Powered by Santa Ana winds and dry air, a 14,000-acre brush fire made a destructive, two-county march toward the sea Friday, indiscriminately consuming multimillion-dollar mansions and mobile homes alike as it forced a citywide Malibu evacuation and sent thousands of residents scrambling to find a way out of the burn area.
The Woolsey Fire, which erupted Thursday afternoon in Ventura County but raced into Los Angeles County, chewed its way through brush and into neighborhoods of Westlake Village and Malibu. The fire remained fully uncontained as of Friday afternoon.
No injuries were officially reported, but reports began circulating late Friday afternoon about a possible civilian burn victim in the Woolsey Canyon area. There was no immediate confirmation of the report.
An estimated 75,000 homes — although likely many more — were under evacuation orders in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The entire city of Malibu was placed under an evacuation order late Friday morning, with residents directed to southbound Pacific Coast Highway, creating miles of stand-still traffic along the scenic route. Authorities wound up closing the road to all northbound traffic out of Santa Monica, allowing southbound motorists to use all four lanes.
North of the Ventura (101) Freeway, evacuated residents in the Hidden Hills and other neighborhoods were being directed north toward Chatsworth and the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway.
Driven by 50- to 60-mph winds, the flames jumped south across the 101 Freeway in the Liberty Canyon area early Friday, sending it on a course through Malibu and its exclusive celebrity enclaves — Caitlyn Jenner’s home was reportedly among those destroyed. It was unclear how many homes were lost as the fire relentlessly advanced, but on-scene crews reported dozens of structures burning in various canyons. There were also reports of flames ripping through an apartment building and a mobile home park, along with people calling authorities to say they were trapped in burning structures.
National Park Service officials reported that the famed Western Town at Paramount Ranch, a filming location for hundreds of TV and movie productions, including HBO’s “Westworld,” had burned to an unknown extent.
Evacuation orders affected the entire area south of the 101 Freeway from the Ventura County line to an area east of Las Virgenes/Malibu Canyon Road, south to the Pacific Ocean.
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, although it was believed to be at capacity.
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 between Las Virgenes to Kanan roads. 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 south of Simi Valley, 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.
Heavy smoke and strong winds hampered visibility for crews on the fire lines and residents trying to evacuate fire zones.
Crews were hoping to get a break from the winds Friday night, when a red flag warning of dangerous fire conditions had been scheduled to expire. But on Friday afternoon, National Weather Service forecasters extended the warning until Tuesday afternoon.
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 12:30 a.m. Friday, 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.
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.