Suzanne Guldimann is the editor of the Topanga New Times, and also TNT’s resident naturalist. She was recently asked to give a talk on being…
On the morning of November 9, 2018, the Woolsey Fire swept through the Santa Monica Mountains leaving devastation behind. Topanga was spared; neighboring communities were not. Before it was contained almost two weeks later, it burned half the total area of the Santa Monica Mountains.
The fire ignited on November 8, 2018 near Woolsey Canyon in the Simi Hills. It jumped the 101 freeway in the early hours of November 9, and burned to the sea in Malibu, scorching 96,949 acres of land, destroying 1,643 structures, killing three people, and causing the evacuation of more than 295,000.
Three years later, residents of the burn zone continue to grapple with the aftermath of the disaster. Malibu bore the brunt of the damage. Nearly 700 structures were destroyed, including 400 single family homes. So far, only 56 homes have been rebuilt. Many families have moved on—rebuilding was too great a challenge after so much loss. Others continue the costly, convoluted and frustrating process of building back.
Homeowners aren’t the only ones facing challenges: the National Park Service and state parks lost numerous historically significant buildings and essential infrastructure that range from the entire Western town movie set at Paramount Ranch, to housing for rangers. The rest of the world has moved on, but for those in the burn zone, the disaster is still very much a part of day-to-day life.
The Woolsey Fire has left a lasting impression because of its impact on the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and because of the number of people it directly affected. It was one of the biggest wildfires in Los Angeles County history, but it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last.
Here at TNT we are marking the third anniversary of the Woosley Fire with an in depth look at an ambitious strategy to keep small fires small and prevent future tragedies with the help of an elite strike force of huge helitankers and the state-of-the-art heliport 69 Bravo, high above Topanga.
These are powerful firefighting tools, resources that local governments have never before had at their disposal, but the risk of wildfire remains high. We urge all residents of the Santa Monica Mountains, and all of our readers in the WUI—wildland urban interface—to take a moment to review wildfire and disaster plans, make sure supplies like flashlights and radios have batteries, that emergency water and food supplies haven’t expired, and check to make sure wildfire insurance policies are up to date, and paid up. Last week’s blistering temperatures are a reminder that wildfire season is still here. The Woolsey Fire anniversary is a reminder of how quickly life can change forever.
On a brighter note, Thanksgiving is here, and despite all of the challenges we face as individuals, a community, a nation, and a planet, there is much to be thankful for. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic shut down the holiday. Lower COVID-19 transmission numbers have increased optimism this year. More people are traveling and planning family celebrations. COVID-19 remains a risk—this is not the time to forget sensible safety precautions including masks and booster vaccines for those who are eligible—but it has become a more manageable risk. We are learning to cope.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving this year—November 28—is the first Sunday of Advent, the official start of the Christmas season for Christians, and the first day of Hanukkah for the Jewish community. We’ll be celebrating the holiday season this year at TNT with vintage holiday recipes, stories for long winter nights, book and gift recommendations, and some festive fun local shopping suggestions and holiday activities.
We wish all of our readers a happy Thanksgiving. Whether it is a day of feasting with family and friends or a time of solitary reflection, may the harvest this uniquely American holiday symbolizes be one of joy and fulfilment.
Stay safe, be well.
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