With only a few weeks before the first anniversary of the Thomas Fire, the Woolsey Fire has overtaken it as the costliest in state history, leaving a burn scar that stretches from Simi Valley to Malibu.
Fueled by strong winds and continuous drought, the Hill Fire was the most immediate concern to Ventura County residents as it threatened communities in Camarillo Springs and Newbury Park, but it soon became apparent that the second fire, known as the Woolsey Fire, would become the greater threat.
At approximately 2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8, a brush fire was reported at Hill Canyon Road west of Santa Rosa Road in the Camarillo Springs area. Since then, the fire, dubbed the Hill Fire, exploded to upward of 10,000 acres, threatening homes in Camarillo and forcing mandatory evacuations, including for the California State University, Channel Islands campus. By Friday, Nov. 9, 437 structures were threatened.
The Hill Fire was slowed by passing through the burn scar of the 2013 Spring Fire, which led to subsequent mudslides in the winter of that year. An estimated 15,000 residents were forced to evacuate.
As of Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 8 a.m., the Hill Fire was 94 percent contained and has destroyed two structures and damaged a further two, burning 4,500 acres.
Ventura County Fire Department Public Information Officer Stan Ziegler said that just over 500 firefighters were assigned to the Hill Fire on Friday afternoon. The Dos Vientos community of Newbury Park, CSUCI, Camarillo Springs and Naval Base Point Mugu were under mandatory evacuation notices, which were lifted by Tuesday, Nov. 13.
An area along the south coast from east of Las Posas Road and south of Potrero Road to the Pacific Coast Highway and County Line remained under mandatory evacuation as of Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, the Woolsey Fire proved to be the costlier, deadlier fire over the weekend and much of the following week.
The Woolsey Fire started near the Rocketdyne facility in Simi Valley on Thursday afternoon and spread rapidly due to strong winds in the area. The location where it started, however, stirred the ire of local residents concerned that possible leftover radioactive waste at the former rocket testing site would contaminate the air. U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors, along with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), re-entered the site on Saturday, Nov. 11, and confirmed that Area IV and the Northern Buffer Zone had not been impacted by the Woolsey Fire.
Concerns over air quality were raised well beyond the “good” level of 50 on www.Airnow.gov, which reported that the air quality for the entire county was officially “hazardous” for a short time on Tuesday, Nov. 13. By Wednesday, the air quality was good.
The Woolsey fire destroyed homes in Oak Park, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks and throughout the Santa Monica mountain range before devastating the city of Malibu, where mansions and trailer parks were leveled. Pepperdine University students hunkered down in the university’s library as flames encircled the campus on Friday evening.
The Woolsey Fire forced closure of the 101 Freeway from Agoura Hills to Thousand Oaks for a period of time and the Pacific Coast Highway remains closed as of Wednesday morning, from Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles County to Las Posas road in Ventura County.
By Wednesday morning, the Woolsey fire had burned 97,000 acres and was at 47 percent containment. Over 480 structures had been destroyed and 86 damaged. The bodies of two individuals were found at the 3300 block of Mulholland Highway in Malibu on Friday evening, believed to have been victims of the fire as investigation continues by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A third body was found on Wednesday morning in the area of Agoura Hills.
Meanwhile, the so-called Camp Fire also began on Thursday, Nov. 8, in the early morning hours. The fire, near Chico in Butte County, had claimed 48 lives by Wednesday morning with hundreds still missing. Over 6,000 structures had been destroyed in the fast-moving fire that ripped through the city of Paradise, which is feared to have been a complete loss. The fire had grown to 130,000 acres by Wednesday morning and is considered to be 35 percent contained.
Gov. Jerry Brown called the fires the “new abnormal” during a press conference on Saturday afternoon, requesting that President Donald Trump declare a major disaster so that the state can receive federal funds to fight the ongoing fires; Trump signed an emergency declaration the same day.
“This is the new abnormal, and this new abnormal will continue, certainly in the next 10, 15, 20 years,” said Brown, partially in response to several Tweets from the President alluding to the fires being the result of mismanaged forests. “Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify.”