Lack of Firefighters, Poor Disaster Preparation Hurt Response to Woolsey Fire, Report Finds
A study of a disastrous wildfire that raged through Los Angeles and Ventura counties last year found the inferno presented unprecedented challenges to emergency agencies, according to a draft of a consultant’s report released Wednesday.
The review by Citygates Associates LLC for Los Angeles County mixed praise with 86 recommendations for improvements in response, communication, evacuation and repopulation, and transition to recovery.
The so-called Woolsey Fire broke out Nov. 8, 2018, in Ventura County during a spate of emergencies including a fire that destroyed the Northern California town of Paradise and killed dozens, a mass shooting and a nearby wildfire an hour earlier.
The report called the scenario “a perfect storm of factors that, when aligned, drove an event never experienced in the Los Angeles region.”
Fanned by strong Santa Ana winds, the fire raced into western Los Angeles County, burning simultaneously through three of four historic fire corridors in the Santa Monica Mountains and through part of the city of Malibu until it reached the Pacific Ocean the next day.
The fire scorched 151.5 square miles (392 square kilometers) and destroyed 1,643 structures, mostly homes. Another 364 structures were damaged. Three people were killed and about 250,000 people were evacuated.
Among key findings, the report found that fire services’ mutual aid resources were exhausted by the fire’s first evening and fire commanders strategically shifted all resources to prioritize life safety as the blaze rapidly grew in 50 mph (80 kph) gusts.
The report called for rethinking how to prepare, fight and recover from wildfires across jurisdictional boundaries. It also focused on issues involving public notifications and communication.
The report said the “expectation of round-the-clock electrical power and internet connectivity became a myth.”
“Throughout California, no single public communication system exists that successfully crosses social, economic, age, and generational abilities to receive emergency information,” it said.
The report was initiated by LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
“This draft report makes clear that many County departments did an outstanding job to save lives, but there are steps that the County, city governments, community and homeowners groups, and individual residents must take in order to improve our emergency response,” she said in a statement.