Woolsey Fire: Sunday Afternoon Update

The 1978 Mandeville Canyon Fire raged in the Santa Monica Mountains above Palisades High School.

Woolsey Fire: Palisades Should Remain on Alert

Santa Ana winds are predicted to kick up this afternoon and last through Tuesday. Pacific Palisades residents to heed any new fires that might break out in the Santa Monica Mountains that abut the community.

Topanga Canyon residents were asked to evacuate on Friday because of the deadly Woolsey Fire, which started in Simi Valley and reached as far east as Pepperdine on Friday night.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department put out the following advisory Sunday at 10:59 a.m.: “LASD has reports of numerous residents specifically in the Topanga area that have choose to shelter in place at their homes. The Department is advising to immediately leave and move to one of our shelters or to another location out of danger.

“For those who remain in the Topanga area, officials urge you to evacuate and allow Fire and Law Enforcement partners to move in to the area to protect the homes and properties. First responders are grateful for the patience and cooperation shown by the community.”

That notification should serve as a warning to Palisades residents.

When I worked at the Palisadian-Post, editor Bill Bruns sent me to a full-day fire prevention seminar hosted by the Los Angeles Fire Department, which discussed in detail the lessons taken away from the November 1961 Bel-Air Fire.

Spread by the Santa Ana winds, embers can travel a mile or more in front of the fire, causing new fires to pop up (as we have been witnessing on television these past several years as major brush and forest fires scour the state).

The last major burn in Pacific Palisades was late October 1978, when flames destroyed 30 homes, the sanctuary at St. Matthew’s and part of the Mill Building on upper Bienveneda.

One only has to hike the trails above Temescal Canyon and Will Rogers State Park to see the uninterrupted growth and how dry the underbrush has become. Several stray embers could result in a popup fires in Pacific Palisades.

People in the Palisades Highlands, who basically only have one way in and out, should be on alert and leave plenty of time in case evacuation is needed (especially in the middle of the night).

Palisades High School continues to be an evacuation center for the Red Cross.

If you are asked to evacuate, take a pre-packed bag that may include will/trust documents, power of attorney, insurance policies, recent tax return, copies of birth/marriage certificates, Social Security cards, passports, list of prescriptions, emergency cash, safe-deposit keys, driver’s license, computer user names and passwords and checking and saving account numbers (and any other valuable documents that are not in your safe-deposit box).

In addition to important paperwork, your safe-deposit box should have inventory and photographs of valuable possessions for insurance purposes.

Make sure each family member has a sleeping bag and/or blankets and a change of clothing. Put your pets in carriers to make sure they are not frightened and run away.

The 1978 Mandeville Canyon Fire burned 30 homes in Pacific Palisades.

According to a December 2017 article in Science Magazine (“In California Fires, a Starring Role for the Wicked Wind of the West”), “Cal Fire assistant deputy director Chief Daniel Berlant said the wind speed of the Santa Anas makes firefighting nearly impossible.

“In many cases, it’s all we can do just to try to control the path of the fire, trying to keep it away from people and homes,” Berlant said. “Stopping a fire when wind is 50, 60, 70 miles per hour is almost not possible.

“These fires burn into anything that’s in their path. A wind-driven fire is like a freight train and stopping a freight train on a dime doesn’t happen.

“Helicopters can’t drop water or flame retardants in high winds, because the gusts blow the liquids away.

“Santa Anas also dry out trees, shrubs and grasses, turning them into tinder and spreading the blaze.

“It’s the winds that spread the embers and fan the fire,” Berlant said. “That makes the fire burn fast and jump ahead, as embers fly in the high wind.”

Pepperdine University has posted on its website that after “an assessment of the needs of our community members, as well as ongoing challenges presented by the Woolsey Fire, University officials have made the decision to close the Malibu and Calabasas campuses through the Thanksgiving holiday period. Regularly scheduled classes and events held on the Malibu and Calabasas campuses will resume on November 26.

“Classes for students will be administered remotely through a combination of online, email and remote assignments.”

As a resident watched, the Mandeville Canyon Fire, which had started near Mullholland and the 405 Freeway by an arsonist, raged in the hills above Pacific Palisades.

(Editor’s note: The photos are courtesy of Ruth Mills, who has a copy of the 1979 Palisades High School  Yearbook, which contained photos of the 1978 Fire. Later, there was also  1993 fire in Topanga Canyon that burned close to the western ridge line of Santa Ynez Canyon. Then, Mills lived on Enchanted Way and recalled watching the water drops on the ridge across the canyon, as neighbors up and down Enchanted Way cheered from their back yards.)

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One Response to Woolsey Fire: Sunday Afternoon Update

  1. Our best man in our wedding 36 years ago is a retired LAPD officer. He was the lead officer in Brentwood. He shared with me a exercise with the Fire Command of LA. They explained to him just how fast a fire at the 405 – Getty center can go to the ocean. ( just as the speed of the fire from the 101 to Malibu just happened ). The 50 mph+ wind flies sparks from peak to peak that begins clusters of individual fires that travel on their own . The fire chiefs said the sparks can actually travel faster than a vehicle. I worked on a fire crew and saw a small amount of it. Living in So Cal, preparation for environmental events is forgotten about . And only remember for a short time after such event happens !

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