Pizza Shop Owner Rescues Grandparents From Woolsey Fire -- By Boat
As the raging Woolsey Fire approached toward Malibu, Jamie Woolner had no way to reach his grandparents who live in Paradise Cove. They had no phone signal and no power, and he didn't know how to get to them. So he decided to get a boat.
Woolner knew that his grandparents had a somewhat casual attitude about the fire danger in the area. In past fires, they had usually opted to stay in their home, despite being in an evacuation zone. But after he saw on the news that the fire had jumped PCH, he knew this time was different.
He reached out on Facebook on Friday, asking if anyone could help him charter a boat. Most people who responded were too worried about putting their boats at risk due to weather conditions and visibility.
He reached out again early Saturday and connected with Anthony Perez, who owns Nautical Tech Services, a yacht motor repair company.
Woolner said that Perez told him, "Listen, I'm repairing one of my clients' boats. My client is already out on his other boat in Malibu trying to save people. As soon as I'm done with this repair, we can leave."
He went to the marina and met Perez, along with five other guys, including the captain of a mega-yacht. The boat they were taking was parked right next to an even larger hundred-million-dollar yacht owned by the developer of the Grove, who Woolner said ordered his captain to pilot their boat.
So they took a luxury yacht and set out from Marina del Rey. Perez and one of his employees, Will, were on that boat, while another boat owned by that developer followed behind with a crew of two.
"None of them knew me, really. None of them knew my grandparents. But they were just out there to help," Woolner said.
About 45 minutes later, they arrived at Paradise Cove. Woolner and those with him didn't have a raft, so they jumped off the boat in their bathing suits and swam to shore.
As they ran up to the house, they passed what looked like the beginning of a small brush fire two doors down from his grandparents' house.
When they got to the house, he found the spare key and let himself in.
"I ran up the stairs, and I yelled, 'Grammy!' And she said, 'Yeah?'" Woolner said. "I said, 'Listen, I came to rescue you.'"
His grandparents, Gayle and Irving, had been napping. He asked if they had a way out, and they said they weren't going to leave.
"I said, 'No, you don't understand. The fire is here. You have to go,'" Woolner said.
They continued to resist, but he took them outside and showed them the nearby brush fire, starting to pick up steam.
"My grandfather still didn't want to leave, so I had to make up a little bit of a lie to get him to leave," Woolner said. "I said, 'Listen, Grammy told me she really wants to leave, but she's only staying because of you, and she's really scared. Which was not the case."
They finally agreed to leave. Their car was already packed, so as they prepared to leave, Woolner, Perez, and Will returned to the boat to rescue other people.
But as they headed back, they saw that the brush fire had become a real fire, so they decided to try to put it out.
Will pulled hoses, fire extinguishers and a shovel from a nearby construction site. He also spotted 55-gallon barrels of diesel fuel powering a crane, so it added urgency to their attempts to extinguish the fire.
"And that would be a real fire, and maybe we'd die, and maybe other houses would be destroyed," Woolner said.
They pulled another hose from Woolner's grandparents' house. They got helped from a deputy who Woolner's aunt had called to check on the grandparents. They'd also been stuck in their garage, so the deputy helped them to get out.
Woolner and the others headed back to the fire and managed to put it out. By then, it was almost nightfall -- so they knew the wind would be picking up.
They swam out and waved down a small boat, which shuttled back out to the larger ship they'd arrived in sitting half a mile out.
"My grandparents are perfectly fine," Woolner said. They went to their condo in Palm Springs. "But I think it was well worth us going out there, because they had no idea of the danger they were in."
Perez went back out Sunday to help Red Cross bring supplies to Malibu, while Woolner went back to work at the pizza shop he owns, Pizza of Venice in Altadena.
At a community meeting Sunday, Malibu City Councilman Skylar Peak had warned people not to try approaching Malibu by boat.
"I feel like they kind of have to say that, because they don't want to be liable for anybody getting hurt that isn't an official," Woolner said "But I feel like it's just like with the 'Cajun Navy' during the hurricane, and New Orleans, and Katrina, and all the different situations that have required civilians. We all need to help each other."
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Pizza of Venice's location. LAist regrets the error.
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