IN SPITE OF SITTING DIRECTLY IN THE PATH OF THE WOOLSEY FIRE THAT ROARED DOWN LAS VIRGENES CANYON ROAD ON FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9, THE LAS VIRGENES MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT (LVMWD) BUILDINGS WERE SAVED BY FIREFIGHTERS WHO LASER-FOCUSED ON PRESERVING THE WATER AGENCY’S HEADQUARTERS.
In spite of sitting directly in the path of the Woolsey Fire that roared down Las Virgenes Canyon Road on Friday, Nov. 9, the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD) buildings were saved by firefighters who laser focused on preserving the water agency’s headquarters.
It was critical to save the LVMWD facilities that serve more than 77,000 customers in Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, and Westlake Village, and provided critical water resources for the firefighters in those communities during the weeks-long crisis.
It was those same firefighters using LVMWD water in Calabasas, along with helicopter water drops and Phos-Chek fire retardant, that effectively kept the fire from reaching Topanga, that came within a whisker of being consumed as well.
“The fire burned toward the headquarters but basically went around the building as the Los Angeles County Fire Department managed to keep the fire at bay,” said Mike McNutt
Public Affairs and Communications Manager, LVMWD. “There was zero damage to our facilities. All of the area around the building burned because of the way the land is set up; chaparral burned and the fire kept on going straight out to Malibu.”
While the Rancho Las Virgenes Composting Facility on Las Virgenes Road sustained some external damage, McNutt said the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility, the LVMWD headquarters, and the Westlake Filtration Plant in Westlake Village remained untouched.
After Southern California Edison turned off the electricity, the LVMWD used gas generators, including two imported from Beverly Hills and Fresno, to maintain water pressure for the communities and to pump water to holding tanks in remote areas of Calabasas.
McNutt said that despite mandatory evacuations, the entire 117-member staff of the LVMWD remained on the job throughout the fire to monitor the situation, provide customer service, and send field representatives out to turn the water off at fire-ravaged homes in order to maintain pressure for the fire fighters.
“It was one of those things I will always remember,” he said. “One thing I am really proud of is how the staff rallied to come in and did their jobs exceptionally well. They gave total commitment to make sure [the community] was safe.”
During the fire McNutt said the LVMWD Emergency Operations Center used social media, especially Twitter, each day in real time to inform the public about the fire and answer questions.
“[It] really showcased that we are just a big family and part of the community,” he said. “It took at least 100 people, literally everything you could think of from field reps, fuel generators to pump water to the tanks that distributed to the system. We had IT people, graphic designers, and customer service reps who fielded calls all day, every day for days, answering questions about water bills and ‘should we boil water?’ during a time of crisis.”
Annemarie Donkin is a journalist who wrote for The Signal in Valencia, CA and was the Managing Editor for the Topanga Messenger from 2013 to 2016. She is thrilled to write for the Messenger Mountain News to continue the tradition of excellent community newspapers. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel throughout California, read, watch movies and keep bees.