Driven by howling winds and dangerously low humidity, a brush fire that began in Ventura County but raced over the Los Angeles County line continued a relentless march toward the Pacific Ocean Friday, forcing thousands of people from their homes as evacuation orders were imposed for the entirety of Malibu.
The Woolsey Fire exploded to more than 10,000 acres overnight, driven by 50- to 60-mph winds that helped propel the flames southward across the Ventura (101) Freeway in the Liberty Canyon area early Friday. Although an unknown number of structures have been destroyed, there were no reports of any injuries to firefighters or residents as of mid-morning Friday.
Evacuation orders were imposed overnight affecting tens of thousands of residents in both counties, and at 10 a.m. Friday, mandatory evacuation orders were expanded to include the entire city of Malibu. The order includes the area south of the 101 Freeway from the Ventura County line east to Las Virgenes/Malibu Canyon Road, and as far south as the Pacific Ocean.
Residents were advised to use Pacific Coast Highway to evacuate, and to avoid using canyon roads. Evacuating residents were being directed south of PCH toward Santa Monica, creating a snarl of vehicles along the normally scenic coastal route. Complicating matters were the traffic signals that were knocked out of service, and motorists were advised to expect lengthy delays.
Mandatory evacuations were earlier issued for the area north of the 101 Freeway from Valley Vista to Reyes Adobe in the areas of Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Westlake Village.
The American Red Cross announced that the nearest evacuation center for residents of Malibu was at Palisades High School, 15777 Bowdoin St., in Pacific Palisades. An evacuation center also was established at Taft High School at 5461 Winnetka Ave. in Woodland Hills.
An evacuation center for animals was opened Friday morning at Hansen Dam, 11770 Foothill Blvd. in Lake View Terrace, after the evacuation center at Pierce College in Woodland Hills reached capacity. And a large animal evacuation center was established at the Zuma Beach parking lot in Malibu. Industry Hills Expo Center in the San Gabriel Valley was also offering shelter for horses from fire-affected areas.
With the fire jumping the freeway overnight, the California Highway Patrol shut down a four-mile stretch of the 101 Freeway from Las Virgenes Road to Kanan Road. The closure was extended Friday morning to include the entire freeway from Valley Circle Boulevard in Hidden Hills to Reyes Adobe Road in Agoura Hills, according to Caltrans.
The Woolsey Fire broke out about 2:25 p.m. Thursday in Ventura County west of Chatsworth, pushed by strong Santa Ana winds. Early Friday, the whipping winds prevented fire commanders from ordering aerial assaults in the early morning hours, but some flights began at 5:30 a.m. as the wind died down. But winds quickly began picking up again as dawn broke. High winds were expected to continue until 10 p.m., when a red flag warning of heightened wildfire conditions is scheduled to expire.
The fire placed more than 75,000 homes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties under evacuation orders as of Friday morning, and there was still no containment on the blaze. Authorities said earlier the flames had destroyed multiple structures, though it was unclear how many, and it continued to threaten at least 30,000 homes in the two counties.
Heavy smoke and strong winds hampered visibility for crews on the fire lines and residents trying to evacuate fire zones.
The fire prompted the closure of all schools in the Las Virgenes Unified School District in Calabasas, as well as Viewpoint School, Montessori of Calabasas, Montessori of Calabasas Too and Muse School. Also shut down were the schools of the Conejo Valley School District, headquartered in Thousand Oaks, and the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Topanga Elementary Charter School.
About 2:30 a.m., mandatory evacuation orders that had been issued in the city of Los Angeles near West Hills and Hidden Hills were changed from mandatory to voluntary, according to Brian Humphrey of the Los Angeles Fire Department. The orders affected residents north of the 101 Freeway, south of Bell Canyon Road, west of Valley Circle Boulevard and east of the Los Angeles city limit. Evacuation orders in the Hidden Hills area of Los Angeles County were also downgraded to voluntary.
About 12:30 a.m., all residents in Los Angeles and Ventura counties north of the Ventura (101) Freeway, south of Bell Canyon Road, west of Valley Circle Boulevard and east of Erbes Road, as well as north of Kanan Road, west of Lindero Canyon to Erbes Road extending north to Sunset Hills Boulevard were told to evacuate, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. That includes areas of Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Westlake Village, all in L.A. County.
The Los Angeles Police Department was placed on a citywide tactical alert about 12:45 a.m. to ensure all resources are available to assist with any evacuation orders and road closures prompted by the Woolsey Fire, according to a statement from the department. The tactical alert was lifted about 7:45 a.m.
“If you’re in an affected area and have been ordered to evacuate, evacuate,” police said.
Calabasas city officials advised residents not under mandatory evacuation orders to prepare to leave by gathering their IDs, medications, important documents, emergency supplies and a change of clothes.
Los Angeles County and city crews were assisting in the firefight, which was taking place as a second, larger brush fire raged further west in Ventura County in the Santa Rosa Valley/Thousand Oaks area.
The Orange County Fire Authority sent two strike teams to the assist firefighters battling the Woolsey Fire, Capt. Steve Concialdi said.