The Woolsey fire made a destructive march through Ventura and Los Angeles counties on Friday, reducing numerous suburban homes to ashes, closing freeways and forcing evacuations from Calabasas and Thousand Oaks to Malibu as the massive blaze grew to 10,000 acres.
The blaze, fueled by dry conditions and extreme winds, jumped the 101 Freeway on Friday morning and was making a march toward the Pacific Ocean. Its rapid growth overnight prompted thousands of people to flee from their homes as the flames came close.
Despite strong winds and poor visibility from thick smoke hanging over the region, firefighters spent the night and morning battling the fire by air and on the ground, in some cases preventing it from sweeping through neighborhoods. But fire officials said at least 20 homes were destroyed, perhaps more.
“It’s been a long night,” said Corey Rose, an assistant chief with the Los Angeles Fire Department. “But what makes this good is that we’ve done it together.”
Officials at 10 a.m. extended a mandatory evacuation order to include the entire city of Malibu. The evacuations had been in effect for several hours from the 101 Freeway to the coast between Las Virgenes Canyon/Malibu Canyon Road to the Los Angeles County line. Residents in Westlake Village and areas of Calabasas also were ordered to leave their homes early Friday.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Tony Imbrenda said officials are rushing to evacuate people from neighborhoods in Malibu. Those fleeing jammed traffic on surface streets. That situation was made worse by several traffic signals that were out on Pacific Coast Highway from Topanga Canyon to John Tyler Drive because of power outages.
“We have too many people lingering,” Imbrenda said. “We need people to pack up and get out for their own safety.”
The fire prompted Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom on Friday to declare a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Ventura counties on behalf of Gov. Jerry Brown, who was out of the state. Newsom also sent a request to federal officials and President Trump for assistance to support communities affected by the fire.
All told, roughly 88,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties had been evacuated by Friday morning. No fatalities or severe injuries have been reported, despite several accounts of people being trapped by the fire.
Authorities said they have no containment of the Woolsey fire, which comes as strong Santa Ana winds blow through the region. Intense winds fueled the blaze overnight into Friday morning, and about 2,000 firefighters are anticipating a tough battle through much of the day as dry conditions are predicted to continue, officials said.
Forecasters said the area should expect gusts of 40 to 50 mph in the valleys and coasts, and from 60 to 70 mph in the mountains on Friday. The National Weather Service issued a red-flag fire warning through Friday night.
L.A. County Deputy Fire Chief David Richardson said a main challenge for firefighters has been competing for resources between wildfires. With several fires raging across the state, including the Camp fire in Butte County, agencies are stretched thin.
“There’s a multitude of fires happening, and entire communities are being impacted,” he said.
Ventura County fire officials said crews that had been working the Hill fire, which has scorched roughly 7,000 acres in the Santa Rosa Valley area, were redirected overnight to the Woolsey fire. Officials said they expect the Hill fire to burn to the ocean.
The news of evacuation in Thousand Oaks added to the exhaustion of residents, many of whom had been shaken by news of a horrific shooting nearby at Borderline Bar and Grill less than a day earlier. Resident Melissa Snyder said it had been a hellish 24 hours for her family.
Early Thursday, she received the devastating news that her close family friend, 21-year-old Noel Sparks, had been among those killed in the massacre. Snyder has known Sparks since she was a baby and could barely make sense of that tragedy, which took place just a few miles from her Hillcrest neighborhood, before she was told to leave her home as the Woolsey fire neared.
“We didn’t get over the one tragedy until the next thing started,” Snyder said.
On Friday morning, Snyder wore a robe as she stood in a Woodland Hills parking lot outside a Manhattan Bagels with her husband and five children.
Her daughter Kaylee got a frantic call early in the morning from her friend Madison that they needed to get moving.
The normally deserted 101 Freeway at 3 a.m. was packed with cars. Kaylee, 16, said it was “like you were leaving hell.”
“I’m confused and overwhelmed,” she said.
Steve Snyder said the family’s nerves were somewhat frayed from the lack of sleep. As news of the Borderline tragedy broke, they weren’t sure whether the shooter had been apprehended. They thought he might be in their neighborhood and stood by the door just in case.
“It’s been two nights of no sleep,” he said.
In Ventura County, Douglas Wayne stood at the corner of Kanan Road and Lindero Canyon Road in Oak Park, watching the fire burn the hillside behind his family’s home, where they’ve lived about 17 years.
Wayne said he was around when a fire threatened the community many years ago. But that time, he said, there was no wind. Neighbors sat outside, watching it burn. This time was different.
It got smoky quickly, he said, and then suddenly an alert came to evacuate immediately.
“We don’t have tornadoes, we don’t have hurricanes. We have earthquakes, and the fires, but earthquakes are like a bad shot in the [butt] — it hurts for a moment, but then you can fix and repair, and you’re OK. You don’t live in terror,” Wayne said. “This was really scary.”
At 1 a.m., firefighters in Oak Park were working furiously to stop the blaze.
Flames engulfed a home at Churchwood Drive and Kellwood Court, while the roofs of a few other homes burned. Firefighters sprayed streams of water from their hoses in an attempt to save what was left of the homes.
Other areas placed under mandatory evacuation include the entire communities of Oak Park and Westlake Village, and portions of Thousand Oaks, from Thousand Oaks Boulevard north to Sunset Hills and from Oak Park west to Highway 23. Previous evacuation orders remain in place for Saddlebow Road in Bell Canyon. In Los Angeles County, evacuations were ordered above the 101 Freeway from Valley Circle to Lindero Canyon Road, and south of Bell Canyon Road, west of Valley Circle Boulevard and east to the Los Angeles city limit.
The Woolsey fire, which broke out Thursday afternoon south of Simi Valley, exploded in size overnight — with no sign of stopping. It had crossed over the Albertson Motorway, the ridgeline that separates Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, in an area called China Flat, above Cheeseboro and Palo Comado canyons, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said.
Embers from burning vegetation and structures are the primary contributor to rapid fire spread, according to fire officials.
Wind-whipped conditions make “ripe conditions for explosive fire behavior,” Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Erik Scott told KNBC-TV Channel 4. “This is the new normal. When we have conditions like this, when it’s such incredible wind, that brings us in to a different caliber, so it’s become a much more challenging condition.”
Cosgrove, Vives and Oreskes reported from Ventura County, Tchekmedyian and Fry from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Melissa Etehad contributed to this report.
10:45 a.m.: This article has been updated with additional details from fire officials.
9:20 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional details and background.
7:30 a.m.: This article was updated with evacuations being ordered in Malibu and new information about fire resources and winds.
5:30 a.m.: This article was updated with the Ventura County Fire Department reporting that the fire has jumped the 101 Freeway.
4:50 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from the Ventura County Fire Department about the fire’s fast spread.
3:50 a.m.: This article was updated with an increase in acreage and the number of homes under evacuation orders.
3:10 a.m.: This article was updated with additional evacuation orders.
2 a.m.: This article was updated new acreage, homes burned and interviews.
1:10 a.m.: This article was updated with more information.
This article was originally published at 12:45 a.m.