu was most likely out of the danger zone. However, the city has issued an alert that unhealthy conditions exist caused by extreme smoke and ash, and residents are advised to remain indoors.
All this comes as the 10-year anniversary approaches of one of the Malibu’s most destructive fires, which consumed more than 6,000 acres and approximately 60 homes.
As smoke hovered and ashes drifted onto the beaches of Malibu on Sunday, turning the sun blood-red at times, a call was made to Malibu’s Fire Station 71 about the Corral Canyon fire at about 2:36 p.m. Fire Capt. David Reed said, according to Southern California Edison, it was started when a microwave transmission tower arched and brought some sparks down, taking place about a quarter of a mile up the canyon from Pacific Coast Highway. The strong winds then did the rest of the job to create the scorcher.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department sent about 200 firefighters to battle the blaze from 12 engine companies. Reed said there were no injuries, no dollar loss and only the Malibu RV Park was threatened. However, firefighters were able to keep the fire away from the park. Reed said the fire was put out by sunset and mop-up operations considered complete by 9 p.m.
The City of Malibu had also been keeping an eye on the Simi Valley fire. The city’s emergency preparedness director, Brad Davis, spent the days since the fire began Friday in Val Verde reporting to City Manager Katie Lichtig from the scene as he got information from the county fire department on the possibilities of it affecting Malibu. Reports were then placed on the city’s Web site and local radio station, 1620AM. But by Monday, it was clear the fire would not be coming here.
“The winds have died,” said Capt. Reed, who had been getting reports twice a day from county headquarters. “That’s an awful long way for a fire to go. But fires will do what they want, so the unexpected could always happen.”
And Reed said Malibuites could prepare for the unexpected first and foremost by adhering to the city’s mandatory brush clearance program. He added that, if your neighbors aren’t doing it, you should alert the proper authorities, since that could affect your home. Davis had some additional advice for how people can plan for a fire.
“You want to be able to get out as soon as possible,” he said. “If you are in any doubt about your safety, it’s a good idea to leave rather than wait. Also, having a plan is a good thing to do. You should sit down with your family and decide what steps will be taken if a fire is threatening, especially since one parent might be in another part of the city and the kids could be somewhere else.”
As for the city having a plan in case of a major fire, Davis said it is difficult to have a precise one since the situation is event-driven. But he said the city constantly updates the Web site and puts information on the radio. Also, if people need to be evacuated, the city has a telephone system that will contact all the homes in a given area at one time to deliver the message.
This past week, 13 major wildfires, driven by hot temperatures and the Santa Ana winds, reaching up to 45 mph, ravaged Southern California. As of Tuesday at 4 p.m., they have destroyed more than 1,500 homes, leaving behind 16 dead and 600,000 acres of burned land. Arson is suspected in at least two of the fires, including the one begun in Val Verde that is now in Simi Valley.
“It appears that the Val Verde fire was intentionally set,” County District Attorney Steve Cooley wrote in a press release Monday. “Once the evidence is gathered and the suspects apprehended, we will prosecute these criminals who caused destruction of thousands of acres and several homes.”
The fire that devastated Malibu in 1993 stemmed from an arson-set blaze in Newbury Park, south of the 101 Freeway in Ventura County on Oct. 26. As it continued to move and grow stronger, it hit Malibu just one week later on Nov. 2. With Santa Ana winds up to 60 mph moving it along, the fire traveled from Mulholland Highway and Old Topanga Canyon across the Santa Monica Mountains to Pacific Coast Highway in a matter of hours. The fire continued to consume the city until the next night. In the end, Malibu, Topanga, Calabasas and surrounding areas suffered more than $200 million worth of damage with 388 structures being damaged, including 268 homes.