Woolsey Fire Burned 83% Of National Park Lands In Santa Monica Mountains; Trump Approves Disaster Declaration For California
Editor's note: Ventura County fire officials were initially referring to the Peak Fire as the Rocky Fire, but have since issued a correction.
The wildfires sweeping across Southern California have destroyed hundreds of homes, killed at least two people and injured several more, and ravaged beloved landmarks and park space.
On Monday night, fire officials said the Woolsey Fire had scorched more than 80 percent of the total National Park lands in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
President Donald Trump meanwhile said he had approved an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration, which would open up federal funds to assist fire-ravaged California.
"Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on," Trump said via Twitter. "I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected."
Crews already stretched thin by the Woolsey and Hill fires in Ventura and Los Angeles counties also had to contend with two new brush fires that broke out earlier Monday. See below for details on each.
The Peak Fire burned in the Santa Susana Pass -- to the edge of the 118 Freeway in the area of Rocky Peak between Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley. The fire burned about 186 acres, moving fast in the hills south of the freeway, but crews managed to stop forward progress shortly before 1 p.m.
By 4:30 p.m., the entire fire had been contained, Cal Fire reported.
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department said evacuation orders for residents in the Box Canyon and Lake Manor areas were lifted as of about 6:15 p.m.
All lanes of the 118 Freeway have been reopened following a full closure earlier in the day, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Metrolink also temporarily shut down service between Simi Valley and Chatsworth, but that service has been restored.
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The Lynn Fire broke out Monday morning near residential neighborhoods in Thousand Oaks and moved toward Hillcrest and Ventu Park Road, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. Structures were threatened but firefighters were making "good progress" and had support from water-dropping helicopters.
About 11:45 a.m., fire officials said nearby homes were no longer threatened and the fire was holding at 5 acres (downgraded from an initial report of 15 acres).
Shortly after 1 p.m., sheriff's officials said the fire was contained.
Meanwhile, thousands of firefighters continue to battle the Woolsey Fire, which grew slightly during the day Monday. The fire has burned 93,662 acres and is now 30 percent contained, according to an evening update from Cal Fire.
Fire officials now estimate that at least 435 structures have been destroyed by the blaze, which started Thursday afternoon in the hills south of Simi Valley. However, that total will likely change. Officials have completed only about 15 percent of the overall damage assement, so far confirming 82 structures were destroyed and 21 damaged.
Fire officials are out doing damage assessments in the #WoolseyFire burn area. Dangers in evacuated areas include downed power lines, buckled roads and embers that could reignite. Please stay away until you are told that it’s safe to return. pic.twitter.com/ynoU5Ju5Ic— Los Angeles County (@CountyofLA) November 12, 2018
IT IS NOT SAFE, we understand everyone wants to return home. #LASD is working with @LACoFDPIO @CountyofLA Public Works & Public Health to evaluate the damaged areas of #WoolseyFire as soon as it is safe we will let everyone know. 📸 @LHSLASD Deputy RM pic.twitter.com/L5Mr8okG6c— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) November 12, 2018
Thousand Oaks resident Marc Montemorra was the only one on his street that had his house burn down. He lives alone, so his sister flew in from Virginia to help him sort through the pile of charred wood.
There wasn't much left. His green pickup truck sat melted in the driveway. His Steinway piano, photos of him and his late father were all gone.
"And of course I've been joking, 'Well, I wanted to redecorate, anyway,'" Montemorra said. "I could choose to cry, or I could choose to laugh, and I choose to laugh."
Montemorra did tear up, though, when he thought about the families around him who were spared. He said firefighters let his house burn in order to protect others on the street.
"I guess if that has to be, I'm glad it was just me and not a whole family," he said.
Southern California Edison took steps earlier in the day to shut down power to portions of Moorpark Country Club Estates and Moorpark north of Broadway as a public safety precaution, according to Ventura County sheriff's officials.
Fire officials said the weather, steep terrain and limited access will continue to challenge crews through the night. Santa Ana winds could gust up to 30 mph. Still, Cal Fire officials are currently projecting full containment on Thursday.
Evacuation orders in some communities in both Los Angeles and Ventura counties have been lifted, but many are still in effect. Residents of Agoura Hills and Westlake Village were allowed back in beginning Sunday night, and all evacuees within the West Hills area in Los Angeles city limits were being allowed back as of Monday night, according to L.A. fire officials. Evacuation orders remained in effect for the entire cities of Malibu, Calabasas and Hidden Hills. The most recent full list from Cal Fire can be found here.
Authorities will hold an information session for evacuees at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Barnum Hall at Santa Monica High School, according to a bulletin posted to the city of Malibu's website.
At a Sunday community meeting, several people criticized Pepperdine's decision to have their students shelter in place and noted a lack of firefighters in Malibu.
In an interview on KPCC, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl responded that Pepperdine was following procedure outlined in a previous agreement. She said authorities wanted to avoid having thousands of people leave campus at the same time, when the campus was already hardened to fires.
"There were also a lot of firefighters in Malibu. Just because you don't see one on your block, doesn't mean they weren't there," Kuehl said.
Pepperdine University reported that 19 students were still on campus and have access to food and health services. All classes were canceled through Tuesday, after which they would be held remotely through the Thanksgiving holiday. Students were expected to receive more detailed information about their classes by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
The National Weather Service extended its Red Flag warning through 5 p.m. Wednesday for Ventura County, the mountains of L.A. County and the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys. The warning for the L.A. coast from Malibu to the Hollywood Hills remains in effect until 5 p.m. Tuesday.
That means the critical fire weather isn't letting up. Strong Santa Ana winds with gusts up to 60 mph Tuesday and 40 mph Wednesday, along with humidity as low as 5 percent, will continue to pose challenges for firefighters.
The fire is also suspected of killing two civilians and injuring at least one more.
Two people were found dead Friday afternoon in the 3300 block of Mullholland Highway, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Detectives were continuing to investigate their deaths, but believe the driver may have become disoriented while escaping the area, said sheriff's Comm. Scott Gage. The victims' names have yet to be released.
Malibu Councilman Jefferson "Zuma Jay" Wagner was hospitalized after losing his home in the fire, according to fellow council member Skylar Peak.
Wagner remains in intensive care at Santa Monica Hospital.
The area is also home to numerous mountain lions, bobcats and other wildlife, and many people have inquired about the animals' health and safety.
Eight of the 13 mountain lions collared and tracked by biologists appear to be alive and moving, according to the National Park Service, which said via Facebook that it had confirmed GPS and movement data.
The GPS collars of the other five mountain lions, including the iconic Griffith Park cougar P-22, have not yet trasmitted any data. But the Park Service said that is not unusual.
The four bobcats being tracked by biologists may not have fared as well. The entire home ranges of all four appear to have been burned in the fires, though it is possible they themselves survived, according to the Park Service.
To find out the status and locations of the remaining animals, researchers will need to go into the field to with a telemetry device, but they cannot do so until authorities have deemed the area safe.
WOOLSEY FIRE BY THE NUMBERS
- 93,662 acres
- Containment at 30%
- 2 deaths reported
- 3 firefighters injured
- At least 435 structures destroyed
- 57,000 structures threatened
- More than 3,000 firefighting personnel on scene
Local firefighters have received some much-needed help from several out-of-state agencies, including fire crews from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah and New Mexico.
On Sunday, California Governor Jerry Brown requested President Donald Trump issue a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration as five wildfires burn statewide, including the devastating Camp Fire. At least 29 people have died in that blaze and more than 200 are still missing.
"We have the best firefighters and first responders in the country working in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable," Brown said in a press release. "We're putting everything we've got into the fight against these fires and this request ensures communities on the front lines get additional federal aid."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Southern California Edison voluntarily reported an equipment outage at its Chatsworth substation near where the fire began. The outage came just two minutes before the Woolsey Fire was first reported, but Edison stressed that there has so far been no indication from public officials that utility equipment could have been responsible for sparking the fire.
SoCal Edison reported the outage to the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday and said it will cooperate with investigators.
Firefighters continue to make good progress on the Hill Fire, which was holding at 4,531 acres and is now 85 percent contained, according to the latest update.
Two structures have been destroyed and no deaths or injuries have been reported. Only a few dozen firefighters remain on the fire line.
Many evacuations have been lifted in the area of the Hill Fire, and people were returning home. For the latest on repopulation and continuing mandatory evacuations, see Ventura County's emergency information page.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND RESOURCES
For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, including evacuation orders, road closures, evacuation centers and animal shelters, check the following sites and social media accounts:
- Cal Fire Incident Information
- Cal Fire on Twitter
- Los Angeles County Emergency Information
- Ventura County Emergency Information
- Los Angeles County Fire Public Information Officer on Twitter
- Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on Twitter
- Ventura County Fire Public Information Officer on Twitter
- The National Weather Service Los Angeles on Twitter
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
8:02 p.m.: Adds repopulation of West Hills area in L.A.
7:55 p.m.: Updates figures on damaged and destroyed structures and adds information about amount of land burned in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
6:55 p.m.: Adds 30% containment figure and new acreage on Woolsey Fire.
6:30 p.m.: Adds Hill Fire at 85% containment and evacuations lifted for Peak Fire.
6:07 p.m.: Adds President Trump's approval of Major Disaster Declaration.
5:56 p.m.: Adds details about Marc Montemorra, a Thousand Oaks resident who lost his home. Also indicates reopening of all lanes on the 118 Freeway.
5:15 p.m.: Adds an interview with L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
4:38 p.m.: Adds new numbers on Peak Fire acreage and containment.
4:18 p.m.: Adds details about info session for evacuees of Woolsey Fire.
3:52 p.m.: Adds details about mountain lions and bobcats impacted by the fires.
2:47 p.m.: Adds details about Moorpark College campus closure.
2:10 p.m.: Adds information about freeway lanes reopening and Metrolink service being restored.
1:43 p.m.: Adds details on Pepperdine University students and Red Flag warning.
1:29 p.m.: Adds reports that Lynn Fire is contained.
1:15 p.m.: Details on SoCal Edison public safety power shutdown in Moorpark and progress on damage assessments.
12:59 p.m.: Closure lifted at Box Canyon and Santa Susana Pass roads.
12:49 p.m.: Forward progress of Peak Fire stopped, westbound 118 Freeway lanes open.
12:20 p.m.: This article was updated with information on road closures due to the Peak Fire.
11:45 a.m.: This article was updated with information on the Lynn Fire.
11:34 a.m.: This article was updated with information on mandatory evacuations due to the Peak Fire.
11:28 a.m.: This article was updated with information on freeway and Metrolink closures.
11 a.m.: This article was updated with information on the Lynn and Peak fires.
10:43 a.m.: This article was updated with information on two new fires burning in the region.
9:20 a.m.: This article was updated with the latest information from Cal Fire and response from Gov. Jerry Brown.
This article was originally published at 8 a.m. Monday
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