News

Actions

Woolsey Fire a challenge due to Red Flag Warning

Posted: 5:45 AM, Nov 12, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-12 13:45:23Z
Woolsey Fire a challenge due to Santa Ana winds
Woolsey Fire a challenge due to Santa Ana winds
Woolsey Fire a challenge due to Santa Ana winds

MALIBU (CNS) - Santa Ana winds are forecast to pick up more Monday than Sunday and may continue into Wednesday as firefighters battling the deadly Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties work to hold the blaze within cleared containment lines and officials worry that unburned areas continue to pose potential danger.

At last word from Cal Fire, the blaze had burned 85,500 acres and was 15 percent contained by cleared vegetation. The total number of structures threatened remained at about 57,000. The number of structures destroyed held at 177, with hundreds more considered likely. Full containment was expected by Nov. 17. Two people have died and three firefighters have been injured battling the blaze.

More than 3,200 firefighters were assigned to the blaze and 22 helicopters worked from above, officials said. A number of air tankers were in use to suppress flames as conditions allowed.

Santa Ana winds Monday could be a bit stronger than Sunday and heavier gusts could follow Tuesday,  National Weather Service Meteorologist Curt Kaplan said. Today's wind gusts could last longer into the afternoon as well.

Winds in mountain areas could average 50-60 mph and gust to 70 mph Tuesday and foothill and coastal areas are expected to see 35-50 mph winds, Kaplan said.  A Red Flag Warning remained in effect for Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Tuesday, when winds will be strongest in the mornings and early afternoons, giving firefighters a nightly reprieve. That Red Flag Warning could be extended into Wednesday as winds could be stronger than earlier expected, he said.

While most evacuation orders remained in effect, the sheriff's department announced that repopulation has begun for Agoura Hills and Westlake Village residents affected by the fire.

The California Highway Patrol Sunday night reopened the northbound and southbound Ventura (101) Freeway from Valley Circle Boulevard with the offramps at Cheseboro Road, Kanan Road, Reyes Adobe Road and Lindero Canyon reopening. Pacific Coast Highway remained closed to all traffic from the Ventura/Los Angeles County line to Sunset Boulevard.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby told a media gathering that crews were working around the clock to build containment lines, knock down flare-ups and update damage numbers. He said there are no new figures yet as to the number of structures destroyed, but noted: ``That number will increase.''

Osby said there were flare-ups in several canyons as winds kicked up Sunday, but none outside the footprint of where the fire already had burned.

Osby credited the Los Angeles Fire Department with keeping areas to the south, especially in Bell Canyon, ``buttoned up'' employing some 50 engines on the fire's flank to keep it from spreading south of Mulholland Highway into Pacific Palisades and Topanga Canyon.

He told reporters, ``To my understanding, we have lost no structures today.''

Osby and others expressed frustration with residents who failed to evacuate, saying they were hindering firefighters, and urged residents to stay away.

He warned evacuating residents to be careful of landslides and to watch out for many downed power lines that could still be live.

And 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.

While some residents will soon be heading home, Calabasas City Manager Gary Lysik issued a statement Sunday evening on social media informing residents of Calabasas that the entire city was now under mandatory evacuation orders.

``For your safety and the safety of your family, please collect necessary person items and evacuate the city as quickly as possible, and please follow instructions provided by law enforcement,'' Lysik said. He also said that residents can get the latest information about the city's situation on the website www,cityofcalabasas,com.

A town hall meeting about the fire was held Sunday at Taft Charter High School and attended by hundreds of concerned residents from the west San Fernando Valley down to Malibu. The tense, standing room only crowd was given briefings by representatives of law enforcement, fire departments, school districts, utilities and politicians.

Sheriff's deputies have been put on 12-hour rotational shifts, with 500 to 600 deputies available to patrol the affected areas, Los Angeles sheriff's Chief John Benedict told the town hall crowd.

Benedict also said the badly burned bodies of two people 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,'' Benedict said.

Questions were raised online and at the town hall regarding the possible danger of radioactive dust posed by the fire since it had burned through the former Rocketdyne site at the Santa Susana field. And many residents expressed frustration at not knowing when they would be able to return to their homes.

A representative from the state's Department of Toxic Substances and Control told the crowd that his office had sent a monitoring team to the area that found no evidence of radioactive ash posing a threat. He said the team would continue monitoring the site for problems. However the DTSC representative did not stay to take questions.

Malibu City Councilman Skylar Peak said residents can not re-enter Malibu for safety reasons until the mandatory evacuation order is lifted. He also asked those people to refrain from attempting to get back into Malibu by boat.

There are still about 3,500 students sheltered at Malibu's Pepperdine University, Benedict said, bringing an angry reaction from a number of Malibu residents who asked if resources were being diverted from protecting houses in Malibu to protecting Pepperdine University.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief David Richardson tried to quell the anger by explaining the situation at Pepperdine.

``Pepperdine has a long-standing understanding with the county fire and sheriff's departments,'' Richardson said. ``Pepperdine is a large facility that can support a large number of people. It was a viable option.''

He also told the crowd that a ballpark figure for their return to Malibu was three to five days.

David Peterson of the Las Virgenes Water District told people they were doing their best to keep supplying water to the district.

He said the LVWD experienced a power outage at one point , but it quickly was repaired by Southern California Edison. He also said because of the electrical problems caused by the fire, the water district had now issued a ``boil water advisory'' for parts of the district. A similar advisory was issued by Los Angeles County Water District No. 29.

Chris Thompson of Southern California Edison 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.

For residents waiting and watching to hear about their homes, law enforcement offered reassurances about patrol presence.

There were ``zero incidents of looting or burglary in the affected areas,'' Bixler said.

Peak said more than 50 homes have been lost in the Point Dume area, and more than half the city was without electricity Sunday.

Officials said City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson ``Zuma Jay'' Wagner was recuperating at a local hospital from conditions related to his efforts to save his home on Friday night during the Woolsey Fire.

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 multimillion-dollar mansions and mobile homes. The cause remained under investigation, Cal Fire said.

Pepperdine University announced Sunday that 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.

The City of Malibu reported that all mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect 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.

Fire information for Los Angeles County can be found at www.lacounty.gov/woolseyfire . Malibu also has established a 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 meeting to assess air quality and overall safety issues before issuing a districtwide email to families about the school schedule for the rest of the week.

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

The expected return of the winds led to the re-imposition of the Red Flag Parking Restriction Program, according to Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart, who warned 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.

Orange County Fire Authority officials say they have sent 20 engines to assist with the fires, and firefighters have come in from off time to ensure that every OCFA fire station is adequately staffed.

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.

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

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.

The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Services was on site assisting as well.

Those in Ventura County needing 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, which has consumed about 4,500 acres and destroyed two structures was 75 percent contained.

No civilians or firefighters were killed or injured and full containment was expected Wednesday.

Governor Jerry Brown, responding to the Southern California fires and the Camp Fire in Northern California that has burned more than 100,000 acres and killed at least 29 people, announced Sunday he is requesting a ``major disaster declaration'' from President Donald Trump, in addition to an earlier
emergency declaration signed by Trump that will provide federal funds to aid firefighters.

Approval of such a declaration would provide funding to support housing, counseling, crisis management and infrastructure recovery efforts.