Residents Displaced by Woolsey Fire Begin Returning Home, Prepare for Rain

The Woolsey Fire has burned through nearly 100,000 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains. Photo: CAL FIRE (Twitter).

95 percent containment, nearly 100,000 acres burned. 

By Sam Catanzaro

Over eleven days of destruction, firefighters have nearly contained the Woolsey Fire, which has burned through almost 100,000 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles and Ventura counties destroying at least 1,500 structures. At the time of publishing, the fire is at 95 percent containment. 

“Firefighting resources will continue to mop up and patrol. Crews remain diligent in providing public service to residents as they return to their homes. Structures destroyed and damaged have been validated by damage assessment teams. Currently 95% of the burn assessment is complete,”  CAL FIRE said in a statement Monday morning. 

On Saturday, November 17, President Donald Trump, California Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom surveyed they damage in Malibu and the surrounding area after Trump pledged federal assistance to the state to help with recovery efforts.

The fire, which has caused the fatalities of three people and injured three firefighters, forced mandatory evacuation orders in the cities of Malibu, Topanga, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Hidden Hills and Thousand Oaks. Most of these areas have been repopulated but at the time of publishing, there were still regions of northern Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains under mandatory evacuation orders. See map below. 

 

Areas of Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains still under mandatory evacuation orders as of Monday morning. Map: CAL FIRE.


Even as firefighters put out the blaze, officials urged those displaced by the wildfire not to return until first responders declare the area safe and lift mandatory evacuation orders.

“It may look safe enough to go back and check on your home, but don’t do it,” said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby at a press conference. “The potential dangers you may encounter could cost you your life. We will let you know when it’s safe to go home.”

Dangers within the impacted area include live embers, landslides, unhealthy air quality and downed live power lines.

Officials caution residents who have started to return home to be wary of their surroundings as the dangers of the fire can still linger.

“Check grounds for hot spots, smoldering stumps, and vegetation. Check the roof and exterior areas for sparks or embers. Check the attic and throughout your house for any hidden burning sparks or embers. Check for fire damage to your home, turn off all appliances and make sure the meter is not damaged before turning on the main circuit breaker,” said CAL FIRE.

Firefighters initially expected to contain the Woolsey Fire by Saturday, November 18, but challenging conditions pushed this date back. At the time of publishing, Cal Fire expected the fire to be contained by November 22.

In the wake of the fire officials have urged residents to help with cash donations but cautioned members of the public to beware of financial scams related to wildfire recovery support.

“[We are] urging that donations be made to reputable first responder, relief, and animal‐aid organizations,” Los Angeles County Emergency Operations Center said in a press release. These include the American Red Cross, United Way and Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation.

On Wednesday and Thursday, there is a chance of rain, which may offer a reprieve from the hot and dry conditions, but also brings along the possibility of mudslides due to unstable ground post-fire.

“The after effects of a wildfire on watershed can be drastic causing immediate issues and long term effects. Rates of erosion and runoff can increase to dangerous levels following wildfires in California. Normally trees, shrubs, grass and other protective groundcover help prevent soil detachment and allow rainfall to infiltrate into the soil. After a wildfire the extreme heat can bake the soil to the point that water is unable to penetrate and can cause excessive run off in a post wildfire area,” said Cal Fire.

To prepare CAL FIRE firefighters are implementing post-fire repair efforts. This includes installing water bars (ditches cut at an angle into the soil, removing soil from streams where fire lines crossed, bringing road drainage structures back to pre-fire conditions, removing hazards like burned trees from roads and power lines and installing straw-waddle dams on hillsides.

Visit http://www.readyforwildfire.org/After-a-Wildfire/ for more information on returning home after a fire.