We Knew It Would Come

The Woolsey fire roars through Point Dume in Malibu, destroying streets full of houses and
forcing a massive evacuation. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann

As the Messenger Mountain News went to press online, the Woolsey Fire, with 57 percent containment, had burned more than 150 square miles (98,362 acres) in its inexorable march from the Simi Valley to the sea in Malibu.

The fire, named for a canyon road in Simi Valley,  left in its wake a path of near-absolute destruction: downed fire lines, dead wildlife, incinerated trees, melted roads, and dozens of houses reduced to ash and rubble.

The Woolsey Fire erupted on November 8, at 2:24 p.m. near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Woolsey Canyon. It raged through Oak Park and Thousand Oaks, reaching the 101 freeway within hours, where it jumped the multilane road at Liberty Canyon in the early hours of the morning on Friday, November 9, and raced towards the sea. 

Houses and acreage were lost in Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Oak Park, and Liberty Canyon. Once the fire reached the Santa Monica Mountains, it spread out through multiple canyons, burning down the Kanan Dume corridor, where it crossed Pacific Coast Highway, destroying multiple houses on Point Dume. Corral, Latigo, Trancas, Encinal, and Decker canyons also burned, as the fire moved west into Leo Carrillo State Park.

Mandatory evacuations clogged Pacific Coast Highway, as an estimated quarter of a million residents fled the fire zone. The exodus was complicated by road closures. Malibu residents and evacuees from Agoura Hills racing to escape the advancing fire line, faced a grueling multi-hour delay on PCH. 

As of November 15, the official number of structures lost stood at 504. That number is expected to rise once crews can assess all areas. In addition to private property and houses, two local historic landmarks were destroyed: the Western movie town at the National Park Service’s Paramount Ranch Park, and the ranch house at Peter Strauss Ranch.

Three fire fighters have sustained injuries so far, and there have been two verified civilian deaths. Both victims were found in a car on a driveway in Decker Canyon. An official cause of death has not been determined but they appear to have attempting to evacuate when the fire overwhelmed them. 

The entire City of Malibu was placed under evacuation at 7 a.m. on November 9.  The 101 was shut down in both directions from Valley Circle to Reyes Adobe. Pacific Coast Highway was shut down from Potrero to Sunset.

Topanga residents were placed under mandatory evacuation shortly after the Malibu evacuation was ordered, although the leading edge of fire had not progressed past Malibu Canyon. Although the canyon wasn’t in immediate danger, the evacuation order was extended as a precaution. According to T-CEP, Malibu Search and Rescue teams were assisting with evacuation and security in the Canyon.

Mandatory evacuations and road closures were expected to remain in place for most of the week, and full containment of the fire may take even longer. Fire crews had a break in the winds on Saturday, but renewed Santa Ana conditions and low humidity, combined with the size of the fire’s perimeter and difficult fire fighting conditions in steep and inaccessible terrain, continue to complicate the effort. 

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

Everyone, even residents, are being asked to stay out of the burn zone until the fire is controlled and hazards like downed power wires are cleared.

Topanga residents should check with t-cep.org or @TCEP90290 for updates.

Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is a writer, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She’s covered environment, arts, science, history and crime for the local media for more than a decade and is the author of nine books of music for the Celtic harp. She can be reached at s.guldimann@messengermountainnews.com

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