It was a typical Saturday morning, but the meeting at Agoura High School was anything but typical. The people in attendance were there to hear the draft report about the Woolsey Fire. For some, it was an opportunity to air their frustrations about how things were handled. For others, it was time to see what we had learned and how to make it better.
All could admit that the Woolsey Fire was something the likes of which we had never seen before and hope to never see again.
So what did the draft report show?
The fire’s speed and impact, burning from the 101 through Malibu in just six hours, made it virtually impossible to control. Even the most experienced of first responders had not seen a fire like this one. They were prepared for the “typical to serious emergency” as they always are, but not for a fire the likes of Woolsey. When it jumped the 101 Freeway, it didn’t just go from one side to the other. The embers went from a mountain north of the 101 to a hillside south of it.
The lack of mutual aid from other departments because of multiple fires in the area also played a part. You can’t ask neighboring departments for help if they are already busy fighting their own fires. Still, our fire fighters did an outstanding job.
One of the points I found most interesting was about the evacuation of Malibu. Roads are built to withstand a certain vehicle weight. When Malibu was evacuated it didn’t matter. PCH was the road available so it was used. Some of the most iconic pictures are of the mass exodus of PCH.
What isn’t shown is what happened to the people when they reached the end of that road. The draft report recommends that there should have been people directing traffic just to get it off PCH in a more timely manner.
The draft report also recommends things like better information between residents, commanders, and traffic personnel. Those people standing at barricades deserve to know why they have been told not to allow residents back into an area. It also sets out steps that the County, City, community groups, homeowners and residents can take to make things better for next time.
And there will be a next time.
If you would like to read the report, watch the video or leave a comment on the report, go to: https://www.lacounty.gov/recovery/report/
Laura Levinsky is a long-time residents of the San Fernando Valley and is currently sitting between two fires as she writes this piece.