Firefighters battling the deadly Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties prepared for a return of dangerous Santa Ana winds Sunday that could drive the blaze farther as they work to save lives and homes.
As of 8:30 a.m Sunday, Cal Fire officials said the fire had grown to 83,275 acres and was 10 percent contained by lines of cleared vegetation.
A total of 57,000 structures were threatened and 177 were destroyed, with hundreds more likely. The badly burned bodies of two people were found inside a vehicle in a long driveway in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway.
The fire — which began Thursday afternoon — has forced the evacuation of at least 75,000 homes and an estimated 265,000 people in both counties as it indiscriminately consumed multi-million-dollar mansions and mobile homes. The cause remained under investigation, Cal Fire said.
Santa Ana winds were forecast to return Sunday morning and were expected to first pick up in the mountains between 5 and 7 a.m., National Weather Service Meteorologist Curt Kaplan said. The winds will steadily increase to 50-60 mph in the mountains with gusts of up to 70 mph, he said. A Red Flag Warning remained in effect for Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Tuesday.
Kaplan was optimistic the winds would be weaker than they were Thursday and Friday and will be strongest in the mornings and early afternoons through Tuesday, giving firefighters a nightly reprieve.
Mandatory evacuation orders remained in effect in the city of Malibu, in Bell Canyon; Oak Park; Thousand Oaks Boulevard north to Sunset Hills; Oak Park west to Highway 23; West of Highway 23, south of E. Olsen Road, north of Pederson Road; south of Bard Lake, east of Highway 23; south of Highway 101, east of Reino Road, north of Potrero Road, east to the L.A./Ventura County line; Wood Ranch and Long Canyon.
Highway 101 remained closed in both directions at Valley Circle to Reyes Adobe, along with off-ramps at Camarillo Springs; PCH southbound is closed at Las Posas Rd.; Bell Canyon Rd. is closed at Valley Circle Blvd.; Borchard is closed at Los Vientos Dr.; Lynn Rd. is closed at Reino Rd.; Potrero Rd. is closed between Rancho Dos Vientos and S. Lewis Rd.; Kanan Rd. is closed Between Westlake Bl. and Lindero Canyon Rd.; Falling Star Ave. is closed at Kanan Rd.; Erbes Rd. is closed at Sapra St.
At a news conference Saturday afternoon, law enforcement and fire officials as well as politicians expressed concern about the return of Santa Ana winds.
Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenson said, “My message to the men and women on the front lines is, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because we had a break in the winds today. Mother Nature will return and she will bring back those winds and turn them up tomorrow. So we need to stay alert.”
Los Angeles Police Capt. Don Graham said the LAPD has been putting together a plan for road closures and evacuations in advance of Sunday’s winds.
Benedict emphasized that looting will not be tolerated. At least 200 deputies will look for looters while doing property evaluations in Westlake Village, Hidden Hills, Agoura Hills, Calabasas and Malibu.
“If you come into these affected areas to try and take advantage of the destruction and the suffering of these residents, you will be arrested, charged and we will take you to jail,” he said.
No looters have been found and arrested so far in Los Angeles County, Benedict said.
Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Buschow said at least two people have been arrested on suspicion of looting in his county.
California Highway Patrol Lt. Kevin Kurker told reporters the CHP was expecting to reopen the Ventura (101) Freeway but he couldn’t give a specific time when it would happen.
A town hall for residents will be held Sunday at 5 p.m. at Taft Charter High School in the 5400 block of Winnetka Avenue in Woodland Hills, where attendees will have a chance to question various authorities about the fire fight.
The expected return of the winds led to the re-imposition of the Red Flag Parking Restriction Program, which will go into effect starting at 8 a.m., Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said, warning that illegally parked vehicles will be towed.
Motorists should look for “No Parking” signs posted in the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. For a map of those zones, go to www.lafd.org./news/woolsey-fire.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department sent more than 25 fire companies to battle the Woolsey Fire, Stewart said. The U.S. Forest Service has dispatched two crews numbering 32 people to assist, according to the department.
The Orange County Fire Authority added five engines and bulldozer to the Woolsey fire battle, OCFA Capt. Steven Concialdi said. Concialdi also said that the OCFA had sent up Friday morning another 10 engines to cover fire stations in Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County. Five were stationed at city stations and five were located at county stations, he said.
Crews from other agencies, including Arizona, were also assisting in battling the massive blaze, helping to evacuate residents and providing traffic control.
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.
Pepperdine University reported on Twitter that it had no flames on its Malibu campus as of 3:42 p.m. Saturday but it was closely monitoring the wildfires and weather. The university 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.
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 that all mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect and no one will be permitted to re-enter Malibu until further notice. Active fires were still burning in Malibu, and the city said there will likely be intermittent power outages due to weather and fire conditions.
Malibu also has established a new website to update fire information 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 Friday evening, moving toward Malibu Colony. 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.
The following evacuation centers were open:
— Canoga Park Senior High School at 6850 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park
— Palisades High School, 15777 Bowdoin St., Pacific Palisades
— Camarillo Community Center, 1605 E. Burnley Street, Camarillo (accepting small animals)
— Borchard Community Center, 190 Reino Road, Newbury Park (accepting small animals)
— Taft Charter High School, 5461 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills (at capacity)
— Rancho Santa Susana Recreation Center, 5005 Unit C, Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley (no animals accepted)
— Pierce College, 7100 El Rancho Drive, Woodland Hills (Entrance off Desoto Avenue);
Evacuation centers for animals were opened Friday at Hansen Dam, 11770 Foothill Blvd. in Lake View Terrace, and Pierce College in Woodland Hills, but both reached capacity. 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.
Those who need assistance with large animals were advised to call (805) 388-4258.
Meanwhile, firefighters were reporting progress on the much smaller Hill Fire north of Malibu and south of Simi Valley. That wildfire was 70 percent contained and consumed 4,531 acres with two structures destroyed and no other structures threatened. No civilians or firefighters were killed or injured and full containment was expected Wednesday.