Although fire crews appeared to be making major progress Tuesday on the deadly Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with a series of evacuation orders lifted, a large flare-up near Westlake Village served as a reminder that the battle was far from over.
The flare-up occurred around 9:15 a.m. near Lake Sherwood and Carlisle Canyon and was originally estimated at about 50 acres but growing rapidly. It was unclear by late morning exactly how much the blaze had grown.
Ventura County Fire Department Chief Mark Lorenzen said the flames were moving through some unburned canyons, and winds were pushing the flames toward Boney Mountain, “up and away from the populated area.”
Fire authorities said the flare-up was an important warning of the continuing danger of the Woolsey Fire, even with slightly diminished winds. Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief called the flare-up “just an example of many canyons we’re concerned about in L.A. County. That’s why the evacuation order is still in place.”
As of midday Tuesday, the overall fire — which began last Thursday — was estimated at 96,314 acres. Osby said the fire is larger than the city of Denver and is officially the largest fire on record for Los Angeles County, with records dating back more than 100 years.
The blaze was 35 percent contained, with full containment expected by Sunday. Osby said 435 structures have been confirmed destroyed in the blaze, but “my estimation is that number is going to rise significantly” as crews continue to assess the damage. There are still an estimated 57,000 structures in the burn area and potentially threatened.
Two people who died in the fire were found Friday inside a burned vehicle in a long driveway in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway.
“It’s the feeling of homicide detectives that the driver became disoriented and the vehicle was overwhelmed by the fire,” sheriff’s Chief John Benedict said.
Three firefighters have been injured battling the Woolsey Fire.
Osby said there was reason to be hopeful about the firefighting effort, noting that evacuation orders were lifted earlier Tuesday in multiple areas:
— Hidden Hills was fully reopened, including all residences within the city limits. The area includes the area west of Valley Circle Boulevard, east of Crummer Canyon Road, and north of the 101 Freeway to the northern city limits.
— Calabasas had some areas reopened, including: west of Topanga Canyon Boulevard; northwest of Mulholland Highway; north of Stunt Road, east of Las Virgenes Road; east of the Lost Hills Road neighborhoods (including Lost Springs and Saratoga); and south of the Los Angeles/Ventura county line.
— In Westlake Village, the area was opened from the city limit on the west, from the intersection of Westlake Boulevard and Sycamore Canyon Drive north to the boundaries of Ventura County and city of Agoura Hills.
— Agoura Hills reopened its impacted areas from: Chesebro Road on the eastern border, and Agoura Road (north and south sides of the road) from Chesebro Road to the west.
“To accomplish this process, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is working with our public safety partners to open on-ramps and off-ramps of the Interstate 101 Freeway in the area,” according to the sheriff’s department. “The Fire Incident Command continues to monitor the active fire areas, as well as those areas remaining closed due to critical infrastructure concerns or safety hazards.”
Further information on safety conditions and repopulation will be updated at www.LACounty.gov/WoolseyFire.
Winds of 25 to 35 mph were forecast for Tuesday with gusts of 40 to 45 mph, National Weather Service Meteorologist Joe Sirard said. Those wind speeds are likely to drop to 25 to 30 mph Tuesday night into Wednesday with gusts to 40 mph.
The NWS extended its red flag warning through 5 p.m. Wednesday for the Woolsey Fire area in Los Angeles and Ventura counties — except Malibu, where the warning is set to expire at 5 p.m Tuesday. High temperatures of 70s to low 80s are predicted through Wednesday with lows near freezing “in wind-sheltered areas,” Sirard said.
Osby noted that winds are expected to subside slightly Tuesday, with the wind then expected to shift to an on-shore flow on Thursday and Friday, potentially pushing the flames backward. He also said rain is possible in the area next week, “which will be helpful for our firefighters … but that could potentially raise some concerns for mud flows.”
In the city of Los Angeles, Red Flag parking restrictions ordered by the Los Angeles Fire Department were in effect in so-called Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones, barring automobile parking on narrow, hilly streets. Motorists should look for “No Parking” signs. For a map of those zones, go to www.lafd.org./news/woolsey-fire.
Firefighters were focused on making sure any hot spots in Malibu Canyon don’t cross into Topanga Canyon because a falling ember has more than a 90 percent chance of igniting brush, authorities said.
Some 3,592 firefighters were assigned to battle the blaze, while, 22 helicopters worked from above, officials said. A total of 619 engines, 48 water tenders, 23 bulldozers and 57 hand crews were sent into the battle, Cal Fire reported. Crews from other areas, including Orange County and Arizona, also sent firefighters and equipment to aid the battle.
According to Cal Fire, more than a half-million gallons of fire retardant has been dropped already on the Woolsey Fire, along with 1.5 million gallons of water.
The continuing danger prompted Los Angeles County officials to re-issue a warning to residents in evacuated areas to stay away until conditions are deemed safe.
A community meeting for Malibu-area evacuees was scheduled for Tuesday night at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall. Malibu City Councilman Skylar Peak has asked people to refrain from attempting to get back into Malibu by boat.
The sheriff’s department has repeatedly tried to reassure residents that their homes would be safe from looters, with more than 600 deputies on 12-hour rotational shifts.
Northbound and southbound Ventura (101) Freeway from Valley Circle Boulevard remained open. Pacific Coast Highway remained closed to all traffic from the Ventura/Los Angeles County line to Sunset Boulevard.
The California Public Utilities Commission was investigating Southern California Edison for its possible role in the fire. According to the CPUC, electrical infrastructure may have suffered malfunctions near ground zero of the blazes two minutes before they began.
The Woolsey Fire has forced the evacuation of at least 75,000 homes and an estimated 265,000 people in L.A. and Ventura counties.
In Malibu, Pepperdine University said the school’s Malibu and Calabasas campuses would remain closed through Thanksgiving. All Malibu schools in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District will remain closed until at least Thursday, the district announced. City officials said there will likely be intermittent power outages due to weather and fire conditions.
The Federal Aviation Administration sent a tweet reminding drone operators that they could face severe civil penalties and potential criminal prosecution for flying drones over fire areas.
Officials with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area are trying to account for the 13 mountain lions they are tracking with GPS collars. The park is closed due to wildfire danger.
In an about face from a Twitter attack last week against what he called California’s forest management, President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that he has approved an “expedited request” for a major disaster declaration for California.
“Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God bless all of the victims and families affected,” Trump said.