Known for its sandy shorelines and hilltop enclaves, the hillsides of Malibu are blackened. Pacific sands typically golden brown are peppered with ash.
Twisted metal and debris dot the landscape, each leveled home marking the end of the Woolsey Fire’s deadly path.
“We were somewhat prepared for this,” said Malibu resident Sarah Ryan, who was mistakenly told her home burned down.
When Sarah and Shawn Ryan returned to their coastal canyon home, they found it was spared by the flames, but 18 of her neighbors lost their homes in the fire, including the house next door.
“This is my daughter’s baby carriage,” Ryan said as she motioned to a heap of charred cloth intertwined in shiny, liquefied metal.
The family’s property wasn’t entirely unscathed – they lost the shed that contained their winter coats, halloween, memories and yearbooks.
Maisy, 5, who celebrated her birthday in a hotel room during the blaze, clutched her mother’s leg as the two examined the charred contents inside their family’s burned out shed.
Ryan said she often feels the impacts of survivor’s remorse as she passes each of the homes destroyed in their canyon community.
“So many of my friends lost their homes,” she said. “Our community will rebuild.”
The burned out peaks below and above the Ryan home resemble those of the Sand Fire, which charred more than 41,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest between Sand Canyon, Sylmar and Acton and offer a narrow outlook on how communities across the state have been impacted.
With 1,671,313 acres burned across California and more than 19,000 structures destroyed, 2018 marked the most destructive year in the state’s wildfire history, according to CalFire.
According to firefighters working to douse smoldering flames at her neighbor’s destroyed house, Ryan’s home survived mostly due to the amount of defensible space around their home, a preventative measure local fire officials are trying to convey to Santa Clarita residents.
“The Los Angeles County Fire Department, along with our partnering agencies, stand ready to quickly respond to contain wildfires, utilizing our firefighting resources from the air and ground to help protect you and your property from wildfire,” Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby said in a message to local residents. “But, we can’t do this without your cooperation. Preparation and prevention go hand-in-hand,” he said.
The erratic wildfire behavior locally prompted firefighters to take a proactive stance by using information to save homes. The Los Angeles County Fire Department rolled out a new video campaign to promote the modernized Ready, Set Go! Program.
Available online, the video and printed wildfire action plan gives ideas on how to prepare for a fire, including how homeowners can defend their property.
“The Ready! Set! Go! brochure was designed to provide you with critical information on creating defensible space around your home, retrofitting your home with fire-resistant materials, and preparing you to safely evacuate well ahead of a wildfire,” Osby said in the message.
The guide is divided into three sections: safeguarding your home, creating an action plan with emergency kits and what to do during an evacuation.
The plan harps on creating a buffer zone around your home free of any flammable material and details how to maintain landscaping around a structure to slow the spread of a wildfire.
“Creating and maintaining defensible space are essential for increasing your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. It’s the buffer that homeowners are required to create on their property between a structure and the plants, brush, and trees or other items surrounding the structure that could catch fire,” the guide says.
For Fire Station 150 Capt. Kirk Nelson, alleviating the flammable fuel surrounding a home often makes a significant difference in saving a home.
“Trim shrubs and trees that are high fuel oils like eucalyptus, cyprus, pines, palm trees that cause an ember cast,” Nelson said.
The captain recommended maintaining at least 20 feet of ground cover clearance around a house and encouraged establishing a 100-foot boundary by removing dead limbs from trees.
“Homes that are mid-slope or above a slope, we recommend at least 200 feet of clearance because radiant heat can cause embers to enter a home,” Nelson said.
This section incorporates an action plan for families by gathering essential contact information, a list of what to take in the event of an impending evacuation and what to pack in every day emergency kits.
“Put together your emergency supply kit long before a wildfire or other disaster occurs, and keep it easily accessible, so you can take it with you when you have to evacuate. Plan to be away from your home for an extended period of time,” the guide says.
The Go part of the plan offers tips on how to evacuate safely when flames are racing toward homes and details survival tips in case you become trapped when leaving your home.
“In Los Angeles County, wildfires will continue to be fueled by a build-up of seasonal dry vegetation and driven by dry conditions and locally strong winds, making them extremely dangerous and challenging for firefighters to control,”
“Many homeowners don’t consider how a wildfire could affect them, and very few
residents have properly prepared for evacuation until it is too late,” he said.
The plan works to mitigate hazards by defining issues including dangling power lines, ruptured gas lines and the dangers of hidden embers when repopulating an area.