Santa Ana winds plague crews in Woolsey Fire

Santa Ana winds plague crews in Woolsey Fire
Posted at 7:08 AM, Nov 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-13 10:08:25-05

MALIBU (CNS) - Santa Ana winds were expected to continue to plague firefighters battling the deadly Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties Tuesday as officials re-emphasized to evacuated residents that they must stay away until the area has been declared safe.

Winds of 25 to 35 mph were forecast to blow with gusts of 40 to 45 mph, National Weather Service Meteorologist Joe Sirard said. Those wind speeds are likely to drop to 25 to 30 mph Tuesday night into Wednesday with gusts to 40 mph.

That prompted the NWS to continue its Red Flag Warning through 5 p.m. Wednesday for the Woolsey Fire area in Los Angeles and Ventura counties -- except Malibu, where the Red Flag Warning is set to expire at 5 p.m Tuesday. High temperatures of 70s to low 80s are predicted through Wednesday with lows near freezing ``in wind-sheltered areas,'' Sirard said.

The latest Woolsey Fire update from Cal Fire had at least 435 structures destroyed, 24 structures damaged and the estimated number of structures still threatened about 57,000.

The blaze has burned about 93,700 acres and was 30 percent contained, with full containment not expected until Thursday, Cal Fire said. The two people who died were found inside a burned vehicle in a long driveway in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway.

``It's the feeling of homicide detectives that the driver became disoriented and the vehicle was overwhelmed by the fire,'' sheriff's Chief John Benedict said.

Three firefighters have been injured battling the Woolsey Fire. And Malibu City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson ``Zuma Jay'' Wagner was recuperating at a hospital from conditions related to his unsuccessful efforts to save his home Friday night.

Firefighters were focused on making sure any hot spots in Malibu Canyon don't cross into Topanga Canyon, because a falling ember has more than a 90 percent chance of igniting brush, authorities said.

Some 3,592 firefighters were assigned to battle the blaze, while, 22 helicopters worked from above, officials said. A total of 619 engines, 48 water tenders, 23 bulldozers and 57 hand crews were sent into the battle, Cal Fire reported. Crews from other areas, including Orange County and Arizona, also sent firefighters and equipment to aid the battle.

The continuing danger prompted Los Angeles County officials to re-issue a warning to residents in evacuated areas to stay away until conditions are deemed safe.

``Although it may appear that fire threats have passed in some communities, officials warned that the situation remains unstable and can shift dangerously with changes in wind patterns and other unpredictable factors,'' the advisory noted. Officials noted there are downed power poles and live power lines, live embers that could reignite, buckled roads, landslides and unstable ground, massive debris, unhealthy air quality, poor visibility and now power or cell phone access.

While some evacuation orders for county communities remained in effect, all mandatory evacuation orders for the City of Los Angeles were lifted as of 7:47 p.m. Monday, authorities said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also announced that people were returning to their homes in Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Oak Park, North Ranch and Newbury Park residents affected by the fire. Cal Fire announced Monday evening that evacuation orders have now been lifted for West Hills in Los Angeles and Bell Canyon in Ventura County.

But the entire city of Calabasas remained under mandatory evacuation orders Tuesday.

Despite messages to the contrary on social media, officials are not escorting residents back into the evacuated areas to retrieve medications, Los Angeles Police Lt. Eric Bixler said.

Malibu City Councilman Skylar Peak has asked people to refrain from attempting to get back into Malibu by boat. A community meeting for Malibu-area evacuees was scheduled for Tuesday night at Santa Monica High School's Barnum Hall.

The sheriff's department has repeatedly tried to reassure residents that their homes would be safe from looters, with 500 to 600 deputies on 12-hour rotational shifts.

Northbound and southbound Ventura (101) Freeway from Valley Circle Boulevard remained open. Pacific Coast Highway remained closed to all traffic from the Ventura/Los Angeles County line to Sunset Boulevard.

The fire has also closed libraries in Agoura Hills, Malibu, Topanga and Westlake Village. There's no word yet on when the libraries would reopen.

The California Public Utilities Commission was investigating Southern California Edison for its possible role in the fire.

According to CPUC, electrical infrastructure may have suffered malfunctions near ground zero of the blazes two minutes before they began.

The agency also is investigating PG&E for its possible role in the Camp Fire in Butte County, which has burned 113,000 acres and resulted in at least 42 deaths.

Chris Thompson of SCE said there were 13,000 customers who initially lost power, mostly in Malibu, and now that number has been reduced to 9,000.

He also said that it will take time to replace the telephone poles destroyed by the fire, especially in canyon areas. He said they will need to use a helicopter to bring in the new poles. ``We can't just drive poles in on a truck to those areas,'' he said.

The fire -- which began Thursday afternoon -- has forced the evacuation of at least 75,000 homes and an estimated 265,000 people in L.A. and Ventura counties as it consumed multimillion-dollar mansions and mobile homes.

In Malibu, Pepperdine University said the school's Malibu and Calabasas campuses would remain closed through Thanksgiving. All Malibu schools in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District will remain closed until at least Thursday, the district announced. City officials said there will likely

be intermittent power outages due to weather and fire conditions.

Fire information for Los Angeles County can be found at Malibu also has established a website to update fire information at

The Conejo Unified School District, which includes parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, closed its schools for Tuesday after inspectors found that at least two schools required major clean-up.

The Federal Aviation Administration sent a tweet reminding drone operators that they could face severe civil penalties and potential criminal prosecution for flying drones over fire areas.

Officials with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area are trying to account for the 13 mountain lions they are tracking with GPS collars. They said eight of the cougars are alive and moving but they have received no transmissions since the fire began from five of them. They also have been unable to locate four bobcats. The park is closed due to wildfire danger.

In an about face from Twitter attacks last week against California's forest management, President Donald Trump has tweeted that he has approved an ``expedited request'' for a major disaster declaration for California.

``Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God bless all of the victims and families affected,'' Trump said.

Firefighters made progress on the much smaller Hill Fire north of Malibu and south of Simi Valley in Ventura County. That wildfire, which has consumed about 4,500 acres and destroyed two structures, was 80 percent contained. No civilians or firefighters were killed or injured and full

containment was expected Wednesday.