Fire crews appeared to make major progress Tuesday on the deadly Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with a series of evacuation orders lifted, but a large flare-up near Westlake Village served as a reminder that the battle was far from over.
The flare-up occurred around 9:15 a.m. near Lake Sherwood and Carlisle Canyon and was originally estimated at about 50 acres but grew rapidly, eventually reaching an estimated 1,000 acres.
Ventura County Fire Department Chief Mark Lorenzen said Tuesday morning the flames were moving through some unburned canyons, and winds pushed the flames toward Boney Mountain, "up and away from the populated area."
Fire authorities said the flare-up was an important warning of the continuing danger of the Woolsey Fire, even with slightly diminished winds. Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief called the flare-up "just an example of many canyons we're concerned about in L.A. County.
That's why the evacuation order is still in place." Osby later told the county Board of Supervisors there were pockets of fire burning that could easily be spread by shifting winds to areas that had not yet been touched by flames, necessitating continued evacuation orders.
"We're concerned about other communities. That's why we have not let citizens go back home," he said.
Osby noted there are flames burning deep in the Malibu Canyon area that fire crews cannot access.
"We're doing a lot of air drops but it's not safe for our firefighters to go in there," he said. "Our concern is that when the wind shifts (likely on Thursday) ... that fire does not blow out of there and then creep over to the south side of Malibu or into Topanga Canyon.
"When it's safe to let people come back home, we will," he said. As of midday Tuesday, the overall fire -- which began last Thursday -- was estimated at 97,114 acres.
Osby said the fire is larger than the city of Denver and is one of the largest fires on record for Los Angeles County, with records dating back more than 100 years.
The blaze was 40 percent contained, with full containment expected by Sunday. Ventura County fire officials said late Wednesday that other than the Lake Sherwood-area flare-up, the fire was primarily burning "pockets of fuels" within the overall fire perimeter.
Osby said 435 structures have been confirmed destroyed in the blaze, but "my estimation is that number is going to rise significantly" as crews continue to assess the damage.
There are still an estimated 57,000 structures in the burn area and potentially threatened. Two people who died in the fire were found Friday inside a burned vehicle in a long driveway in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway.
"It's the feeling of homicide detectives that the driver became disoriented and the vehicle was overwhelmed by the fire," sheriff's Chief John Benedict said.
Three firefighters have been injured battling the Woolsey Fire.
Osby said there was reason to be hopeful about the firefighting effort, noting that evacuation orders were lifted early Tuesday in multiple areas:
- Hidden Hills was fully reopened, including all residences within the city limits. The area includes the area west of Valley Circle Boulevard, east of Crummer Canyon Road, and north of the 101 Freeway to the northern city limits.
- All Calabasas evacuation orders were lifted with the exception of homes south of Mulholland Highway.
- In Westlake Village, the area was opened from the city limit on the west, from the intersection of Westlake Boulevard and Sycamore Canyon Drive north to the boundaries of Ventura County and city of Agoura Hills.
- Agoura Hills reopened its impacted areas from: Chesebro Road on the eastern border, and Agoura Road (north and south sides of the road) from Chesebro Road to the west.
By Tuesday afternoon, evacuations were also canceled in:
- the northern section of the unincorporated Topanga area, including neighborhoods north of Viewridge Road, south of the Los Angeles city limit, east of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and west of Double Ranch Road or Santa Maria Road;
- Agoura Hills neighborhoods south of Agoura Road, east of Cornell Road, west of Las Virgenes Road and north of Mulholland Highway, though power may still be out; and
- the eastern section of Malibu, including neighborhoods west of Coastline Drive; east of Carbon Mesa Road and from the ocean to the city limits.
Exceptions in Malibu include:
- a full closure at Tuna Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway; and
- neighborhoods north of PCH and Tuna Canyon Road.
A full closure remains in effect at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and evacuation orders remain in effect for neighborhoods north of PCH and Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
The public can determine if their property is in an area that has been repopulated by visiting here. Winds of 25 to 35 mph were forecast for Tuesday with gusts of 40 to 45 mph, National Weather Service Meteorologist Joe Sirard said. Those wind speeds are likely to drop to 25 to 30 mph Tuesday night into Wednesday with gusts to 40 mph.
The NWS extended its red flag warning through 5 p.m. Wednesday for the Woolsey Fire area in Los Angeles and Ventura counties -- except Malibu, where the warning is set to expire at 5 p.m Tuesday. High temperatures of 70s to low 80s are predicted through Wednesday with lows near freezing "in wind- sheltered areas," Sirard said.
Osby noted that winds are expected to subside slightly Tuesday, with the wind then expected to shift to an on-shore flow on Thursday and Friday, potentially pushing the flames backward. He also said rain is possible in the area next week, "which will be helpful for our firefighters ... but that could potentially raise some concerns for mud flows."
Some 3,592 firefighters were assigned to battle the blaze, while, 22 helicopters worked from above, officials said. A total of 619 engines, 48 water tenders, 23 bulldozers and 57 hand crews were sent into the battle, Cal Fire reported. Crews from other areas, including Orange County and Arizona, also sent firefighters and equipment to aid the battle.
According to Cal Fire, more than a half-million gallons of fire retardant has been dropped already on the Woolsey Fire, along with 1.5 million gallons of water. The continuing danger prompted Los Angeles County officials to reissue a warning to residents in evacuated areas to stay away until conditions are deemed safe. A community meeting for Malibu-area evacuees was scheduled for Tuesday night at Santa Monica High School's Barnum Hall.
Malibu City Councilman Skylar Peak has asked people to refrain from attempting to get back into Malibu by boat. The sheriff's department has repeatedly tried to reassure residents that their homes would be safe from looters, with more than 600 deputies on 12- hour rotational shifts. Northbound and southbound Ventura (101) Freeway from Valley Circle Boulevard remained open.
Pacific Coast Highway remained closed to all traffic from the Ventura/Los Angeles County line to Sunset Boulevard. The California Public Utilities Commission was investigating Southern California Edison for its possible role in the fire. According to the CPUC, electrical infrastructure may have suffered malfunctions near ground zero of the blazes two minutes before they began.
The Woolsey Fire has forced the evacuation of at least 75,000 homes and an estimated 265,000 people in L.A. and Ventura counties. In Malibu, Pepperdine University said the school's Malibu and Calabasas campuses would remain closed through Thanksgiving. All Malibu schools in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District will remain closed until at least Thursday, the district announced.
City officials said there will likely be intermittent power outages due to weather and fire conditions. Los Angeles Unified School District officials said Topanga Elementary Charter School will be closed again Wednesday, and will likely remain closed "until roadways around the school are reopened and the school is no longer within an evacuation zone."
The campus is normally used as a drop-off/pick-up site for students from Paul Revere Charter Middle School, but that site has been temporarily moved to Hughes Adult Learning Center, 5607 Capistrano Ave., Woodland Hills. Fire information for Los Angeles County can be found here. Malibu also has established a website to update fire information here. The Federal Aviation Administration sent a tweet reminding drone operators that they could face severe civil penalties and potential criminal prosecution for flying drones over fire areas.
In an about face from a Twitter attack last week against what he called California's forest management, President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that he has approved an "expedited request" for a major disaster declaration for California. "Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God bless all of the victims and families affected," Trump said.