Lahaina Had Brush Fires Warnings: So Has Pacific Palisades

Evacuation routes out of Lahaina were limited.

The nation watched in horror at the devastation of Lahaina and the loss of life, now estimated at 106, because of the fire that ravaged the small town of 13,216 on the west coast of Maui.

At least 11,000 people were forced to evacuate. The Pacific Disaster Center estimated that more than 2,000 buildings had been destroyed.

The Wall Street Journal wrote in an August 12 story “Researchers Long Warned of Lahaina’s Wildfire Risk.”

“Nearly a decade before. . .researchers warned the area was at extremely high risk of burning.” Again, in a 2020 report, the possibility of high winds from a passing hurricane was addressed.

“Many panicked residents were unable to flee on the town’s one clogged highway and took boats or swam to safety, if there were able to escape at all,” WSJ wrote.

Some of the recommendations from the 2014 paper about wildfire danger for Lahaina were implemented, such as brushing-thinning efforts and public education. . . .but others such as ramping up emergency response capacity were not.

Elizabeth Pickett, who was the lead author of the 2014 report, told the WSJ “We’ve been hammering this home and it’s just really frustrating and heart breaking to see some of the things that could have been done, but we couldn’t find the money.”

Around Lahaina, there were basically two routes out of the town, Highway 30, which ran through the town near the coast and the Honoapi’ilani Highway which ran around the town. People who tried to evacuate by car, were overwhelmed by flames and embers, and either abandoned cars and ran into the ocean, or they were found dead in the autos.

Sirens that could have been used to warn residents, did not. Firefighters reported low water pressure, which made fighting the fires an issue. Cell phone towers were down, and cell phones were not working, according to reports.

But Jennifer Potter, a former state public-utility commissioner who lives on Maui, said, “I don’t think it’s fair to say we never saw this coming.”


There are limited routes for Palisades residents to evacuate because of the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Temescal Canyon Road (left of the stadium) is one of three routes that exits the small town. The people in all these homes would have to leave via this road or join the residents from north of Sunset Boulevard on Sunset. 
Photo: Brian Espin

Lahaina and Pacific Palisades are eerily similar. Both are located along the coast, both have moderate temperatures. Rainfall in Lahaina, averages around 24 inches a year, with a rainy season between October through March. The Palisades average rainfall is about 15 inches a year generally between November and March.

Lahaina and Pacific Palisades are surrounded by parkland and other large swarths of undeveloped land.

Lahaina had basically two ways to evacuate; Highway 30, which runs through the town, with a few streets connecting to the Honoapi’ilani Highway, a second major thoroufare.

Palisades has three ways out, Sunset to PCH or to Brentwood, and Chautauqua Boulevard and Temescal Canyon Road, which both lead to Pacific Coast Highway and the Ocean. Palisades’ Sunset is the equivalent of Lahaina’s Highway 30.

In case of a fire, sirens or cell phones were supposed to warn Lahaina residents. In case of a fire in Pacific Palisades, cell phone texts, if a resident has signed up, will alert a resident, there are no sirens here.

Just like Lahaina, Palisades residents have been warned about the possibility of a deadly fire. Although ideal places to live because of the climate and nature, both are surrounded by mountains and brush, both are isolated from urban areas.

Just like Lahaina, Pacific Palisades has been warned there could be a deadly fire, here several times. Brush in the surrounding parkland has not burned in decades.

The 2018 Paradise Fire killed 85 people and forced tens of thousands of others to flee their homes as flames destroyed 19,000 buildings in Northern California. Numerous people perished in their cars as they tried to flee the area.

An April 25 NBC Los Angeles story (“California Cities with the Worst Wildfire Evacuation Routes”) listed Pacific Palisades 90272 as one of 13 neighborhoods that could experience problems. (

According to a USA Today report, “A California Network analysis of California communities and evacuation routes shows that some areas in the state are far outside the norm when it comes to the number of lanes of roadway available for the size of the population.”

Pacific Palisades was identified as being roughly within the worst one percent in the state when it comes to population-to-evacuation-route ratios.

That analysis provided an estimate of how many people there are for every lane of major road leaving an area.

CTN, who has been covering the fires and roads in Pacific Palisades since about 2005, worries there’s no safe way to evacuate 28,000 people from Pacific Palisades on three available routes if a wind-swept fire roars through.

Pacific Palisades has been warned.

Tonight, CTN prints three fire stories about the dangers of living in an area where access for evacuation is limited: 1978 Fire, 1991 Oakland Fire and the Getty Fire.

Pacific Palisades has limited roads in and out of the town.
Photograph by D Ramey Logan, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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4 Responses to Lahaina Had Brush Fires Warnings: So Has Pacific Palisades

  1. Neven Karlovac says:

    Hi Sue,

    Thanks for this article but how about Palisades Highlands? If the rest of PP is in the worst 1% category we in the Highlands must 0.1%-ers.

    Worried but can’t leave this beautiful spot,


  2. Michael Lyle says:

    I’ve seen others mention that the gate at the top of Lachman is locked and it would pose a problem in the event of an evacuation. I keep a set of heavy duty bolt cutters in my trunk. I seldom need to use them, but they are great to have in an emergency.

  3. BT says:

    THIS is exactly why I’ve been looking elsewhere to live!

    The 2019 mandatory evacuation scared the s**t out of us, especially when for some effing stupid reason Highway Patrol (?) closed southbound PCH and detoured cars up Temescal to Sunset which gridlocked 2-lane Sunset

  4. J.A. says:

    And yet the community continues to turn a blind eye to the illegal fireworks and explosions happening on a regular basis, set off by minors around town and in the recreation center. Fire can spread the distance of a football field in less than 20 seconds; what happens when one of these explosions sparks some dry eucalyptus tinder, as happened when a eucalyptus branch was sparked in the Getty Fire?

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