What we learned from the County’s Woolsey After Action Report
I had a somewhat surprising Saturday listening to the County’s “After Action Review of the Woolsey Fire Incident”. It’s always interesting to see what the record indicates and how it contrasts with what we were told at the time.
Immediately after Woolsey I was at a public meeting where an LA County Fire official was explaining why we had so little official presence on November 9thwhen the fire entered Malibu. I distinctly remembered, and have often repeated, that he stated that 50% of our reserve capability was on the way to the Camp Fire in Paradise that started the morning of the November 8th. According to the official record “none were pulled directly from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Orange or Ventura Counties.”
Another interesting factoid is that on Friday November 9th1,800 911 calls for assistance “from within the fire area” were received. This is in addition to the normal Countywide volume of 1,100 calls. With our widespread failure of the phone and cellphone systems within Malibu and the mountains stretching over to Agoura, I’m surprised that any calls to 911 were being completed at all.
We did not lose water pressure because water company “turned off” the supply. Water pressure was lost because of the large number of destroyed homes and infrastructure leaking until each meter in a damaged or destroyed property could be turned off.
Our shared belief that we were “on our own” on the morning of November 9thwas accurate. At 5:15 AM on November 9thas the Fire jumped the 101 there were 285 engines deployed on the fire. By noon on the tenth 768 engines were conducting operations on the total fire
At 9:00 AM on the 9th, Malibu had 7 engines deployed. This rose to 15 engines by 11:00 AM and 26 engines by noon. In a “normal” Fire, we are used to seeing a response of 100 to 200 engines in the 90265. The Fire Department strategy of “Fire Front Following” which dictated that they follow the fire front as it headed towards the coast proved unworkable as burning telephone poles and trees blocked the canyon roads and prevented the engines from arriving in a timely fashion.
I had heard about the “Fire Tornado” that developed as the flames consumed Malibu Park but had never seen the news film until the presentation. The Presenter called it a “Fire Whirl”, but that swirling tower of Flame met my definition of a Tornado.
The report is 202 pages and you can download a copy for yourself at https://www.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/Citygate-Working-Draft-Woolsey-Fire-Incident-AAR-10-23-19.pdf