The Woolsey fire was burning homes in Westlake Village on Friday as it marched toward the Pacific Ocean, forcing thousands to flee Malibu as flames threatened hillside residences and caused gridlock and confusion on Pacific Coast Highway.
The fire has destroyed dozens of homes in Oak Park, Thousand Oaks and other Ventura County communities and shows no signs of slowing down as evacuation orders and anxiety keep spreading.
The blaze, fueled by dry conditions and extreme winds, has charred 14,000 acres and left a path of destruction and chaos in its wake as thousands of people evacuated their homes.
In Westlake Village, neighbors watched as smoke rose behind a row of homes on the ridge of a hill Friday morning.
Resident Rafael Garcia, 58, grabbed a garden hose and hopped over a fence to spray water on the porch of the house next door as it began to fall apart. The home has been vacant for more than two years, he said.
“I don’t think they care if this house burns,” he said, rushing to douse flames. “I’m trying to save our homes.”
Several minutes later, a firefighter showed up, but Garcia stayed to help.
For those who chose to leave, fleeing many neighborhoods across Los Angeles wasn’t easy on Friday.
Traffic was jammed as dozens of cars inched their way down Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu. The situation was made worse because several traffic signals were out from Topanga Canyon to John Tyler Drive because of power outages. Residents of the coastal town were ordered to evacuate after the blaze jumped the 101 Freeway and began making its way toward the Pacific Ocean early Friday.
A large cloud of smoke darkened the sky behind Quinn Kuriger, 22, as he crept along the highway. He had left his Calabasas home and found refuge at a friend’s place in Malibu, but as the fire moved south he was forced to leave again. He had been in the car for at least two hours, but the most he’s seen of the fire is the large plume of smoke nearby.
“It’s kind of intimidating,” he said.
Despite strong winds and poor visibility from thick smoke hanging over the region, 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 said at least 20 homes were destroyed, perhaps more.
“It’s been a long night,” said Corey Rose, an assistant chief with the Los Angeles Fire Department. “But what makes this good is that we’ve done it together.”
The Woolsey fire along with the nearby Hill fire, which has burned about 6,000 acres in the Santa Rosa Valley area, prompted Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom on Friday to declare a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Ventura counties on behalf of Gov. Jerry Brown, who was out of the state. Newsom also sent a request to federal officials and President Trump for assistance to support communities affected by the fire.
All told, roughly 88,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties had been evacuated by Friday morning. No fatalities or severe injuries have been reported, despite several accounts of people being trapped by the fire.
Authorities said they have no containment of the Woolsey fire, which comes as strong Santa Ana winds blow through the region. Intense winds fueled the blaze overnight into Friday morning, and about 2,000 firefighters are anticipating a tough battle through much of the day as dry conditions are predicted to continue, officials said.
Forecasters said the area should expect gusts of 40 to 50 mph in the valleys and coasts, and from 60 to 70 mph in the mountains on Friday. The National Weather Service issued a red-flag fire warning through Friday night.
L.A. County Deputy Fire Chief David Richardson said that with several fires raging across the state, including the Camp fire in Butte County, agencies were stretched thin.
“There’s a multitude of fires happening, and entire communities are being impacted,” he said.
Ventura County fire officials said crews that had been working the Hill fire were redirected overnight to the Woolsey fire. Officials said they expect the Hill fire to burn to the ocean.
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 Snyder 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.
Other areas placed under mandatory evacuation include 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.
The Woolsey fire, which broke out Thursday afternoon south of Simi Valley, exploded in size overnight — 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.
Embers from burning vegetation and structures are the primary contributor to rapid fire spread, according to fire officials.
Arita Kronska slept through alerts that her Westlake Village neighborhood had been placed under mandatory evacuation. The 62-year-old only found out when her daughter called her around 5 a.m., worried.
“I’ve lived here since 1998,” she said, standing on the lawn in front of the teen center in Thousand Oaks with her dog, Yoda. “This is the first time I’ve seen a fire like this.”
Kronska said her home was about 11 miles from the evacuation center. As she stood in her home before she left, she wondered what she should take. She decided on two things: her passport and her dog.
In the predawn hours her street was eerily quiet, she said.
“Nobody was there anymore,” she said. “It was a very strange feeling … no people, no driving … like in those movies about the apocalypse.”
Cosgrove, Vives and Oreskes reported from Ventura County, Tchekmedyian, Fry, Etehad, Mejia and Parvini from Los Angeles.
11:40 a.m.: This article was updated with information about Malibu and Westlake Village.
10:45 a.m.: This article has been updated with additional details from fire officials.
9:20 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional details and background.
7:30 a.m.: This article was updated with evacuations being ordered in Malibu and new information about fire resources and winds.
5:30 a.m.: This article was updated with the Ventura County Fire Department reporting that the fire has jumped the 101 Freeway.
4:50 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from the Ventura County Fire Department about the fire’s fast spread.
3:50 a.m.: This article was updated with an increase in acreage and the number of homes under evacuation orders.
3:10 a.m.: This article was updated with additional evacuation orders.
2 a.m.: This article was updated new acreage, homes burned and interviews.
1:10 a.m.: This article was updated with more information.
This article was originally published at 12:45 a.m.