As Santa Ana winds pick up, authorities urge Topanga Canyon to evacuate: ‘Leave immediately’

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Intense Santa Ana winds fanned a destructive fire raging in Ventura County south over the 101 freeway into Los Angeles shortly before dawn Friday morning, unleashing a barrage of flames on Malibu and surrounding communities.

By dusk, the aggressive blaze, named the Woolsey Fire, had swelled to 35,000 acres—and is still growing.

“Even though the wind has died down, stay on guard,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said late Friday afternoon. “We’re in the seventh year of a drought… Our conditions are absolutely ripe for fire.”

The fire is chewing through brush and residential neighborhoods across a wide swath of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, from Bell Canyon to Topanga Canyon to West Hills.

Thousands of residents in Los Angeles County have been ordered out of their homes. The iconic Pacific Coast Highway has been turned into an evacuation route. Parking lots at Zuma Beach are now evacuation zones for large animals such as llamas; striking photos show horses on the sand, smoke billowing over the ocean behind them.

(Woolsey Fire map: See where the wildfire is burning in Ventura, Los Angeles)

The entire city of Malibu is under mandatory evacuation orders. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has also told the communities of Monte Nido and Hidden Hills and sections of Topanga Canyon to evacuate toward Chatsworth. In the San Fernando Valley, West Hill has been evacuated. (A full, up-to-date list of evacuation areas and evacuated centers is listed at the end of this story).

Resident Brett Hammond evacuates in Malibu.
LA Times via Getty Images

The fast-moving Woolsey Fire broke out around 3 p.m. Thursday, near Simi Valley. More than 70,000 structures are threatened in the two counties. Containment is at zero percent.

It is unknown how many homes have been destroyed, but the number is likely in the dozens. Officials with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area reported around noon that Western Town at Paramount Ranch, where Westworld was filmed, has burned.

Llamas tied to a lifeguard stand on the beach in Malibu.
LA Times via Getty Images

With the 101 closed in both directions from Las Virgenes to Reyes Adobe, authorities are advising residents to use Pacific Coast Highway to evacuate and to avoid canyon roads, which are blanketed in smoke. To ease traffic as residents flee toward Santa Monica, all four lanes of PCH have been converted into southbound lanes.

The city of Malibu issued a citywide mandatory evacuation order at 10 a.m., then released a statement at 12:30 p.m. saying the “fire is now burning out of control and heading into populated areas of Malibu.” Residents were told to evacuate immediately.

The order affects all areas south of the 101 freeway from the Ventura County line to Las Virgenes / Malibu Canyon, south to the ocean. That includes sections of Agoura Hills.

Students at Pepperdine University will shelter-in-place overnight at the Malibu campus, reports ABC7’s John Haskell.

A massive smoke plume, powered by strong winds, rises above the the Woolsey Fire in Malibu.
Getty Images

In the city of Los Angeles, voluntary evacuations are in place north of the 101 freeway, south of Bell Canyon road, west of Valley Circle Boulevard, and east of the Los Angeles city limit.

A helicopter drops water on a brush fire behind homes during in Malibu today.

One evacuation center, the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, served as a family reunification site earlier this week in the wake of a mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill, where 13 people were killed.

“This last 48 hours, 72 hours in Ventura County have been a difficult time,” said Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy. “People lost their lives in the shooting and now people have lost their homes. It’s a difficult time.”

Thousand Oaks Mayor Andy Fox estimates that 75 percent of the city is under evacuation. Some residents affected by the shooting were likely affected by the fire too, he said.

VIDEO: @LACoFireAirOps Firehawk helicopter flying along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu on the way to protect life and property. This is a historic event. Please follow the direction of local authorities. (Original video, ok to use with credit)

— LACoFireAirOps (@LACoFireAirOps) November 10, 2018

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service warned Friday morning that the fire could spread rapidly because of gusty winds, low humidity, and “critically dry fuels,” including brush and vegetation.

The Weather Service recorded wind speeds of 54 mph in the Malibu Hills at 5:56 a.m, right around the time that gusts drove the flames south across the 101 at Liberty Canyon Road and Chesebro Road in Agoura.

“The fire was burning like a torch or flame thrower across the freeway,” KTLA’s Eric Spillman reported. “There were people on the freeway doing U-turns and driving back the way they came from, in darkness with smoke all the way around them. It was just remarkable.”

“The fire was traveling so fast. The [California Highway Patrol] couldn’t keep up with it. We couldn’t keep up with it,” he said.

At multiple points throughout the day Friday, the Los Angeles County Fire Department had to down water-dropping aircraft because of the wind and low visibility, said Chief Daryl Osby.

Milder weather is expected tomorrow, and that could give a leg up to firefighters who have so far faced challenging conditions.

Another wind event, however, is in the forecast Sunday.

Evacuations in Los Angeles County

  • Gated Oaks Community near Parkway Calabasas
  • All of Monte Nido, north to Mulholland
  • All of Topanga Canyon
  • Hidden Hills
  • All of Malibu
  • Malibu Canyon area east to Topanga Canyon Road, including all areas south and west through the Ventura County Coast

Evacuations in city of Los Angeles

  • All homes within West Hills area: West of Valley Circle Boulevard with border to the north at Roscoe Boulevard and to the south at Vanowen Street
  • Area north of 101 freeway, south of Bell Canyon Road, west of Valley Circle Boulevard to city limits (shown on this map in yellow)

Evacuation centers

Animal shelters

This story will be updated.

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