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What Emergency Officials Got Right -- And What Did Not Work -- During Last Year's Monster Woolsey Fire

A firefighter is silhouetted by a burning home along Pacific Coast Highway during the Woolsey Fire on Nov. 9, 2018 in Malibu. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles County just released a long-anticipated report detailing how emergency officials responded to the devastating Woolsey Fire last November.

One key takeaway: the ferocious fire was unlike any blaze emergency responders had experienced before and they simply weren't prepared to fight it.

The fire broke out just after 2 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2018 on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory property near Chatsworth and rapidly burned west into Ventura County and south all the way to the coast.

By the time it was officially contained, the Woolsey Fire had burned more than 150 square miles, destroyed more than 1,600 homes and other structures, and displaced about a quarter-million people in L.A. and Ventura counties.

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"Even some of the largest, most experienced agencies in the United States were, at times, overwhelmed in the first hours by this incident's speed and weight of impact, exposing some limitations between the agencies and systems as they meshed into a single, wide-area regional response team in less than 24 hours," the report reads. "In large, dynamic wildfires, some life and structure loss are a tragic but expected possibility; however, what occurred in less than 24 hours was not anticipated by any prior plan or preparedness exercise."

MALIBU, CA - NOVEMBER 09: The Woolsey Fire approaches homes on November 9, 2018 in Malibu, California. About 75,000 homes have been evacuated in Los Angeles and Ventura counties due to two fires in the region. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images) (David McNew/David McNew)

The roughly 200-page report includes a timeline of events, maps depicting the origin point and spread of the fire, and 155 key findings. Those findings highlight what emergency responders did well, what they could have done much better and the various challenges they faced in fighting the fire -- and keeping the public informed and safe.

The report outlines three key themes for "needed improvements": communication, collaboration and situational awareness. Here are a few issues the report authors highlighted:

  • In the early hours after the fire broke out and quickly spread, "there was not a clear, single, comprehensive voice speaking to evacuation, and not all notification tools were used or used often enough."
  • There was "an over-reliance on Twitter" to get messages to the public. Officials pointed out that "not everyone is on Twitter or even the internet."
  • Better dialogue across agencies is imperative, since "wildfires do not respect jurisdictional lines of agencies, cities, special districts, or counties."
  • The multiple agencies and jurisdictions need to work together to have evacuation and repopulation action plans ready to go before a fire breaks out in Fire Hazard Severity Zones.
  • Emergency officials had not prepared any traffic evacuation plans or scenarios for the areas impacted by the Woolsey Fire
  • Agencies need to look for ways to reduce the "fog of war" effect on firefighters and other responders
  • More public education about how fire alerts and firefighting methods work is needed

You can read through the entire report below: