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Woolsey fire forces mass evacuations from Malibu to Calabasas; many homes lost as fire grows to 10,000 acres

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 11/9/2018 By Jaclyn Cosgrove, Ruben Vives, Alene Tchekmedyian, Hannah Fry and Benjamin Oreskes, Los Angeles Times

a car covered in snow: Fire smolders in a destroyed home in the 2400 block of Hillcrest Dr at Quinta Vista Dr in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Friday morning, Nov. 9, 2018.

Fire smolders in a destroyed home in the 2400 block of Hillcrest Dr at Quinta Vista Dr in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Friday morning, Nov. 9, 2018.
© Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS

OAK PARK, Calif. - The Woolsey Fire made a destructive march through Ventura and Los Angeles counties on Friday, destroying numerous suburban homes, closing freeways and causing portions of cities from Calabasas and Thousand Oaks to Malibu to be evacuated as the fire grew to 10,000 acres.

The blaze jumped the 101 Freeway Friday morning and was making a march toward the Pacific Ocean, fueled by dry conditions and extreme winds. Its rapid movement overnight prompted thousands of people to run from their homes as the flames came close.


Video by Associated Press

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 say at least 20 homes did burn and perhaps more.

About 75,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties are under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders, but with the situation rapidly changing, that number is expected to grow. There have been no fatalities or severe injuries despite several reports of people being trapped by the fire.

Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Tony Imbrenda said officials are rushing to evacuate people from neighborhoods in Malibu.

Evacuations jammed traffic on surface streets as people fled the city.

a close up of a map: Locator map of wildfires in California. © Good/TNS/TNS Locator map of wildfires in California. "We have too many people lingering," Imbrenda said. "We need people to pack up and get out for their own safety."

Evacuations are in effect from the 101 Freeway to the coast between Las Virgenes Canyon/Malibu Canyon Road to the Los Angeles County line.

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.

Gallery by photo services

Intense winds fueled the Woolsey Fire overnight into Friday morning. Firefighters are anticipating a tough battle through much of the day as dry conditions are predicted to continue.

About 3 a.m., mandatory evacuation orders were given for Westlake Village and areas of Calabasas, and Cheeseboro Canyon was being hit hard by the fire, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

"It is critical that residents pay close attention to evacuation orders. This is a very dangerous wind-driven fire," the department said in a tweet.

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 Sydner 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. "That would be awesome if we could get home today."

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."

Several people were reportedly trapped by flames in the 5600 block of Hollytree Drive and were asking for emergency assistance, according to the Ventura County Star.

Authorities had requested 10 additional fire strike teams to help protect the structures threatened by the blaze, the Star said. Crews at the scene said that without the additional help, they had run out of resources to fight the fire.

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.

Areas placed under mandatory evacuation included 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.

Los Angeles police were placed on tactical alert to ensure that enough resources were available to help with evacuations or road closures. "If you're in an (affected) area & have been ordered to evacuate, evacuate," the LAPD said on Twitter.

In just a few hours overnight, the Woolsey fire exploded in size - 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.

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."

Embers from burning vegetation and structures are the primary contributor to rapid fire spread, the Ventura County Fire Department said on Twitter.

Authorities said they have no containment of the blaze, which comes as strong Santa Ana winds blew through the region, with the strongest winds expected overnight into Friday morning. Forecasters predict gusts of 40 to 50 mph in the valleys and coasts, and from 60 to 70 mph in the mountains.

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag fire warning that will remain in effect through Friday night.

(Cosgrove and Vives reported from Oak Park, Tchekmedyian and Fry from Los Angeles.)

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