Initial attack on Woolsey Fire was hampered by shortage of resources

The quickly spreading Hill Fire started 21 minutes before, 15 miles to the west

3D Map Woolsey Fire Ventura County Los Angeles d-D
3-D Map of the Woolsey Fire. The red line was the perimeter. Click to enlarge.

No wildfire starts at the right time, but the fire that Los Angeles County describes as the worst in the county’s modern history began at a particularly bad time. The Woolsey Fire was reported on November 8, 2018 21 minutes after the Hill Fire about 15 miles to the west. Both began in Ventura County in Southern California while strong Santa Ana winds were blowing out of the north and northeast. The Camp Fire which started about 8 hours earlier in Northern California had already destroyed thousands of homes in the Paradise area.

The incident commanders decided that the Hill Fire had the greatest immediate potential to affect lives and property — there were fewer homes close to the point of origin of the Woolsey Fire.

Progression map Woolsey Fire
Progression map of the north side of the Woolsey Fire, prepared by the Incident Management Team. Click to enlarge.

With resources flooding in to the Hill Fire, the first unit to arrive at the Woolsey fire got there almost 20 minutes after it was reported. In a densely populated part of the country where it is common to have hundreds of engines on a rapidly spreading wildfire within hours, after 60 minutes only 11 engines were on scene.

About 12 minutes after it was reported, the quickly growing Hill Fire jumped the 101 Freeway but 2 hours later it hit an area that had burned in 2013 and slowed, allowing firefighters to make significant progress. By midnight the incident commander shifted some resources over to the Woolsey Fire which had spread to Agoura Hills.

By 4 a.m. on November 9 pushed by increasing winds gusting to 70 mph, the Woolsey Fire crossed the 101 Freeway and at the end of the day had spread to the Pacific Ocean, 20 miles from where it started a little more than 24 hours before.

Map Woolsey Fire Ventura County Los Angeles
Map of the Woolsey and Hill Fires.

Stats: Hill Fire / Woolsey Fire

  • Acres: 4,500 / 97,000
  • Structures destroyed: 4 / 1,500
  • Fatalities: 0 / 3
  • Length (miles): 4 / 20

The Hill Fire had far more firefighting resources assigned during the first six hours, compared to the Woolsey Fire which was starved of engines and aircraft during that period. But the Hill Fire spread into a previous burn and slowed which made the firefighters’ jobs easier.

Below are excerpts from an article in the Los Angeles Times about the fire.

…Veteran firefighters say it was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

“In my 30 years of experience, I’ve never seen a fire that explosive,” [Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Trevor]  Richmond said. “Seeing how quickly that fire traveled to Agoura Hills and Oak Park and Thousand Oaks and jumped the freeway the next morning, and in four hours, it’s burning kelp beds in the Pacific Ocean — that’s pretty incredible.

“This one was the big one,” he said.


[Ventura County Fire Assistant Chief Dustin] Gardner said he was repeatedly on the phone begging the state to send more tankers to Ventura County, arguing the Woolsey fire had the potential to hit Malibu, not realizing how bad the Camp fire had become. Within the first hour of the Hill fire, the incident commander doubled his order from four to eight air tankers.

Soon after, a dispatcher asked him if they could divert one of his fire’s tankers to the Woolsey fire, which was potentially going to threaten homes and businesses in Simi Valley.

“You can divert one of the air tankers,” Ventura County Fire Assistant Chief Chad Cook, the Hill fire incident commander, said. “We’ll keep the rest of them here.”

About 40 minutes later, at 3:37 p.m., a dispatcher told the Hill fire incident commander two air tankers and two helitankers would soon arrive to fight the blaze. Only a few minutes later, the Woolsey incident commander was told by a dispatcher that the region had no more air tankers it could send, but that there were multiple helicopters available.

About an hour later, the Woolsey incident commander seemed to be frustrated by his tanker requests going unfilled.

“I’d like to talk to my neighboring fire (commander) and see if I can get some from him,” the Woolsey incident commander told his aerial coordinator over the radio at 4:26 p.m.

“Correct, sir,” the aerial coordinator said. “We’ve been trying to negotiate resource sharing. We’ll see how that goes.”

But the Woolsey fire began spreading at a much faster pace — with far fewer firefighters on the ground than were battling the Hill fire…

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
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Wildfires near Thousand Oaks, California put over 100,000 homes under evacuation orders

The Hill and Woosley Fires started Thursday evening.

(UPDATED at 4:48 p.m. PST November 9, 2018)

map Woolsey Fire
Map showing the APPROXIMATE, ESTIMATED perimeter of the Woolsey Fire at 1:04 p.m. November 9, 2018. Click to enlarge.

Disclaimer: Above is a very, very rough map showing the APPROXIMATE location of the Woolsey Fire that has burned from Simi Valley south to Malibu in Southern California. It is based on heat sensing data from a satellite flying hundreds of miles above the earth which is not always 100 percent accurate. It is possible that the fire burned through some areas of light vegetation, such as grass, then self-extinguished and cooled before the next overflight which occurs about every 12 hours. Some areas that are shown as unburned may not have been detected by the heat sensors and could actually have been burned.

(To see all articles about the Woolsey Fire on Wildfire Today, including the most recent, click here.)

We only produced this estimated perimeter map because as far as we know no government agency has released a one of the Woolsey Fire. If and when they do, it will no doubt be more accurate than this version.

At 1 p.m. Friday, L. A. County reported the fire had burned 14,000 acres. Our very, very rough estimate is approximately 50,000 acres.

(UPDATED at 1:40 p.m. PST November 9, 2018)

The Incident Commander on the Woolsey Fire estimates it has burned about 14,000 acres. The fire started at 2:30 p.m. Thursday east of Simi Valley and was blown by strong Santa Ana winds south across the 101 Freeway Friday morning. It is now approaching the Pacific Ocean, and all of Malibu is under an evacuation order. About 150,000 residents have evacuated. Traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway is extremely congested as people attempt to leave the area.

There is a report that dogs, horses, and pigs have been seen on the beach, taking refuge from the fire.

Woolsey Fire
Satellite photo showing smoke from the Woolsey Fire at Malibu, California. MOODIS.
Whoolsey Fire
The Woolsey Fire approaches the Pacific coast. KTLA
747 air tanker drop
A DC-10 air tanker drops on the Woolsey Fire Nov. 9, 2018. KTLA.

(Originally published at 11:12 a.m. PST November 9, 2018)

Two large wildfires that started November 8 near Thousand Oaks, California have prompted officials to place 75,000 homes under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.

The Woolsey Fire burned over 9,000 acres near Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills north of the 101 Freeway Thursday, but Friday morning it jumped across the highway near Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura. At about 9 a.m. local time the Los Angeles County Fire Department PIO said it was “headed to the ocean”.

map Hill Fire Woolsey Fire
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Hill and Woolsey Fires at 1:48 a.m. PST November 9, 2018. The arrows indicate the direction the fires spread after the satellite overflight. Click to enlarge.

The Hill Fire also jumped the 101 near Camarillo Springs Road and reached the freeway 12 to 15 minutes after it started, pushed by extreme winds. After crossing the freeway it moved into the scar from the 2013 Springs Fire and slowed considerably due to the lighter fuels. It  has burned about 6,100 acres as of Friday morning.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the Woolsey Fire south of the 101 Freeway to the coast — from the Ventura/LA County line east to Malibu Canyon Road, including areas in Malibu.

A resident of Malibu, @TracyWrights, tweeted Friday morning:

The power is out in #Malibu. We had NO IDEA any evacuation order was in place until we got in the car and heard the news on @KNX1070. Our community does NOT KNOW to get out and PCH is now gridlocked for miles. #Woolseyfire

The Ventura County FD PIO said at about 1 a.m. Friday that multiple structures were burning near Erbes Road and Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks.

Both fires started in Ventura County but the Woolsey Fire crossed into Los Angeles County near the 101.

Satellite photo smoke Woolsey Fire
Satellite photo showing smoke from the Woolsey Fire at 10:42 a.m. PST November 9, 2018. Click to enlarge.

Maps that show the distribution of wildfire smoke in California can be found here.

The Saddlerock weather station between Thousand oaks and Malibu recorded overnight winds out of the northeast of 12 to 15 mph gusting to 25, but they increased after sunrise with sustained winds of 18 gusting to 33 mph. The forecast calls for the wind speeds to decrease Friday afternoon.