A disastrous 70,000-acre brush fire, pushed by strong Santa Ana winds, was zero percent contained Saturday as it burned onto the Pepperdine University campus in Malibu while on its destructive march through Los Angeles and Ventura counties towards the sea.
The Woolsey Fire, which ignited Thursday afternoon, destroyed at least 150 homes and forced the evacuation of 75,000 homes and 200,000 people in both counties as it indiscriminately consumed multi-million dollar mansions and mobile homes. The flames turned what it touched to ash as it forced a citywide Malibu evacuation and sent residents scrambling to find a way out of the burn area.
No injuries were officially reported, but sheriff’s detectives are investigating the discovery of two bodies in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway. They could not confirm whether the deaths were fire-related. Conditions in the area have hampered the investigation.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby said damage assessment teams will be in the areas effected by the fire throughout the day, determining how many structures were lost or damaged. And with a lull in the winds, Osby said firefighters will be establishing line perimeters as a means of controlling and knocking down the fire.
At least 200 deputies will be in the five Los Angeles County cities effected by the fire — Westlake Village, Hidden Hills, Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Malibu — doing property evaluations and looking for any possible looters, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Chief John Benedict said.
“There is zero tolerance for any looting,” Benedict said.
Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Buschow said at least two people have been arrested on suspicion of looting in his county.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department has sent more than 25 fire companies to battle the Woolsey Fire, fire department spokesperson Margaret Stewart said. The U.S. Forest Service has dispatched two crews numbering 32 people to assist, according to the department.
Pepperdine lifted a shelter-in-place order that had been in effect, canceled all school events for Saturday, and officials later announced that all classes and events on the school’s Malibu and Calabasas campuses would be closed through Tuesday.
The school also postponed Saturday night’s scheduled men’s basketball game between the Waves and Cal State Northridge. A makeup date has not been announced.
Los Angeles County fire strike teams and water dropping aircraft were working to contain the flames on or around the Pepperdine campus. No permanent structures have been lost, but video from the campus showed at least one vehicle and several bicycles scorched by flames.
Late Friday night, University President Andrew Benton assured students they were safe on campus, but expressed frustration with first responders.
“We have an arrangement that we shelter in place on this campus,” Benton said. “When people get into a big hurry, fire department, sheriff’s department, they move on instinct and their instinct is just get everyone out of harm’s way and move ’em, move ’em, move ’em. Question is, where do you go? I’m very irritated that fire did not anticipate this, did not get assets here, did not realize that we would have 3,500 people on this campus. And now, they’ve frightened some of your brothers and sisters out into the roadways and I don’t know where they are. I’m just fit to be tied.”
He later tweeted a message that said early communication issues were resolved “leading to an effective response by law and fire professionals. We are grateful.”
All Malibu schools in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District will remain closed until at least Thursday, the district announced.
The City of Malibu reported Saturday that all mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect and no one will be permitted to re-enter Malibu until further notice.
Active fires are still burning in Malibu as of Saturday afternoon. The city said there will likely be intermittent power outages in Malibu due to weather and fire conditions. The city has also established a new website to update fire information on a continuous basis. The site is located at www.malibucity.org/woolsey.
The superintendent of the Las Virgenes Unified School District in Calabasas said district leaders were visiting schools Saturday and would meet Sunday to assess air quality and overall safety issues before issuing a district-wide email to families about the school schedule for the rest of the week.
The fire started in Ventura County but raced into Los Angeles County, chewed its way through brush and into neighborhoods of Westlake Village and Malibu. The fire reportedly jumped Pacific Coast Highway about 10 p.m. Friday, moving toward Malibu Colony.
Residents who evacuated from Malibu were 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.
Authorities later ordered mandatory evacuations for the West Hills area in the San Fernando Valley, not far from the fire’s origin.
Spectrum customers in the wildfire area were without cable and Internet service Saturday as repair teams worked to restore service, a statement from the company said.
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.
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 also were 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.
Evacuation orders affected the entire area south of the 101 Freeway from the Ventura County line to Topanga Canyon Boulevard, south to the Pacific Ocean.
As of 1 p.m. Saturday, road closures included all lanes of the northbound and southbound 101 from Valley Circle Blvd to Reyes Adobe Rd. Northbound Pacific Coast Highway is closed at Sunset Boulevard, while southbound PCH is closed at Las Posas Rd. Topanga Canyon Boulevard is closed from Mulholland Drive to PCH.
The American Red Cross announced the nearest evacuation center for residents of Malibu was at Palisades High School, 15777 Bowdoin St., in Pacific Palisades. Evacuation centers also were established at Canoga Park Senior High School at 6850 Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Canoga Park, at Rancho Santa Susana Recreation Center at 5005-C Los Angeles Ave. in Simi Valley and at Taft High School at 5461 Winnetka Ave. in Woodland Hills, although it was reported to be at capacity.
Evacuation centers for animals were 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. In Ventura County, Borchard Community Center at 190 Reino Rd. in Newbury Park was accepting dogs and cats, while the Camarillo Community Center at 1605 E. Burnley St. was accepting small animals.
The devastation has been swift since the fire broke out at 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. Some flights began at 5:30 a.m. as the wind died down, but winds quickly began picking up again as dawn broke.
The Orange County Fire Authority sent two strike teams to the assist firefighters battling the Woolsey Fire, Capt. Steve Concialdi said. Crews from other agencies, including from Arizona, were also assisting in battling the massive blaze, helping evacuate residents and providing traffic control.
Heavy smoke and strong winds hampered visibility for crews on the fire lines and residents trying to evacuate fire zones.
Winds died down Saturday, but were expected to pick up again later Saturday and Sunday afternoon, as the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for gusty winds and low humidity in effect through Tuesday afternoon.
President Donald J. Trump addressed the state’s wildfires — including the 100,000-acre Camp Fire in Northern California’s Butte County that is believed to have killed at least nine people — on Twitter.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” the president tweeted Saturday. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
California Gov.-Elect Gavin Newsom responded to the president:
“Lives have been lost. Entire towns have been burned to the ground. Cars abandoned on the side of the road. People are being forced to flee their homes,” Newsom tweeted. “This is not a time for partisanship. This is a time for coordinating relief and response and lifting those in need up.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Saturday that he doesn’t think Trump’s comments mean that the state would miss out on federal aid.
“I spoke with the White House to special homeland security adviser Admiral Douglas Fears a little earlier to ensure that federal assistance comes,” Garcetti told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think the Departmental people are professionals and in our experiences have been good in getting us the reimbursements and the federal assistance. Even if some things get politicized at the very top with snarky comments from the president,” Garcetti said.
Later Saturday, Trump sent two more tweets about the fires.
“These California fires are expanding very, very quickly (in some cases 80-100 acres a minute). If people don’t evacuate quickly, they risk being overtaken by the fire. Please listen to evacuation orders from State and local officials!”
“More than 4,000 are fighting the Camp and Woolsey Fires in California that have burned over 170,000 acres,” continued the president. “Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated, and the families of the 11 who have died. The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all.”