Dr. Sabine Hazan Steinberg is known in Ventura for her clinical trials practice, helping those who have any sort of ailment qualify for studies to help improve their quality of life. She, however, took on a different role as the Woolsey Fire scorched Malibu: supplier of essentials — masks, bottled water, hoses, etc. When she heard the news of the fire on Friday when she was in Ventura, she decided to get involved, especially when a string of emails from Malibu residents confirmed that many were staying home despite mandatory evacuation notices.
She recalled her journey into the fire zone and reflected on the numerous locals who stepped in to save animals, people, houses and neighborhoods.
You were at the Malibu evacuation center on Tuesday night.
Basically, I was in the meeting yesterday — a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, a lot of questions that were not answered. I think a lot reasons is, it was huge, it was extended all over California, there were not enough resources to help people, yet people chose to stay in the community. … Some people were stranded there trying to hose down their houses and they needed supplies. I tried to get into the community when I found out about it on Friday night to bring at least masks. I thought everybody evacuated. Actually a lot of people didn’t evacuate. In every neighborhood there was about probably 25 to 50 men to 100 men, I mean, it’s unbelievable — I don’t have an exact number — it’s unbelievable how many people stayed in those neighborhoods to protect their neighborhoods because they didn’t think there was enough resources to help.
When people look at Malibu, they kind of judge, they think celebrities, it’s the rich folks. It’s not. It’s the teachers, the contractors, it’s construction workers, it’s the people who work at Ralph’s, restaurant owners, the D’Amore’s pizza, it’s all these workers that live there. Especially the teachers, a lot of teachers live in Malibu to accommodate the schools. And so they lost their houses. But they stayed to help the neighbors to evacuate the neighbors.
Where were you in action?
On Friday night I was in Ventura. I was reading these emails that were in an email feed of 75 people. I noticed a lot of people who were staying and so I dropped off my child (with relatives) in L.A. Then I stopped at the hospital in Santa Monica and picked up 50 N95 masks. Surely, my first thought was, these people are smoking, inhaling all this smoke. In the fire, they are not protected, they are not fireman.
Instinctually, where did you go?
I came in on PCH. I thought, you know what, I am a doctor. They are going to let me go in with masks and supplies, I was stopped. They weren’t letting anyone in. Even in a war zone they let doctors in. These people are in there, they need masks and need supplies. They said, “No, sorry. Not letting anyone in. They should evacuate. If you have access, you should tell them to evacuate.” My problem is, you can’t convince people to do things. It’s not my decision to tell people what to do, not here to impose my views and my vision. Everyone chooses to live their life; it is called freedom of choice.
What was going on when you got in?
There were parents, children, people were sleeping on the beach with the horses. One person in particular, Larry Gray, saved all the horses — this guy is like family to me. This is the guy I went back for, to him and so many others that are like family that have taken me in and helped me when I needed things, it’s about that bond. That’s why you go up there. I saw all the horses left on the beach, I thought, my god, he needs supplies: Hoses and masks and water and food.
How many animals were evacuated?
Oh… oh my god, hundreds. Pigs, horses, chickens, roosters, turtles. I mean, some chickens didn’t make it because they were all the way on top of the hill. It was really impressive to see the heart and the humanity of these people wanting to protect animals, children and everything, and they stayed behind to protect all that. There was a teacher who lost her house and basically was on the beach feeding, grabbing, trying to find food from different homes, put a table for all the people staying on the beach, sleeping on the beach. You have to remember, the evacuation was poorly, poorly done. They told everyone to evacuate via Santa Monica, so people were stuck in their cars with fumes flying for five, six hours. They were sitting ducks. Instead of being told to go to Ventura, which I was speeding through at 60 miles an hour.
There was no car going to Ventura. Because they (officials) thought the fires were in Ventura, they thought the fires were in Camarillo, burning in Trancas (Canyon). The thing is, the fires were everywhere. … Some people’s cars exploded in the fire, they were stranded, they walked. Nobody drove them to the beach.
The next day, I went in with six retired firemen, they had their cards. They weren’t allowed to go in. We weren’t allowed to go in. I tried the doctor card, it didn’t work. I tried the fireman card, it didn’t work. Finally, one of the neighbors, one person who lost her house who saw that all her friends were trying to save her house on social media, I guess, came and she had been one of the people who had been one of the rescuers in 9/11, so she had a special card that could get us in. She had COPD, she didn’t want to stay, she just went in to get us in and dropped off a bunch of other people — a very resourceful community. …
Now we were all kind of stranded in a bit because we didn’t have cars and all of a sudden, it was like miracles. People would show up and say, “Hey, I got this car. Take this car, start driving, let’s bring this.” We definitely delivered all the supplies. … By some craziness, people started coming by boats, paddle boats, by canoe, kayak, jet ski, they landed, parked on the beach, walked to the neighbors to help us. I cannot tell you how many people were there. I took four or five people out of Malibu that had been stranded. The third day when I tried to get back, again, impossible. … We went through the canyons and found this one pass to go in and we got in, but why did it have to be like that? Why did I have to risk our lives in the canyons when I could have just driven PCH?
How many people do you think were coming to loot the area?
You know what I realize, you can’t really trust the news. I personally didn’t see any. I didn’t see any looters. I saw an old man wandering, wanted to see his house. He was kind of like really upset, sleeping somewhere. I brought him some food. I saw a little girl running around lost. I brought her to shelter. I didn’t really see the vagabonds, I saw scarce firetrucks, I saw a lot of policeman blocking roads, but I didn’t see the looters. One of the biggest things the locals were essential at, the firemen were not from the area. You know, you have to remember, there were multiple fires and they were deployed everywhere. The locals were probably in Thousand Oaks or hadn’t slept and were exhausted, I feel for those guys.
There was an outage too. Internet, WiFi, data was down.
They [firefighter] were lost, poor guys were really lost. They saw the fire in the homes but they didn’t know how to get to the home. They needed the locals to say, this is the road they take. The problem is, there are a lot homes that are kind of isolated, poor mapping, poor streets, poor access. But I have to say, the mayor stepped in, the community came together, the community is really strong.
Is anyone planning for what happened in Montecito? Those hills are pretty raw now in Malibu.
100 percent. I think people that live on a cliff, a hill … in my opinion need to evacuate, houses are going to start falling one after the other.
It’s so hard to prepare for that.
Natural disasters are just that. You have to say, look, ultimately, freedom of choice, people are there. We just try to help. The conservancy does a really poor job in clearing brush. If they had kept the brush 500 feet from the home, probably none of this would have happened. The conservancy needs to get rid of this brush annually.
You know, these insurance companies are insuring all these homes. If there is no money in the state, there is no money in the city. Reach out to these insurance companies, help us protect the area, help us put in sprinklers … so it doesn’t cost you billions.
Why are we not doing this? I don’t buy that it’s impossible.