Highway Patrol

Winds Subside, Giving Firefighters a Narrow Window of Calm

The Woolsey and nearby Hill fires have destroyed at least 150 homes and forced the evacuation of more than 250,000 people

Editor's Note: This story is no longer being updated. For the latest updates on the Woolsey Fire visit this page.

A destructive 83,275-acre brush fire, pushed by strong Santa Ana winds, marched through Los Angeles and Ventura counties Friday and Saturday toward the sea, destroying at least 177 structures, forcing the evacuation of more than 250,000 people and leaving at least two people dead.

Firefighters are looking ahead to a narrow window of calm wind Saturday as they battle to gain ground on the Woolsey Fire, which forced closures Friday and Saturday on the 101 Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway. After a brief respite from the strong winds, firefighters achieved at least some level of containment on Saturday before the fire a red flag warning goes into effect early Sunday and isn't set to expire until Tuesday evening.

"Mother Nature has given us a little reprieve today," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said on Saturday. "The winds have stopped. It gives us some opportunities. But please don't let your guard down."

CAL Fire announced that the fire had grown from 70,000 acres on Saturday morning to 83,275 acres by Saturday night, with 5 percent containment. However, numerous hot visible hot spots in the affected areas warned of potential future danger.

The fire indiscriminately consumed multi-million dollar mansions and mobile homes alike Friday night into Saturday morning, turning 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. The 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 was zero percent contained as of Friday evening and reportedly jumped Pacific Coast Highway about 10 p.m., moving toward Malibu Colony.

Two people were found severely burned inside a car on a long residential driveway in Malibu, Los Angeles County sheriff's Chief John Benedict said. The home is on a winding stretch of Mulholland Highway with steep panoramic views, where on Saturday the roadway was littered with rocks, a few large boulders and fallen power lines, some of them still on fire. Most of the surrounding structures were leveled. 

As three large fires burned in California Saturday morning, President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal payments to California, claiming its forest management is "so poor." He said on Twitter that "there is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly fires in California."

An estimated 75,000 homes were under evacuation orders in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, with over 250,000 people displaced due to the conflagration. The entire city of Malibu was placed under an evacuation order late Friday morning and remained under that order throughout Saturday and into Sunday, 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 up PCH out of Santa Monica, allowing southbound motorists to use all four lanes under the famous California Incline in Santa Monica. Authorities later ordered mandatory evacuations for the West Hills area of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, not far from the fire's origin.

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 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.

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.

The devastation has been swift since the 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. Some flights began at 5:30 a.m. as the wind died down, but winds quickly began picking up again as dawn broke.

"We have fuels that are in a critical drought state," said LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby. "Our firefighters have been facing some extreme, tough fire conditions that they said they've never seen in their life."

Heavy smoke and strong winds hampered visibility for crews on the fire lines and residents trying to evacuate fire zones on Friday, but Saturday brought in a flurry of fire retardant attacks from the air.

Three large wildfires burned early Saturday in California, including the 100,000-acre Camp Fire -- the most destructive on record in the state. With the two deaths in the Woolsey Fire, the death toll grew to 25 for the state's current burning fires, with over 100 people considered missing in the record-setting Northern California fire.

So far this year, Cal Fire has reported more than 5,600 wildfires that have burned 621,700 acres. Last year during the same period, the agency reported 5,800 fires that burned about half that acreage.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
Contact Us