Palisades Hillside Fire Burns about 40 Acres: Rim Houses Are Saved, Two People Injured

The Palisades Fire started on October 21 on Palisades Drive and threatened homes on upper Marquez Knolls. This photograph was taken from Haverford Street, near Gelson’s.
Photo: Tanya Barcessat (Visit: TanyaBarcessat.com)

The Palisades Fire, which was reported at 10:30 this morning, burned about 40 acres by nightfall. About 200 homes were evacuated in the upper Marquez area (east of Palisades Drive) but no structures were damaged.

At a 5 p.m. press briefing, L.A. Fire Department Assistant Chief Patrick Butler said the cause of the fire is undetermined, but that the fire started along Palisades Drive, just north of the Sea Ridge condominiums.

“There is heavy debris, landslides and rocks coming down in that area,” Butler said. “There are arson investigators on scene.”

LAPD Officer John “Rusty” Redican said he had investigated that area last week for homeless individuals and that there were no encampments or evidence of homeless in the thick brush.

The Palisades Fire started along Palisades Drive and the photo was taken by the person who called in the fire.
Photo: Courtesy: Officer Rusty Redican

Around 12:30 p.m., Circling the News accompanied a Marquez Knolls resident to the top of Enchanted Way. Smoke was billowing over the hill, ash was falling and some residents were in their driveways, waiting to see if they needed to evacuate.

Like many places in Pacific Palisades, cell phone reception is problematic and some residents on that block did not receive the LA Notify Texts or the Emergency Management Department notifications.

Even though Enchanted Way is only a street over from fire-threatened Vista Grande and Charmel Lane, gardeners were working, Federal Express was delivering packages and several people were driving up the street looking for a viewpoint to watch the approaching fire.

“This isn’t right,” my friend said. “If we have to evacuate down this street, all these cars will be trying to get down at the same time.” (At the top of Marquez Knolls, as well as the Highlands and Paseo Miramar, there is only one road out.)

Helicopters made numerous water drops and saved numerous homes.

Later, I observed traffic stacked up on both sides of Sunset Boulevard by Palisades Drive. Cars were parked along the four-lane major artery, because Highlands residents were not allowed to go up the road.

Calvary Christian School parents once again (a brush fire occurred on September 30 along Palisades Drive) walked the short distance to the school, picked up their children and walked back to Sunset. Parents and kids praised the teachers for staying so calm during the incident.

Palisadian Allison Holdorff Pohill, director of communications for LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin, said that Marquez Elementary parents were told they could pick up students; by 1 p.m. only 60 students (out of 500 remained) on site. At Palisades Elementary about 60 students were picked up early, with about 440 students remaining.

Many Paul Revere Middle School kids ride buses, and parents were alerted that buses would not be able to go to Marquez and the Highlands, but the bus would drop at the Palisades Library. Revere Community Liaison Lori Vogel, Pohill and parent Matt Rodman were at the library waiting for the kids when they arrived.

Additionally, Vogel, who works with transportation, alerted bus companies about the fire, so kids attending private schools were also dropped off at the library.

The following area of Upper Marquez Knolls in Pacific Palisades was under mandatory evacuation.

LAFD Captain Brandon Silverman said a mandatory evacuation took effect at 12:35 p.m. for upper Marquez. The area, which contains about 200 houses, was bordered by Charmel to the west, Bienveneda to the east, Merivale to the south and the end of Lachman and Charmel to the north.

“This is done out of abundance of caution,” Silverman said. “There are no structures threatened in that area.

“We are going to have significant number of air resources coming through the area above those homes and would rather have residents pack their bags and get out of the area and leave the area clear for fire crews to work,” he explained.

LAFD Spokesman Brian Humphrey added, “Evacuating residents are asked to notify their neighbors of this Mandatory Evacuation Order, and to offer what evacuation assistance they can to neighbors who have mobility or functional needs.”

The Palisades Recreation Center was opened as an evacuation center. The big gym had no air conditioning or Wi-Fi, and Rec employee Chris Wilson said that in working there for 22 years, this was the first time he could remember the gym being used for this purpose.

The Red Cross worker on site said that the gym was activated as an evacuation center, but not as a shelter.

At 5:30 p.m., Highlands residents with identification were being allowed to return to their homes with police escort. According to the LAFD alert, only one lane of Palisades Drive would be open.

The Mandatory Evacuation Area in Marquez was lifted at 8:25 p.m., but residents were warned via an LAFD alert that “Everyone in high fire danger areas should be cautious and ready to quickly evacuate, since fire danger weather conditions will continue to be dangerously dry and windy over the next several days.”

The fire started next to Palisades Drive and went up the hill.

Butler said at a press conference that “The probability of ignition is very high. If an ember falls in a fuel bed it has 100 percent chance of catching fire.”

The continuation of hot, dry air and Santa Ana winds into next week could present a problem if the fire is not completely out.

One resident, who had returned to her house for her cat, found two firetrucks on her cul de sac and said that the firefighters would be stationed on her street all night in case the fire shifts. She stayed to serve them some food.

“They’re saying the fire is under control,” she said, “but if the wind shifts, they don’t know, so they are taking precautions on the Marquez side.”

In addition to LAFD, the police department had about 50 officers on scene.

Butler said, “You’ve seen some tremendous air shows, not only with LAFD and the County, but with support from CalFire.” The big planes dropped phos-check, the red fire retardant that keeps a fire from burning.”

At an early fire update, LAFD’s Humphrey wrote: “No structures are believed to have sustained significant damage. This is due to strong overall compliance with strict brush clearance regulations and a lack of wind.”

Butler said there were two injuries. A firefighter suffered minor injuries and a civilian was transported complaining of respiratory problems.

Palisades Drive was shut at Sunset Boulevard. Highlands residents could not reach their homes.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Palisades Hillside Fire Burns about 40 Acres: Rim Houses Are Saved, Two People Injured

  1. Linda Deacon says:

    Excellent job reporting on this fire. Thank you!

  2. Nancy Brennan says:

    Sue,
    Why would LAUSD send all those children in buses to a LAPL branch without talking to anyone at Central Library? Just being told that children are coming is hardly adequate preparation for those circumstances. There should have been useful interaction with LAPL administration before all those public and private school children were sent there. And why would they move them closer to the fire.? Brentwood/ Kaufman branch was further away and thus, safer. I know the City and the County are different entities, but that was very poorly done on the part of Revere.

    • Sue says:

      Nancy,

      The Library was meant to be a site where parents who live in the Highlands and in Upper Marquez could pickup their kids or have a friend take them home. This was a much safer alternative than having a bus driver let the kids off on Sunset and the kids not being able to get home.

      Revere had made arrangements with the librarian prior and they were welcoming because it seems that many Palisades kids use the library after school. I was there when the buses dropped kids off and parents/nannys/caregivers were waiting outside the library.

      That operation was seamless and I think a pat on the back should go to Revere for alerting private school bus drivers that some of the roads/routes would be closed.

      There are other issues that need to be addressed from a safety point–for example many people in the Palisades do not get the alerts from the city and had no idea whether they were supposed to evacuate.

      Sue

      p.s. I need to do a story on the Revere busing to explain it to residents because it has a much different look than it did decades ago. Parents in the Palisades pay to have their kids take a bus–and not everyone does it. It was done to try and alleviate all of the car traffic that goes to Revere everyday.

  3. Eileen says:

    Excellent writing, photography and map. Thank you, Susan. Huge thanks to the firefighters and police who worked so hard and are still at it now.

    MUCH needs to be done to better prepare us in the Highlands for evacuations/fires in the future. There was confusion and delays regarding the fire-road exit. EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE HIGHLANDS should know EXACTLY where the fire road is. There should be a simple way for those displaced when Palisades Drive is closed due to fire to be able to know the specific hours when they can return. Even as late as 11 PM there was a two hour wait to get from Sunset up into the Highlands. And sad to say, some Palisades drivers rejected waiting in line and instead drove up closer to make a double right turn line into the Highlands which could have caused collisions for other drivers trying to go to all the way to PCH. Another observation: wouldn’t it be better if the Calvary School drove the students on a bus into Palisades village to the library or rec center or some other designated spot so parents could pick them up there? Your article points out that there were many parked cars on both sides of Sunset on curves near the Palisades Drive making passage very difficult and dangerous. Thank you.

  4. Bob says:

    Excellent reporting.

    As to the “fire road exit”, much conflicting information exists. We don’t even know who has the keys to open it. A clear policy should be established and made known.

    Ironically, this fire demonstrated the potential “fire death grip” on the Highlands–a fire that blocks Palisades Drive and burns up Santa Ynez Canyon but also burns up across the top of Marquez, thereby denying the use of the fire road exit as well. Hope we never see it, although I believe that scenario largely occurred in 1978.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *