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“I knew people on the outside wanted back in. I understood their frustration.” As both the Mayor of Malibu and an LA County Fire Captain when Woolsey broke out, Rick Mullen worked throughout the fire both on the front-lines and with city hall.


uring the Woolsey Fire and in the weeks after, I was dual-hatted as the Mayor of Malibu and as an LA County Fire Captain. On the morning of the fire I was responsible for directing the helicopter to rescue the three people and two dogs atop Castro Peak. I knew the people who lived at the top and communicated with them by phone to stay put and await the helicopter. The fact that we knew each other and had each other’s phone numbers saved their lives. I also directed some 34 individuals about to leave the Campus Kilpatrick Juvenile detention facility on Encinal to shelter in place, which I did with them, instead of convoying out at the wrong time, which they were about to do when I arrived. The facility was the safest place in my Fire Station’s district as the giant fire swept past us on both sides. That giant smoke cloud that everyone saw from Zuma Beach was my 20-square mile heavy brush district being vaporized by the incinerating fire that did kill two individuals caught out in the open in their car. Later in the day I was in Malibu West and did structure protection work that stopped burning houses from catching more houses on fire. The entire length of Trancas road, which is on an incline, was at risk. At one point Scott Hubbel, a


local resident, came and alerted me to a bad situation which we were able, with a lot of effort, to keep relatively small, and prevent the entire row of houses going up. These were the kinds of efforts going on all over Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains by individuals and first responders working to minimize the damage to this fast-moving monstrous fire which dwarfed the previous Malibu-only fires in scale. It was gargantuan in scale compared to the ’93 or the ’07 fires. At the end of that day, we had saved 35 lives and many in Malibu West. But it did not seem like we had done enough. Although I was at work in the Fire Department for most of the next month, I worked closely with the City Manager Reva Feldman by phone. We were trying to get residents who had evacuated back in to their neighborhoods as early as the day after the fire. I knew that people on the outside wanted back in and would get angrier as time went on. I understood their frustration. Those who decided to stay and defend their homes were very successful for the most part. Even in the dangerous areas of the Santa Monica Mountains, those with a plan, resources and an understanding of the dangers did well. My son saved our home with two of his friends by using a plan we had developed over many years. As public safety professionals and City leaders we will always recommend

that people err on the side of caution and evacuate. The priorities are life, property and environment in that order, with life being way out in front of the other two. When you evacuate, you save your life and may put your house at risk. When you stay, you put your life at risk to increase the chances your house will survive. This is a serious risk management decision and should only be done by the well-informed and well-prepared. A disaster is something that can severely test the limits of the capabilities of the Public Safety agencies. The City’s evacuation notification system was something that we had worked on to get people to sign up for and it was evaluated through drills where notices went out and were acknowledged. The traffic jam on PCH was the result of all the evacuees heeding the order from the City and Public Safety agencies. The flow of traffic could have been a lot better and CHP and the County Sheriff’s Department have acknowledged that improvements can be made. It wasn’t pretty, but it was ultimately effective in achieving our number one priority: saving lives. That is true of many things during the fire and the weeks after – some things went well, somethings can be improved upon. As a City, we are dedicated to improving and learning from all aspects of this disaster which was the largest fire in Los Angeles County history. MM


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Profile for Malibu Magazine

January/February 2019  

January/February 2019