The Woolsey Fire was a destructive wildfire that burned in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties of the U.S. state of California. The fire ignited on November 8, 2018 and burned 96,949 acres (39,234 hectares) of land. The fire destroyed 1,643 structures, killed three people, and prompted the evacuation of more than 295,000 people. It was one of several fires in California that ignited on the same day. While the nearby Hill Fire was contained with minimal damage on November 16, the Camp Fire in northern California destroyed most of the town of Paradise.
The fire raced through the chaparral-covered steep canyons where it encountered historic movie and TV sets, small ranches, and the homes of celebrities. Hundreds of homes in Malibu were destroyed or damaged on both sides of Pacific Coast Highway. Many of these were on Point Dume that juts out from the narrow coastal terrace that lies between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. While the firefighters successfully protected Pepperdine University to the south, the entire portion of the Malibu coast west to the community of Solromar suffered damage from the fire. Thousands of residents were kept away from their homes in numerous neighborhoods along the Ventura Freeway and the communities along the Malibu coast. The evacuations frustrated residents as they lasted for many days as the fire continued to threaten homes especially when the winds increased and fanned the flames. The evacuated residents were incrementally allowed to return to see if their home were damaged or destroyed as the fire continued to spread through the rugged wilderness at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains. Authorities in many of the damaged communities declared they needed to prevent residents from returning quickly as neighborhoods were crowded with crews repairing downed power lines and other hazardous conditions.
At 2:22 p.m. PST on Nov. 8, Southern California Edison reported an outage on the Big Rock 16 kV circuit out of the Chatsworth substation on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory property, south of Simi Valley, Ventura County, California. At 2:24 p.m. PST a brush fire was reported in the same location. The first firefighters arrived almost 20 minutes later due to complications of resources because of the nearby Hill Fire. Powerful Santa Ana winds, reaching 50 to 60 mph (80 to 97 km/h), caused the fire to spread rapidly and beyond firefighting capabilities. During the overnight hours into the early morning of November 9, the fire crossed U.S. Route 101 near Calabasas and spread through Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills. Aerial suppression of the fire was unable to commence until 5:00 a.m. PST, November 9, when winds lessened enough.
On the morning of November 9, Assistant L.A. County Fire Chief Williams told KBUU-LP that his request for 70 strike teams had been denied. The blaze spread rapidly throughout the day, reaching Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu by the afternoon devastating numerous homes there. Firefighters and firetrucks who did not know the area were reported idle by many frustrated citizens. Several homeowners stayed despite the mandatory evacuation to defend their homes.Pepperdine University in Malibu recommended that students shelter in place in specific buildings on campus rather than use the crowded highway to evacuate. Farther north, the flames spread to portions of Thousand Oaks, Bell Canyon, Oak Park. and the West Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. On the day before the Hill and Woolsey fires started, residents in the Conejo Valley experienced the shooting of thirteen people in a bar including a police officer and the perpetrator. As the fires threatened the community and otherwise disrupted their routine, memorial services had to be postponed.
By November 9, Cal Fire and the United States Forest Service were also helping local services with the fire. This resulted in 3,242 firefighters being deployed to contain the blaze by the morning of November 10. The fire had engulfed more than 70,000 acres (28,000 hectares) of land, forcing the evacuation of an estimated 295,000 people from 105,000 residences. This included an unprecedented total evacuation of Bell Canyon, Malibu,Agoura Hills, Malibou Lake, and Oak Park.
Before sunrise on November 14, the fire flared up in rugged wilderness at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains with winds blowing strongly. The fire burned well away from populated neighborhoods, but was threatening scattered home sites. The flare-up sent a huge column of smoke over Point Mugu and out to sea.
By November 21 at 6:11 p.m. PST, the fire was 100% contained.
The burn scar of the Woolsey Fire in and above Malibu dominates this aerial view.
Satellite image of the fire on November 9. The majority of western Malibu is engulfed by smoke and fire at the time of this image, with the blaze spreading into Thousand Oaks.
Two people were found dead in a vehicle on Mulholland Highway in Malibu. Emergency personnel were unable to reach the victims when a report of a critical burn victim was relayed, due to downed power lines. On Tuesday November 13, a third victim was discovered in the 32000 block of Lobo Canyon Road in Agoura Hills. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced on January 22, 2019 that charred human remains had been found in the burn area in Malibu and that homicide detectives were trying to determine if the victim had been killed in the flames or had met with foul play.
Reporters and officials rescued animals from homes, and brought them to shelters and vets. Other animals at locations such as Malibu Wines were either evacuated or cared for at the locations. Local fire officials opened Zuma Beach as an evacuation point for large animals, with pictures by the Los Angeles Times, showing llamas, alpacas, and horses tied to lifeguard stations and poles.
Response by President Donald Trump
On November 10, President Donald Trump blamed poor forest management by the state of California as the cause of the Woolsey Fire and the concurrent Camp Fire. In a controversial tweet, the President threatened to end federal assistance unless the state improves its "gross mismanagement of the forests."
The small groves of California sycamores and coast live oaks amidst the sage and chaparral covered hillsides in the area of the fire are not considered to be forests as commonly understood by the public or wildfire experts. Since these small, critical habitats are not logged, President Trump's statements had little relevance to the Southern California fire. Further, much of the area burned is within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a national park and the responsibility of the federal government.
The firemens' union disagreed with President Trump's claims, noting that California is experiencing unusually dry conditions and abnormally high fire danger. Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters, described Trump's assertion about the state's forest management practices as "dangerously wrong," noting that 60 percent of California forests are directly managed by the federal government, which has reduced spending on forestry in recent years.