Two Fatalities Reported as Woolsey Fire Burns in Malibu

Malibu Woolsey Fire Nov 9 - H - 2018

L.A. County Sheriff department chief John Benedict on Saturday said that areas including Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Malibu were still under evacuation orders.

As Southern California woke up on Saturday morning, more than 70,000 acres had been burned as the Woolsey Fire raged across the region and 50 or more homes in Ventura County were destroyed in the fire, with little of the blaze contained. 

Local authorities said fatalities had been reported. "Sadly, and tragically, I'm reporting today that we have two fatalities that occurred in the fire area," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department chief John Benedict. "That is currently under investigation, we have our homicide investigators on scene and we'll treat that as a fatality at this point and we'll have more to talk about that later on as the investigation unfolds."

On Friday, two bodies were found at 33000 block of Mulholland Highway in Malibu. "The area has been contained but due to the location, elements and hazards in the area regarding the Woosley and Hill fires, Homicide detectives will respond near sunrise," read a Friday brief filed by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputy Tony Moore. 

Benedict said Saturday that areas including Westlake Village, Hidden Hills, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Malibu were still under evacuation orders. "Quite frankly, it's still not safe," he said.

Mark Lorenzen, chief of the Ventura County Fire Department, said Saturday, "Last night was a tough night." He noted that wind conditions were more favorable on Saturday, giving firefighters more opportunities to contain the blaze. At 10 a.m. local time, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection noted a "Red Flag" warning for Saturday night — comprised of gusty winds and low humidity — continuing through Sunday. 

Damage assessment teams were going to be determining on Saturday how many structures have been destroyed so far. Los Angeles Fire Department deputy chief Trevor Richmond said that the department had deployed considerable resources to fight the Woolsey fire. 

Pepperdine University, located in the heart of Malibu, lifted its shelter-in-place order for students and faculty and noted in a news alert that "[f]lames on hillsides near campus were extinguished early this morning, although spot fires may appear and should be reported to Public Safety."

Two incidents of looting were reported on Friday, resulting in arrests, authorities said. Benedict said that 200 deputy personnel were in the fire area making sure property was safe and secure. 

Michael Lerner, a screenwriter and director currently writing a TV pilot for Sony, took in a family whose house, located near Malibu’s Zuma Beach, is believed to have been destroyed by the fire. "We’re hosting a family whose house likely burned down in the fire, and they’re staying with us for as long as they need to," said Lerner.

A number of local businesses in Malibu were caught in the path of the blaze. Trancas Vineyards owner Gary Peterson said that he lost his home in the Woolsey Fire and was uncertain about the state of his vineyard property. Peterson said that he planned to rebuild, if needed. 

Colcanyon Estate Wines, located at 2375 Latigo Canyon Road, posted an image of the damage to its property and noted, "We lost the house but the vines survived. Everybody is OK. We’re thinking of all the other SoCal residents that are similarly affected. A sad day."

Malibu Wine Safaris, a tour company located at 32111 Mulholland Highway, said in an update on its website that "we have survived the fire" but "lost a considerable portion of our barns and facilities." (One of the animals reported safe included the giraffe, Stanley, who was being taken care of by onsite animal trainers, the company said.)

Meanwhile, a building at Peter Strauss Ranch, located at 30000 Mulholland Hwy, appeared to have been significantly damaged in the blaze, as seen in a video posted on Twitter by Los Angeles Times reporter Ruben Vives.

Nearby, Paramount Ranch, where HBO had shot scenes of Westworld in season one and two, also had structures burned during the blaze. A rep for the premium cabler said Friday, "We do not yet know the extent of the damage to any structures remaining there." 

Calamigos Ranch and its Malibu Cafe restaurant, as seen from a Fox 11 helicopter aerial video, showed extensive damage to the Latigo Canyon event destination that had been running since 1936. 

Along the coast, the restaurant Neptune's Net, located across from County Line Beach, posted an image on its Facebook page with the fire raging in the distance and the caption, "We have been spared ... for now."

The City of Malibu on Saturday said in a news alert that "PCH remains closed southbound (east) at the LA/Ventura County line and northbound (west) at Sunset Blvd. All canyon roads are closed. US-101 closed from Reyes Adobe to Valley Circle."

The city alert added: "No individuals, including Malibu residents, will be allowed access at this time due to the active fire still burning in Malibu."

Scott Johnson contributed reporting to this story.