Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

    November 2 - 11, 1993
    Old Topanga Fire

Official report

County of Los Angeles Fire Department
November 2, 1993 to November 11, 1993


That breathtaking landscape where delicately carved canyons merge with the vast horizon of the Pacific Ocean has been a choice location for human habitation for thousands of years. Ancient Chumash Native Americans as well as modem man have enjoyed this place where warm winds flow from the mountains, through the canyons to this place known as The Malibu.

Malibu is a place with an almost magical appeal. The geography is magnificent with abundant vegetation due to the moist coastal flow. Homes are built to accentuate the surrounding of nature, and man's interface with his natural surroundings is displayed to an almost picture perfect "T" - Almost.

Although gentle in appeal at first glance, Malibu has plagued it's inhabitants with disasters time and time again. Summer becomes Fall, the moist coastal flow turns it's deceptive back and the wind transforms into the Devil himself. These "Devil Winds" or "Santa Ana's" begin to flow, bringing hot dry desert air from the north and northeast. The winds quickly extract remaining moisture from the lush chaparral and that picture perfect scenery now becomes a canvas for disaster.


The disaster chronicles of Malibu are littered with wild land and urban interface fires that have started with a spark and been augmented by these very conditions. These fires have burned with enormous intensity and traveled at will with alarming speeds to their natural point of extinguishment, the Pacific Ocean.

The unique interplay of topography, fuel load, and wind has made the Santa Monica Mountains home to some of the most spectacular and horrific fires in the history of our nation. The Hume Fire of 1956, the Wright Fire of 1970, and the Piuma Fire of 1985 are the past names of the same "beast" that appeared on November 2, 1993. There have been literally hundreds of fires in the Santa Monica's throughout history, and many share similar routes to the ocean, through the same canyon corridors of the Santa Monica Mountains. Residents and fire fighters who experienced the Hume, the Wright, or the Piuma Fire claim that the speed and fury with which the Topanga Fire blew to the coast is unparalleled.


Spanning fifty-two miles from east to west, the Santa Monica Mountains are the only mountain range that bisects a major American city. Physically, the mountains are an uplifted, folded land form which rose up from the ocean during the past eight million years. Ten miles at its widest point, and reaching an elevation of 3,111 feet at its western end, the mountains have the rugged profile of a geologically young range, cut deeply by water erosion. The frontal ridge line of the Santa Monica's parallels the coast from two to five miles inland, and is broken by 2,000 foot plunges in Malibu and Topanga Creeks. This erosive cutting into the ridge has formed spectacular gorges, fourteen to eighteen hundred feet deep running from north to south. Other drain ages, although not as spectacular, form many sheer transverse canyons and arroyos of the Malibu area. By virtue of the year round water flow in these drainages, as well as the Mediterranean climate, vegetation thrives in these canyons.

Beginning in 1925, when the County of Los Angeles Forester and Fire Warden first began charting the history of fires in these mountains, a strong correlation between point of origin and path of fire spread to the coast has been documented in "Santa Ana" driven fires. Many times the fire would travel an identical route through the canyons under non-identical wind conditions. Experienced early day Fire Officers would amass resources at certain inland points in an effort to stop the fire before it hit these "corridors." Las Virgenes, Lost Hills, Liberty, Kan an, Triunfo, and Topanga are the legendary names of these battlegrounds. Prior to the 1960's, the majority of these canyons were filled with thick brush and wildlife. As the greater Los Angeles area has expanded northward, the area has grown to include thousands of homes, a major university, and portions of six different cities. The City of Malibu lies entirely within the coastal aspect of this range.


The Santa Monica Mountains foster life for nine different plant communities. From offshore kelp beds, the upward sweep of the mountain range becomes a home to coastal sage scrub on the mesas and arroyos, to elevated Grasslands, and to the Riparian and Oak Woodlands of Malibu and Topanga Creeks. From a fire perspective, the most notable among these plant communities is the unique collection of plants known as the Chaparral.

The name Chaparral was given to these plants by the Vaqueros, who realized similarities with the "Chapparo" shrub stands in Spain. In only four areas of the world have similar types of plant communities evolved to withstand low annual rainfall and high summer temperatures. This association of plants have completed this evolution of internally conserving water by various means.

In Southern California, the Chaparral exists as both "hard" and "soff ' species. Soft Chaparral is cornprisedplimarily ofthe Sage varieties (White, Black, and Purple), California Buckwheat, Yucca, and Prickly Pear. Hard Chaparral species such as Laurel Sumac, Chemise, Scrub Oak, Ceanothus, and Mountain Lilac, have adapted to the harsh conditions by developing stiff, oily leaves and long root systems. In periods of drought, the plants satisfy their need for energy by continuing to leaf out from the bulk of the plant. Over long periods, these plants become essentially a shell of live growth surrounding a frame of deadwood. This dead undergrowth can exceed 80% of the weight of a thirty year old plant. Dense stands of these hard brush communities eventually become impenetrable to humans. Chaparral, whether hard or soft, provides watershedprotectionwhichreducesflooding. This has become especially important with the advent of housing developments in the region over the past 100 years. The reverse side to this watershed protection is that these plants have evolved to live with wildfire. As estimated by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department Forestry Division, the dead undergrowth of the Chaparral depends on fire every 20 to 30 years for renewal.

One of the responsibilities of the Forestry Division is to monitor live fuel moisture. By calculating the percentage of live to dead fuel, an estimation can be drawn on the Chaparral's readiness for fire. In Los Angeles County, these measurements are taken year round from specific fuels on a monthly basis. The resulting information is then charted and distributed to County of Los Angeles Fire Stations and Camps for fire behavior analysis. These live fuel moisture counts give fire fighters a strong indication of what kind of fire behavior to expect. Moisture content in the Chaparral is cyclical, and can reach counts 200% in the spring. On October 21, 1993, with fuel moisture in the Malibu area approaching the 60% range, all Fire Department Administrative Sites warned to expect extreme fire behavior.

On November 1, 1993, as it has done for eons, a high pressure zone was centered over Nevada, Northern Arizona and Utah. Concuffently, the Southern California coast a low pressure zone migrated into the area. This differential in pressure created a gradient, and hot desert air began to flow toward the ocean. Typically, these winds begin from a northerly direction. As the winds pushed toward the ocean, gravity directed the flow into the transverse canyons and of the Santa Monica's. Wind speed increased and relative hun-Lidity dropped. The Foehn winds had arrived, the winds the Spaniards called the "SantaAna's." A Red Flag Warning had been issued for November 2, 1993. The weather forecasted temperatures in the mid 80's, winds 20 to 40 miles per hour with local gusts to 60 miles per hour, and arelative humidity of 7 to 13 percent. By noon on November 1st, County of Los Fire Department Captains in the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys began to report Santa Ana conditions of sustained north-northwesterly winds at thirty miles an hour, with rapidly dropping humidity. A short time later, the Department's Operations Bureau began a full mobilization. By 2000 hours on the I st, all County of Los Angeles Fire Department engines assigned to brush battalions were fully staffed, extra patrol pumpers and water tenders were placed in service, and drivers were assigned to all Chief Officers. It was the first of many days of extended duty for County Fire fighters. SPECIFIC FIRE BEHAVIOR

The fire of November 2, 1993, like it's flaming predecessors, began as a spark to the north east of Malibu. The call from a resident was received at 1046 hours via 91 1 stating that a fire had been sighted near the water tower on Old Topanga Canyon Road. A First Alarm Brush response was dispatched at 1049 hours to the fire in Engine 69's jurisdiction. Engine 75 made the first visual report stating that smoke was visible from one half mile out.

Within the first half hour of the Old Topanga Fire, the Incident Commander predicted that the fire would "go to the beach," as it had in 1956, 1970, and 1985. In a classic Santa Ana condition, the high pressure zone will migrate southward through Arizona. As it continues to migrate, and gradient flow to the coast continues, the wind vector will change. Soon the northerly wind will become a north easterly, and then an easterly. When the high pressure zone migrates far enough south, the pressure gradient is lost, and with it, the winds die. The rapidity with which the Old Topanga fire spread introduced another variable for the Incident Commander's consideration. The winds at the time of the fire's inception were almost dormant as witnessed by initial responders. However, as the huge convection column began spiraling some six miles into the sky, spawned from nearly 1,000 acres of burning wild land just one hour into the fire, the massive column created an enormous vacuum. Winds that were beginning to change to easterly were deflected by the upward rush of super-heated air. Flame lengths of 200 feet were observed as the fire crested Saddle Peak, and 100 foot flame lengths were reported in many stands of old vegetation above Pacific Coast Highway. Storms of embers and flaming brands caused observed spotting one half mile in advance of the fire, with spotting distances being calculated to distances of up to 2.6 miles.

At approximately 1200 hours, on November 2, as flames spilled due south and slightly westward toward Malibu. Concurrent with this request, changing wind vectors forced fire into the mouths of all the major coastal canyons in the Malibu area. Strike Teams were amassing on Pacific Coast Highway, in preparation for what nearly all involved would describe as the "fight of their lives."

What the Malibu area lacks in fire frequency it makes up for in uniqueness. As the fire raced across the coastal mesas, experienced fire fighters noticed the wind change. Abruptly it slowed from a twenty mile per hour northerly, and then stopped. After an eerie quiet noted by some as lasting one to two minutes, it suddenly picked up from the opposite direction. This set up a "Roll Eddy" current which ripped wind and oxygen up from the ocean, and pulled the fire over the ridge line with an unbelievable new power. In succession, the fire exploded through Carbon Canyon, Rambla Pacifico, Las Flores Canyon, Piedra Gorda, and Pena and Tuna Canyons. In these canyons, five separate fire engines were overrun completely destroying two and sending six fire fighters to the hospital.

Fed by the immense unimpeded oxygen supply from the Pacific, the fire screamed down upon the mesas and arroyos. Roll Eddies lifted embers hundreds of feet into the air and Santa Ana's imbedded them into every structure. Ironically, ornamental vegetation such as Junipers and Cypress, planted by homeowners to be drought resistant, became a harbor for hidden fires. Some homes that were saved from the approaching fires were lost later as fire spread from these plants to the homes. All told the fire would claim the lives of three citizens and injure twenty one others. 565 fire fighters would receive injuries resulting from the operation, 16,516 acres of water shed would be charred and 388 structures along with countless items of personal belonging would be destroyed.


On November 1, 1993, the day before the "Old Topanga Incident" erupted, the County of Los Angeles Fire Department prepared and placed into force a contingency plan. The plan was formulated and implemented due to predicted weather conditions and referenced with regard to knowledge gained from past incidents. Developed in order to bring the County of Los Angeles Fire Department to a state of full readiness, and in anticipation of a possible dangerous brush fire condition, the plan went into effect twelve hours in advance of the Incident. This forethought undoubtedly played a significant role by contingently enhancing fire fighting and command resources. It should be noted that the Department had absolutely no prior knowledge as to where or when a fire might erupt and prepared the plan to protect all brush intensive areas of the County of Los Angeles. Above is a copy of the Departmental procedures that went into effect at 2000 hours on November 1, 1993.

So began the 911 call that set into motion the largest mobilization of emergency resources in the history of the State of California. Within minutes units were en route to the fire and a system to coordinate the attack was being implemented.
The system had to provide a standard approach that would be understood by the 458 different agencies eventually called to battle the fire. It would need to foster systematic management for 1,000 plus fire companies staffed by over 7,000 fire fighters as well as countless personnel drawn to support the overall effort. The system had to be flexible to adapt for changing conditions and incident growth, as well as provide common communications to ensure continuity of command. The system, utilizing lessons from history, had already been developed, and is known as the Incident Command System.


The Incident Command System was developed through a cooperative inter-agency (Local, State and Federal) effort. The basic organizational structure of the Incident Command System is based upon a large fire organization which has been developed over time by federal fire protection agencies. The essential differences are that the Incident Command System is designed to be used for all kinds of emergencies, and is applicable to both small day to day situations as well as very large and complex incidents.


The Incident Commander is responsible for incident activities including the development and implementation of strategic decisions and for approving the ordering and releasing of resources.

The "Old Topanga Incidenf'spanned ten days, and during that time six County of Los Angeles Fire Department chief officers served as Incident Commander. Their overall objectives were to protect and ensure safety for the involved citizenry, to protect and preserve property values within the incident area, to provide safety for fire fighting and support personnel involved in the incident effort, and to contain and control the fire.


The Incident Commanders were supported by the Command Staff. The Command Staff is comprised of personnel manning three positions, reporting directly to the Incident Commander in support of the overall incident plan.

The positions are:

The Information Officer who is responsible for the formulation and release of information about the incident to the news media and other appropriate agencies and organizations.

The Safety Officer who is responsible for monitoring and assessing hazardous and unsafe situations and developing measures for assuring personnel safety. The Safety Officer is charged with correcting unsafe acts or conditions through the regular line of authority, although the Officer may exercise emergency authority, to stop or prevent unsafe acts when immediate action is required. The Safety Officer must maintain awareness of active and developing situations and approves the Medical Plan as well as including safety messages in each Incident Action Plan. The Liaison Officer who is the point of contact for the assisting and cooperating Agency Representatives. This includes Agency Representatives from other fire agencies, Red Cross, law enforcement, public works and engineering organizations etc.


The Operations Section is the tactical portion of the Incident Command System which manages the execution of all operations directly applicable to the primary mission and incident objectives. The Section is managed by the Operations Section Chief who reports directly to the Incident Commander and orchestrates all functionary assignments of the Branches, Divisions, and Groups under his command.


Staging is that function of the Operations Section that provides the ability to temporarily locate resources, which are allocated to an incident and immediately available for assignment. Staging Areas are geographic locations under the Operations Section Chief and are generally located within the incident area. Staging area activities are conducted by Staging Area Managers who report directly to the Operations Section Chief.

Three staging areas were established during the "Old Topanga Incident" due to the large and varied geographic area that needed to be accessed by emergency units. Strategic identification of staging area locations was accomplished with thorough consideration being placed on tactical resource deployment. The three staging areas were arranged to form a triangle of emergency access around the predicted involvement area. The strategic thought process was as follows: Resources staged in the three locations wouldreliably provide response points from two of the three staging areas to any assignment location on the Incident. By providing two access points a fail-safe was established in the event of response route closures due to incident conditions. Additionally, Branch Directors had the ability to acquire resources for rapid response during times of difficult communications.

The staging area along the north flank of the fire was located at County of Los Angeles Fire Station 125 on Las Virgenes Road near Highway 101. This location was chosen with regard to it's proximity to a major freeway artery that would be utilized by resources as they entered the Incident area from the north and south. This location also provided easy access to the Malibu area via Las Virgenes Road.
The second staging area that was established was designed to control and direct resources as they arrived from the south along Pacific Coast Highway and was designated "Coast Staging." The location of Coast Staging was the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Topanga Canyon Boulevard. A check in point was established at this location for units arriving from the south that were anticipated for use along the coast and in the canyons most easily accessible from the coastal flank of the fire.
The third staging area established was known as "Civic Staging" and was located on Civic Center Drive within the City of Malibu. This staging area was proximal to the head of the fire, as it moved into Malibu, and was easily accessed by units as they arrived from the north and west.

The Old Topanga Incident required the largest mobilization of emergency resources, within a twenty four hour period, in the history of California and perhaps the world. As stands to reason, this tremendous influx of resources placed an enormous burden on staging personnel with regard to establishing check-in procedures, traffic control, and filling resource assignment requests. The general functions of the staging areas were as follows:

As resources were allocated to the incident, via the Region I Emergency Coordination Center, they were instructed to report to one of the three staging areas. The County of Los Angeles Fire Department coordinates and staffs the Region 1 Emergency Coordination Center for the State of California. Upon arrival at Staging they checked in with the Check-in Recorders and were directed by the Staging Managers to a parking location. As resources were requested by the Operations Section Chief, the Staging Manager notified and dispatched them to their requested assignment.

The Operations Section of the "Old Topanga Incident" was charged with protecting the lives of thousands of citizens and greater than 22,000 structures in the midst of a fire that would consume 16,516 acres. 3,634 structures were directly exposed to the fire with an additional 18,870 threatened if the spread had not been contained. At the point of full development the Operations Section encompassed 5 geographic branches, and an Air Operations Branch. The 5 geographic branches were designated "I", "II", "III", "IV", "V" and were in turn supported by 16 divisions fortified with the following resources:


The incident operations within each Branch were controlled by the Branch Directors who reported directly to the Operations Section Chief. The Branch Director assigned resources as needed to the Divisions within the Branch and in turn these resources operated under the direct guidance of the Division Supervisors. Strike Team Leaders directed the activities of each strike team with company operations being directed by company supervisors to effect the overall goal of the mission.


The aerial delivery of water and retardants, to strategic targets during the "Old Topanga Incident," was an absolute necessity to confine and contain the fire. The Air Operations Branch provided rotary as well as fixed wing aircraft to facilitate the accomplishment of this challenging goal. Aircraft were deployed from the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, the United States Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry, the United States Air National Guard, and the Los Angeles City Fire Department. The functional groups within the Air Operations Branch are the Air Support Group and the Air Attack Group.


The Air Support Group is that functional aspect of the Air Operations Branch that provides for the maintenance, fueling, and water/retardant loading of the aircraft. The locations established within this group are Helibases, Helispots and Fixed Wing Bases. Helispots utilized during the Old Topanga Incident were 69-A and 88-A, as well as helispots established by Los Angeles City Fire Department Air Operations personnel. Helispot 88-A was designated "Pepper Base", due to it's location on the Pepperdine University campus. This helispot served as a dual function helibase/helispot by supporting the operation with fuel loading and maintenance in addition to water loading. Camp 8 was also utilized as an alternate helibase. Fixed wing operations flew sorties from Point Mugu Naval Air Station and William J. Fox Airport in Lancaster, California.


The AirAttack Group is responsible for those functional aspects of fire fighting that deal directly with the aerial delivery of water and retardants to targets set forth by the Operations Section. This group serves to augment the overall fire fighting and exposure protection objective. Aircraft may also be summoned to provide aerial reconnaissance and emergency medical transportation if deemed necessary during the course of the incident.

The Air Attack Group during the Old Topanga Incident provided incident support through the utilization of rotary and fixed wing delivery of water and retardants as well as reconnaissance information reported by observers in both types of aircraft. This function of reconnaissance proved to be a valuable tool, throughout the course of the incident, due to steep inaccessible terrain and the vast area involved by the fire.
The Air Operations Branch was managed by the Air Operations Branch Director supplied by the Bureau of Land Management. An Air Attack Supervisor from the United States Forest Service was assigned and supervised all rotary and fixed wing operations in support of the mission. Rotary wing aircraft provided by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department were coordinatedby Senior Pilots flying on line and conducting operations set forth by the Air Attack Supervisor. 132.1 hours of flight time were logged by 7 County of Los Angeles Fire Department pilots, flying 7 helicopters and operating from 2 helispots. 797 water drops delivered 286,920 gallons of water and foam, to various targets within the incident area. Los Angeles City Fire Department assisted the effort with 5 helicopters and 12 pilots. Los Angeles City Fire Department pilots logged 153.5 hours of flight time and dropped 164,150 gallons. Eleven Vertol and Sky Crane helicopters, ordered through the Emergency Coordination Center (E.C.C.) and provided via Operational Coordination Center (O.C.C.), assisted in the operation by delivering water drops from their 2,000 and 3,000 gallon water buckets.

Fixed wing aircraft provided through the United States Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry and the Military delivered 1,047,950 gallons of fire retardant to targets in support of the Incident Action Plan. 31 aircraft flew a total of 186 sorties for a total of 123.1 hours of flight time.

Tuesday, November 2, 1993, 1045 hours to 1800 hours

At approximately 0800 hours on November 2, 1993, at the request of the Ventura County Fire Department, the County of Los Angeles Fire Department dispatched two strike teams and a helicopter to the "Green Meadow Incident." This previously contained fire had revived its vigor as a result of increasing winds. The "Green Meadow Incident" was located northwest of the City of Malibu near Leo Carillo State Beach. There was great concern that this now small fire could suddenly gather momentum and sweep south-east toward Los Angeles County.

As the threat of the Green Meadow fire subsided at around 1030 hours, strike teams from the County of Los Angeles Fire Department were released.


At lO:49, Engines 69, 68, 75, 125, 70, 5144 and 5125 (many just returning from the Green Meadow fire) were dispatched to the Incident. Patrols 69, 269 and 75, Crews 15-1, 15-2 and 16-3, Air Squad 9, Copter 15 with Crew 2-1, Superintendents 9 and 17, Dozer with Construction I 1, and Battalion 18 in place of Battalion 5 (assigned to the Green Meadow Fire) were also dispatched.

With Santa Ana winds gusting to 40 miles per hour, flames began rolling downhill from the water tanks toward Old Topanga Canyon Road. As Engine 75 began the arduous climb up the winding narrow road from Station 68's district they had their first glimpse of a budding smoke column. At 10:55 Engine 75 reported, "L.A., smoke showing from one half mile out."

Just after Engine 75's report, Patrol 69 arrived on scene and gave the size-up report on the most disastrous fire in this Department's history, "L.A., Patrol 69, we have one acre running uphill, start a second alarm." Just behind Patrol 69, was Patrol 269 - both patrols began attacking the fire in medium fuel on the north side of Old Topanga Canyon Road. In the meantime, Engine 75 had arrived at the north end of the now one acre fire and joined the attack with the two patrols. At 10:59 Engine 69 arrived on scene to find 30 mile per hour plus winds fanning three to four spot fires on the south side of Old Topanga Canyon Road. The fire continued a downhill run into dense stands of fuel that had not burned since 1926.
As the crew of Engine 69 attempted a downhill attack on the southern flank, flames were being whipped into a frenzy as 30 to 40 foot flame lengths towered over the firefighters from Topanga. The fire seemed to be growing in a logarithmic fashion. Surveying the rapidly deteriorating situation, Patrol 69 gave a chilling report to the Fire Command and Control Facility, "L.A., Patrol 69, start strike teams, this fire is headed to the coast."

The fire had spread from I acre to 200 acres in less than I 0 minutes, and the largest deployment in the history of California for a single fire had begun.
Battalion Chief 18 responded from his assignment in Battalion 6. While en route to the fire he could see the distant smoke from the Green Meadow fire but didn't notice any significant smoke columns in the Malibu area, due to the strong winds forcing the smoke to blow low into the canyons. As he arrived into the Topanga area however, he caught his first glimpse of what the heavy radio traffic had been indicating. The magnitude of the situation became readily apparent. He immediately declared himself as the Incident Commander and established the initial Command Post at a location known as "The Top of Old Topanga."

On the west flank and advancing front, the fire was now spotting far ahead of itself along Saddle Peak Road placing several homes near Stunt Road in immediate danger. On the east flank the fire was working its way down Old Topanga Canyon Road toward the residences in Topanga Canyon. The fire was spreading rapidly, and with reinforcements still en route, evacuation of the immediately threatened citizenry became of paramount importance! All available fire suppression and law enforcement units were ordered to effect immediate evacuations.

As the Incident Commander began deploying resources into Topanga Canyon it became quickly apparent that any type of fire fighting operations would face severe challenges. The evacuation of citizens not only tied up fire department resources, but congested the roadways as well - making access throughthecanyonsdifficult. Strongwindscreated erratic fire behavior, and dense foliage around structures and over roads denied engine companies the necessary defensible space from which to operate effectively.

Thick smoke produced limited visibility and hampered effective helicopter operations in the narrow canyons. Water pressure was poor and would get worse as the day went on, as were radio communications also affected by the steep canyon walls.
With emergency radio traffic rising to a feverish pitch the worst was realized by the initial responders. The engineer from Engine 69 encountered a severely burned man struggling toward him up a long driveway. Before the crew could reach the man, two men in a pick-up truck placed him in the back and drove him to Engine 69's location. The burned man told the crew that his friend was trapped in the house at the end of the driveway.

The quarter of a mile driveway was completely engulfed in flames and 69's crew was forced to watch and wait until the tunnel of fire lessened. When the flames had subsided they began a search. The second victim with second and third degree bums over ninety percent of his body was found wading in a swimming pool.

Engine 69, along with Squad 88, initiated emergency medical procedures in the back of the pick-up truck and called for the immediate airlift of the victims. Hampered by heavy radio traffic and limited visibility the exact rescue location was difficult to find from the air, but as a result of persistent efforts by the flight crews of Air Squad 9 and Air Squad 17 the victims were quickly airlifted to Sherman Oaks Burn Center.

As Department Chief Officers responded to the incident, cellular phones were utilized to begin strategic deployment. The major concerns identified during these en-route conversations were:

The need to place resources ahead of the fire.
The need to establish an anchor pointon the fire.
The need to begin development ofcontrol lines.
The need to begin immediate resource augmentation.
The need to quickly provide overhead personnel to compensate for anticipated command requirements and communications difficulties. The need too ensure citizen safety.

These concerns were addressed, while en-route via cellular phone and radio communications, with the following actions:

10 engine strike teams were ordered and dispatched. Three engine strike teams were responded to the origin area of the fire, to hold the fire and provide structure protection, and seven engine strike teams were ordered to the coast. Level / response with chief officers and overhead to compensate for anticipated communications problems. Fixed wing and helicopter air support were ordered. 10 crew strike teams were ordered.

As Department Chief Officers arrived at Fire Station 70 and General Staff positions were assigned, the following incident concerns were identified: The fuel load was vety heavy and extreme flame lengths could be expected. Communications would be difficult if not impossible. This included both telephone and cellular phones.
Municipal water loss should be anticipated in the canyons. 35 additional engine strike teams (1 75 engines) were ordered and the Emergency Coordination Center was placed on line.

Sheriff's Department was brought on line to begin permissive evacuations. Evacuations would create tremendous traffic concerns for emergency vehicles if not directed.
Fire fighter safety was going to be difficult to ensure.

Structure protection would be difficult and hazardous due to limited access, narrow canyon roads and vegetative canopy.

The "Green Meadow" fire in Ventura County was expanding and might become a factor on the western flank of the incident.

Incident duration would be lengthy.

Animal control would be a problem.

With these concems in mind the Incident Commander took the following actions: The Incident Command System was fully established to organize and address all areas of the incident as they materialized.

Fire history maps and fire behavior were evaluatedand-potentialfire corridors were identified. At this point Monte Nido, Serra Retreat and Femwood Pacific were identified as areas likely to be first in harms way. Resources were ordered and assigned as they arrived to protect these areas. Evacuations were coordinated with the Sheriffs Department with special emphasis being placed on directing evacuees toward the north. This was done in an attempt to keep Pacific Coast Highway open for emergency equipment. It should be noted that the County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department did an exemplary job in the accomplishment of this enormous task.
A traffic plan was coordinated with the Califomla Highway Patrol to keep maln emergency access routes open. It was imperative to maintain emergency right of way along Pacific Coast Highway and an outstanding effort by the California Highway Patrol accomplished this task. Extra overhead personnel were ordered realizing that face to face communication would become a necessity to effect Incident operations and provide a margin for fire fighter safety. Overhead was also assigned to monitor "Green Meadow."
A direct line of communication was established via telephone between the Incident Command Post at Fire Station 70 and the Fire Command and Control facility. This line remained open until the Command Post location was moved to Pepperdine University. Fixed wing aircraft were assigned to the western flank when visibility and fire related turbulence permitted operation.

Dozers were ordered to begin development of a control line along the eastern and western flanks of the fire. Dozer operations during this period were extremely difflcult with regard to terrain and fire conditions. The operations were accomplished due only to the courageous exhibition of service by their operators and crews.

Helicopters and Engines were assigned in front of the fire for structure protection. Hand crews were ordered to work in a flanking action toward Femwood Pacific in conjunction with the dozer operation.

Reports from crew strike team leaders indicated that the flanking fire control lines were effective as they followed the fire which was now producing 100 foot plus flame lengths. Requests for additional resources by the Incident Commander now totalled 60 engine strike teams; 300 engines were now being responded.
As arriving resources were assigned and dispatched, the fire was divided into branches.

Engine strike teams would be increased to 165 and total 835 engines committed to the Incident.

To ensure the effective management ofresources, the Incident Commander initially divided the incident into three Branches of operation. As the incident rapidly developed, Incident operations expanded into five Branches and an Air Operations Branch under the Operations Section Chief.


Branch I was assigned to the Los Angeles City Fire Department. This Branch essentially extended from the origin of the fire along the east flank of the fire down to, and including, the Skyline Villa area. Their assignment was to evacuate and protect structures in the Skyline Villa housing development.

LA City Division III Chief was the Branch Director and had seven LA City strike teams under his command. He assigned three strike teams to the Skyline Villa tract. By great fortune, this tract was largely spared massive destruction as the east flank only skirted the area and drove in a more south-westerly direction. Fire fighters from LA City and the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, utilizing a combination of camp crews, helicopters and firing-out techniques, prevented the loss of structures in this area.

The LA City Operations and Suppression Deputy Chief arrived and assumed command of this Branch. As the fire drove south he met with the County of Los Angeles Fire Department Command Staff who would eventually establish the Command Post at County of Los Angeles Fire Station 70, located on Pacific Coast Highway in the City of Malibu. Shortly afterward, four additional LA City strike teams were ordered to Coast Staging. LA City also formed their own staging area at LA City Fire Station 23.


This Branch initially was established to protect the Skyline Villa area in conjunction with LA City. LA City (Branch 1) was assigned to protect everything on the east side of Old Topanga Canyon Road and County of Los Angeles resources were assigned to protect everything on the west side. A spot fire however, which ignited on the east side of Old Topanga Canyon Road, posed such a threat that it was decided to augment Branch I operations. If this spot fire had established a foot hold, not only would many homes in the Skyline Villas have been destroyed, but the fire may likely have spread further east toward Sylvia Park and then have a direct run down the canyons toward the Fernwood Pacific tract.

Branch 11 geographically began at the origin point of the fire, extending southward along the east side of Old Topanga Canyon Road all the way to Pacific Coast Highway. Division A consisted of several engines and some camp crews. They were given the task of evacuations and structure protection east of Old Topanga Canyon Road, south of Zuniga Road, to approximately Rose Lane. After the fire had moved south, this Division was combined with Division B and some of its resources were utilized to cover several stations in the area.

Division B consisted of a loose configuration of single engines from the first and second alarms. They were given the task of effecting evacuations and structure protection along the east flank and advancing front down to approximately Zuniga Road.
After the initial front of the fire moved south, fire fighters found several structures just beginning to catch fire. In one instance, a new residence at the "Kowalke Sprout Farm" had just ignited. The area around this home was covered with a thick canopy of oak trees and as the fire flashed in these aerial fuels it was transformed into an inferno. Units employed the use of a I 000 gallon per minute deck gun but the effort proved futile as the water evaporated long before it could hit its target.
After extinguishing several small fires the Division resources spent the remainder of the day mopping up around structures and cold trailing the east flank of the fire's origin.

Division B then deployed into Saddle Peak between Sadie Road and Tuna Canyon, as the fire approached.

Strike Teams were forced to "hunker down" as they watched fixed wing tankers painting lines of retardant to try and slow the fire's spread - but this was no ordinary fire. Tactics like this normally slow the fire's spread significantly, but so intense was the heat that it merely burned right through the fields of retardant.

At approximately 1400 hours, in spite of the potent winds, the fire made a rather lazy pass around this area as the fire backed down nearby canyon walls. Strike team leaders recognizing the steep canyons full of fuel, and the vulnerability of their positions, braced themselves for the fire storm that was sure to come. Within 25 minutes, as anticipated, the wind abruptly increased and the fire made an explosive charge uphill from three different directions at once. Towering walls of flame belched toward the homes and fire fighters - homes perched over the canyons lit up like matches. One strike team leader recalled how the three story house near his position shook and trembled as if it was in an earthquake. Fire fighters gamely fought involved structures as safety and water availability would allow. Many homes were saved in these areas as a result of the heroic efforts in the face of extreme danger.
As the fire passed, fire fighters scrambled to knock down fires in those homes that were salvageable. It was a frustrating experience for fire fighters to triage those that were fully involved in flames.

Many citizens waited until the fire came dangerously close before fleeing to safety. Fire fighters spent an inordinate amount of time, when time was of the essence, coaxing citizens to leave the threaten areas. Many simply didn't understand the thermal intensity with which this fire was burning.

A County of Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief saw a television crew parked at the top of a canyon chimney with the fire quickly approaching. When he stopped to advise them to move, they took the opportunity to film the encounter. The Chief once again advised them of the extreme imminent danger, but the film crew continued to work. The Chief then told them he was moving to a safer area and strongly advised that they follow him. The news crew paused, thought about staying, then suddenly recognized why the Chief was leaving so hastily - the heat was building at an intense rate - they literally threw their equipment into their van and drove off as the flames licked the vehicle's exterior! Later the newscaster from this crew would apologize and commend the Chief for saving his life.

Division B would spend much of the remainder of the day mopping up the fires left behind in this neighborhood.

Division E was designated to provide structure protection from Fernwood Pacific to Pacific Coast Highway along Topanga Canyon Boulevard. As the Incident progressed, strike teams were added to prepare for the arrival of the fire.

It was an established mandate that the fire would not cross Old Topanga Canyon Road. A number of helicopters and camp crews augmented this division. Using deft fire fighting techniques, crews would allow the eastern flank of the fire to burn down toward Old Topanga Canyon Road, then fire out to sap the fire's thirst for fuel. This worked well; especially when the fire shifted with the wind in a more southwesterly direction.

Camp crews worked vigorously along this flank.When the terrain made cutting lines impossible,camp crews cut clearings around houses withtheir hand tools. In one case a bulldozer working near homes saw fire in the attached garage of ahome. Recognizing an opportunity to save thehome, the dozer operator positioned his dozerand in two passes effectively removed the flaming garage from the house, thus saving the homefrom destruction.

The directional wind shift allowed fire fighters to begin making progress along the eastern flank. Camp crews supported by progressive hose lays and working in conjunction with bulldozers and helicopters were able to truncate the fire's eastern flank. This created an odd paradox - although effectively stopping the easterly progress of the fire and thus saving Fernwood, it left large amounts of fuel between the front edge of the fire and Fernwood creating potential problems.

Integrated within the rugged canyons and hilltops that run along Old Topanga Canyon Road are homes nestled in canopies of oak. Division E was severely challenged not only by constantly changing winds, that made raging fire storms possible at any time, but by homes whose rustic surroundings made them nearly impossible to defend. Strike teams along Red Rock Road and further south on Hondo Canyon Road would see their positions overrun by fire but held losses in these areas to a minimum.

This Division was gradually reinforced during the day as more and more strike teams were brought into the Femwood area in anticipation of a possible directional change by the fire. Resources worked diligently along Old Topanga Canyon Road from Red Rock Canyon to the junction of Old Topanga Canyon Road and Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Although the primary mission was to keep the fire west of Old Topanga Canyon Road - when the fire spotted across the road near the Skyline Villas, in the early stages of the fire, the efforts of this division were divided to support the efforts of Branch 1.

Superintendent 16 arrived with his crews only five minutes after the first-in engine. Upon arrival he found a pressing dilemma: attack the flank of the fire with hand crews and possibly reduce its impact, or evacuate citizens whose homes were in the path of this fast moving fire. In choosing to aid in the evacuation effort, his crews immediately went to work assisting citizens with their belongings.

Crew superintendents then decided that the "fanning" action of this fire could-be minimized by cutting a line on the east flank, where the fire had spotted into the Skyline Villa tract.

Superintendent 17 and his crews would work the rear flank and Superintendent 16 would take his crews further south and build line to eventually tie in with Superintendent 17's line. This action prevented the fire from making uphill runs at the Skyline Villa tract where LA City stood waiting. Numerous helicopters assisted the crews by making precise low level water drops.

Further south along Old Topanga Canyon Road, strike teams were hastily evacuating citizens and preparing for the fire if it were to suddenly push down the canyon. Good luck was on their side as the winds pushed the fire in a more south-westerly direction. Even with the winds pushing the fire away from the southerly portions of the tract, it eventually crept into this area near Glen Drive. By combining effort, strike teams utilizing progressive hose lays, hand crews cutting lines and helicopters providing water drops, were able to completely extinguish the fire from the east side of Old Topanga Canyon Road by nightfall.
This branch was formed to protect structures along the west flank and the south-westerly advancing front of the fire. With the fire pushing south-west it was apparent that the Monte Nido area would be in grave danger.

Branch Directors, in the early phases, would only be able to assign single resources, perhaps two or three depending upon the situation, to a Division. As the fire progressed and more resources poured into Malibu, Divisions would be assigned multiple strike teams and become consolidated.

Divisions F and G were assigned to protect the numerous houses along Stunt Road. With the fire pushing directly at them, and spotting well ahead of itself, it didn't take long for these divisions to engage in fire fighting. They were particularly concerned with the 10 to 14 foot high stands of brush that had not burned in over 30 years.
Strike teams dug in along with desperate home owners and attempted to wet down roofs, overhanging eves and ornamental shrubbery near the houses. Many of these efforts were in vain for fire brands driven by relentless winds were able to bury themselves into recesses and vents. Furthermore, the intense heat produced by the fire, pre-heated and dried all combustible materials - however some strike teams reported success by pre-treating homes with foam.

As the fire worked its destruction along Stunt Road, strike teams regrouped and positioned themselves along Schueren Road - other strike teams formed where Stunt Road turns into Saddle peak Road. Aerial tankers and helicopters were actively engaging the fire, laying down tons of water and retardant. The fire seem to be moving in multiple directions at will making it particularly wicked in nature.
Many fire fighters reported that the smoke was so heavy and full of fire brands that it seemed like night. Others watching from neighboring hilltopsreported 100to 150footflamelengths as the fire ran uphill. One engine captain recalled an incident when the flames were so intense that a nearby home literally burst into flames although the fire hadn't actually reached it yet.

Most brush fires will leave remnants of vegetation as they pass through - this fire however left the landscape devoid of all signs of life. Tree stumps were burned to the ground, and the area was left as barren as the moon.

Camp crews working in these aforementioned areas proved to be highly effective although armed only with hand tools. In some instances they would position themselves ahead of the fire and cut clearances around homes. Then, as the fire approached, and if the circumstances allowed, they would fire-out. In case after case, using chain saws, they would cut wooden decks from homes and push them down the canyons. Some were cut away as a precaution, others were on fire while being removed. In one tract, although one home was lost, quick action by these crews prevented the fire from impinging on other exposed homes, virtually saving the entire tract.

Camp crews supported by helicopters, aerial tankers and engines providing progressive hose lays, were able to successfully flank this fire and prevent its early spread west across Mullholland Highway. This was an important stop as the area west of Mullholland Highway contains numerous homes and would allow the fire to cut a larger, more destructive swath along the west flank.

Resources were assigned to structure protection in the heavily populated Monte Nido tract which lay directly in the fire's path. Fire officials began bracing themselves for what was sure to yield terrible losses.

Engine crews watched in awe as the fire worked its way down Calabasas Peak through canyons and over peaks growing larger by the second. To make matters worse the fire was spotting well ahead of itself, adding to the inevitable perception that Monte Nido was destine to tragically collide head-on with the fire.

Miracles do occur, and the fire suddenly turned sharply south as it began drawing an on shore flow.

Seizing the moment, aerial tankers and helicopters bombarded the western flank with vigor. Six bulldozers worked along the edge of the fire in an attempt to pinch the flank. Their combined efforts blunted the fire's progress and held the fire to the north-east of Monte Nido for the time being.

Later in the afternoon, the fire began turning from south to south-west. The head of the fire was much further south at this point as it was pressing toward the Malibu Civic Center near the coast. Large amounts of unburned fuel were still left between the nearly three mile long western flank and the area to the west.
Officials feared that the fire would begin sweeping west toward Malibu Beach, the Malibu Hills and the Malibu Bowl areas and then return to the north - again toward Monte Nido.

Reinforcements were added to the divisions in Monte Nido as the fire forced Division Supervi- sors to spread their resources thin.
During this time the fire ran straight at and over the Monte Viento area and Fire Suppression Camp 8. Walls of fire were driven up canyons so fast that even experienced fire fighters were surprised at the fire's ability to leap great distances in a heartbeat. Most fire fighters were lucky enough to walk away with only minor bums - one California Department of Forestry Crew was not so fortunate.

While protecting a home in the Monte Viento tract, the fire suddenly overran their position in a burst of flames. Two of the fire fighters were able to duck into the house and be spared the fire's intense heat however the engineer and captain who sought refuge inside the cab of their engine were not as fortunate. The heat shattered the windows of the engine exposing them to the fierce heat. The two fire fighters suffered serious burns even though protective fire shelters were deployed inside the cab. They were evacuated out of the area and airlifted to the Sherman Oaks Bum Center.


This branch was developed during the early afternoon as it became quite apparent that this fire would reach the coast and bifurcate east and west. This branch had boundaries of Piuma Road to its north and Rambla Pacifico on the coast. The Branch included the Serra Retreat area, the Civic Center, Pepperdine University, Hughes Research Laboratories and many businesses. In addition the Malibu Beach, Malibu Hills, Malibu Colony and Malibu Bowl residential areas were also protected by Branch IV.

Historical maps of past fires indicated that the fire would eventually make a direct run at Serra Retreat. Situated at the mouth of Malibu canyon, with plenty of exposure to dry fuels, its hillsides beckoned wild fires to engulf them. At approximately 1500 hours it did.

Division X was the first to get a taste of the battle in this Branch with the fire striking first in the Sweetwater Mesa area just east of Serra Retreat. Although a relatively small housing tract in comparison, many of the homes were exposed to the steep canyons below. Fire fighters fought their way through scores of citizens trying to evacuate the area, and arrived just as the fire made its run at the homes - fire fighters were able to hold their ground and losses were held to two homes.

The fire was now moving as predicted and drove straight at Serra Retreat. It is one thing to predict the path of a fire, it is quite another to stop it. The fire struck with a vengeance destroying a significant amount of vegetation - no homes were lost thanks to gutsy fire fighters who rode out the hell-like conditions that swept all around them. After the fire roared by they began immediate fire fighting operations on homes that were only partially involved. These quick actions prevented any homes from being lost, although one historic barn burned to the ground.

At the same time the fire impacted Serra Retreat it also struck the Carbon Mesa area. One County of Los Angeles Fire Department engine was caught in a swirling mass of flame with the crew narrowly escaping serious injury.

Massive bulldozing efforts were now taking place to blunt the fire 's ability to move into the Civic Center and Pepperdine areas. The fire would push south-west toward the Hughes Laboratories and the Civic Center during the late night hours of November second.

Division T was given the assignment of holding the fire to the east along a fire-break that had been constructed along Malibu Canyon Road. Erratic winds along this three mile long flank worried fire fighters as spot fires continuously jumped the fire-break keeping fire fighters scrambling. At one point a photographer was badly burned when he was trapped by a spot fire. Late during this initial attack period, a backfiring operation was attempted to keep the flank in check - strong gusts of wind caused the fire to jump the control line and forced this Division to retreat from its original position. As the next operational period began, the fire was bearing down on the Hughes Research Facility and Pepperdine University. BRANCH V

Division Y was assigned to protect structures along Pacific Coast Highway from the Malibu Pier to Rambla Pacifico, and canyon properties accessible from these points. Pacific Coast Highway during the early afternoon was congested with traffic by evacuating citizens and arriving fire engines. The California Highway Patrol eventually shut down the highway to all but emergency traffic and the situation improved significantly.

At approximately 1330 hours it became apparent that the Rambla Pacifico area and Las Flores Canyons would be struck hard. The winds were blowing at 50 miles per hour and the fire had become a four mile wide monster that was devouring canyons in its path like a machine. Las Flores and Rambla Pacifico presented fire fighters with steep narrow canyon roads and thick brush. Homes built in these areas are perched on hillsides and along saddles and chimneys. Additionally, there were several small tracts of homes nestled in hollows at the bottom of canyons.
Literally hundreds of engines were within these canyons to protect structures. Despite the apocalyptic eeriness which lay before them, engine companies ascended into these canyons courageously, as safety would allow. Their experiences will no doubt impact them profoundly for the remainder of their lives.

Division Z was assigned the areas from Rambla Pacifico to Topanga Canyon Boulevard. This included all canyon areas accessible along these boundaries from Pacific Coast Highway. Adequate water now became an issue - water tanks, which are perched high atop of hills in Malibu, are fed through electrical pumps from the large water main which runs beneath Pacific Coast Highway - the demand for water was so excessive, the capacity of these tanks was quickly depleted.

With the electrical power knocked-out, there were no pumps with which to supply water to the tanks supporting the canyons. Engines needing water either had to drive down to Pacific Coast Highway, draft water from swimming pools or wait for water delivered by water tenders.

In addition to the hundreds of fire engines that were already in these canyons, hundreds more waited along Pacific Coast Highway to be assigned positions. Communications at this point were so jammed with units attempting to broadcast, and failed repeater capabilities, that the only way supervisors could ensure that their orders were being followed was to physically drive to locations and communicate face
to face.

Many fire fighters described the fire as "boiling" at this point. Smoke was so thick that one could not see the road for more than a few feet in any direction. Fire fighters suffered respiratory problems and their eyes burned severely. The wind seemed to blow from several directions at once and flaming brands the size of softballs were being hurled about. Combustible mixtures of dust in the air actually created small bursts of fires in mid-air.

The spot fires created a labyrinth along access routes. Wooden power poles caught fire and tumbled onto the road ways. Rocks, large and small, that had been held against the hillsides by dense brush were loosened by the fire and came crashing onto the roads below. Animals of all sizes and types were running amuck. The bridge over Las Flores Creek burned and collapsed leaving only one escape route from the area - back to the north through the mouth of the fire.

As the spot fires combined at an incredible rate within Carbon Canyon, the fire seemed to surge eastward up the canyon walls of Rambla Pacifico in one monstrous monolith of flame. It completely encircled the enormous grounds of Fire Suppression Camp 8 and ignited several structures. One large pile of timber that was stored in an open area burned so completely that not even an ash remained.
Even the most seasoned of Fire Fighters gasped in awe at the incredible destructive forces thi s fire wrought. Homes literally seemed to explode into flames, cars in driveways burst into flames, propane tanks exploded - everywhere one looked there was fire. The fire seemed to attack every- thing at once without prejudice - it was omni-present, powerful, and not nearly finished.

The fire roared over Rambla Pacifico and pushed through Las Flores Canyon like a runaway freight train. Multiple fires burned within the canyons fanned by tremendous winds. A more perfect formula for a fire storm could not have been created. The Branch Director recalled, "embers as big as your fist began to blow by at an incredible rate then suddenly the sky turned extremely black and the ground began to shake - the wind which had been blowing so fiercely abruptly stopped... there was a moment of quiet except for the distant rumbling - then the wind began sucking uphill toward the fire and I saw the fire literally blow out of Las Flores Canyon like a blow torch - something I've never seen in 28 years on the job.

Several experienced brush fire officials termed the fire behavior in Las Flores Canyon as an 4 4area ignition."

The Rambla Orienta, Rambla Vista and Las Flores

Mesa areas suffered heavily with regard to losses. Flames swept down in biblical proportions, overrunning fire fighters and claiming the lives of an elderly couple trying to escape the fire's fury in their pick-up truck. Courageously, fire fighters endured searing heat and blinding smoke to save what homes they could.

One assisting agency strike team was intent to save an apartment house that had just caught fire. Utilizing a hydrant fed from the strong mains along Pacific Coast Highway, they deployed multiple lines - but the fire simply was generating too much heat energy. In spite of their heroic efforts, the apartment house burned to the ground. Fire fighters who witnessed this event were stunned.
The Incident Commander issued a safety message, through Command and Control, to ensure that company commanders would position themselves and their equipment in safe locations. At this point the Incident Commander monitored over 21 calls for help, from engines and strike teams being trapped or overrun. Commanders were forced to abandon their positions in many areas. All resources were ordered to evacuate from Las Flores Canyon as a result.

Nearly 2/3 of the homes in these two aforementioned canyons were now on fire. As strike teams were sent up to salvage homes they were styn-tied by the inaccessibility of the roads.

After the front had passed, fire fighters worked hard to extinguish flames. Handicapped by the lack of water, or fire hoses that had burned under intense flames, fire fighters struggled to perform mop-up operations. It would be days before they could ensure that all of the fires in this area were out.

The fire, now bearing down on the Command Post at Fire Station 70, gave many in the Command Staff their first view of the fire's destructive powers. The Operations Chief saw the fire envelop a canyon where several strike teams had just been dispatched to protect homes. He watched in horror as mammoth flames devoured the canyon and felt that he might have just sent fire fighters to their death. After several agonizing minutes the strike team leader radioed in that everyone was safe and that they were knocking out fires.

Although the fire's proximity hastened a re-location of the Command Post to Pepperdine University, the size of the Command Staff and the need for B ase operations dictated the move. In a six hour period more fire engines had arrived in the Malibu area than normally existed in several counties combined - more were on the way.

The fire jumped across Pacific Coast Highway in several places and literally burned to the sand.

The fire, in the height of its glory, raced toward the Big Rock Area where Division Z lay waiting. Strike teams in this division did not feel the situation was safe for fire fighters and were forced to withdraw their resources from Big Rock and then to re-position. The fire struck hard, and over fifty plus homes lay ablaze.


County of Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter crews, dispatched on the first alarm, immediately recognized the tremendous threat to life and property. The fire was being pushed by strong Santa Ana winds and already cutting a swath through extremely dry brush that had not burned in over 30 years. The fire was spotting well ahead of itself to the south and west, and had already jumped Old Topanga Road on the east and was threatening to make what could be a potentially disastrous and deadly run toward densely populated Topanga Canyon and the heavily populated Femwood area.
All available County of Los Angeles Fire Department helicopters were now assigned to combat the fire. The first two copters (Air Squad 9 and Air Ship 2) began working the Old Topanga side (east flank) of the fire. The next two copters (Air Squad 17 and Air Squad 8) began working the leading edge of the fire as it made its run south. Several Los Angeles City Fire Department helicopters worked the west side of the fire.
All pilots recognized the futility of attempting to make any sort of "knock-down" on the front of this fire. Driven by 50 mile per hour winds that were constantly changing direction and multiple points of spotting ahead of the fire, normal brush fire fighting operations had to be altered. The mission at this point was to work the flanks of the fire in an effort to prevent the fire "from getting big behind itself."
Air Squad 9, returning from Sherman Oaks Burn Center, immediately went to work in tandem with Copter 2. They began attacking the east flank of the fire with a vengeance. Although many units on the ground were calling for airdrops, low visibility, heavy radio traffic and the shear number of requests prevented pilots from fulfilling all of these demands. Pilots relied on years of experience and intuition to guide them to strategic targets. The breadth of targets was limitless; roofs and porches on fire, tree fires next to houses, fire involved homes next to those yet non-involved as well as protective drops in support of fire fighting crews. The erratic strong winds forced pilots, who prefer to make water drops from an altitude of 60 feet, to operate at altitudes as low as ten feet above ground level.
One pilot reported that it wasn't uncommon to see flames over the front of the nose of the copter. Concentrating keenly to maintain control of their helicopters, which were being buffeted by the extreme winds, pilots could rarely tell if the water drops were successful until they made a run later in the same area. One pilot zeroed in for a very close water drop on a large wooden porch thatwasjustbeginningtocatchfire. He knew that immediate action was necessary to prevent the house from surely burning to the ground. After delivering the drop he was unable to gauge it's effectiveness but upon returning later, he found the porch fire out and the house intact.

Pilots reported that they made many drops on vehicles whose drivers suddenly found themselves surrounded by this fast moving fire. As one resident recalled, who had suddenly found herself trapped and about to be overrun by a wall of flames, "It was like an angel sent from heaven - he just came out of nowhere and dropped water right next to us." Countless heroic acts such as this saved an untold number of lives.
The devious wind behavior forced pilots to become innovative in order to deliver water to their intended targets. Pilots reported that at times they would fly in under the smoke, below the fire's elevation, bank the helicopter 90 degrees and release the water all in one motion - literally slinging the water uphill toward the fires. They also reported that the use of foam (injected into the water tanks) was extremely effective. This was particularly true for pre-treating homes in advance of the impending fire. As one pilot later recalled, "one foam drop had the same effect as three or four with water alone." Water drops alone could not extinguish this wind driven brush fire this support however allowed crews to proceed along the flanks of the fire reducing the vegetative fuel load with great success. Air Squad 9 and Copter 2, working with a combination of hand crews, bulldozers, and fire engines on the eastern flank of the fire were successful in holding the fire out of Topanga Canyon neighborhoods and west of Old Topanga Canyon Road.

As Air Squad 17 returned from Sherman Oaks Bum Center he turned his attention to the leading edge of the fire in an attempt to protect homes that were threatened. By this time the fire was crossing over Saddle Peak and had gathered an enormous amount of momentum and fury. So thick was the smoke, the pilot later recalled, that he was forced many times to fly a mile or more out to sea at wave top level - this in order to gain sufficient visibility to return to the helispot at Pepperdine University.
As the fire progressed, Air Squad 17 desperately seeking water would land anywhere it could find a fire hydrant - street comers, business parks, literally anywhere the crew could safely connect to a water source.

Targets were plenty - the fire was literally leap- frogging as it threw firebrands a mile or more ahead of itself. As the numerous spot fires grew, entire areas would literally explode into a massive expanse of burning hell. The term for this phenomenon is known as "Area Ignition." Pilots reported seeing this occur several times during the course of this day. The most witnessed occurrence was yet to come .
The pilots continued their relentless asault against the fire as tragedy struck once again. More bum victims were being reported and this time it was fellow fire fighters. A California Department of Forestry engine crew had suffered major bums when they were overrun by fire. The victims were driven to County of Los Angeles Fire Department Camp 8, which by this time was surrounded by fire, and quickly transported via Air Squad 9 once again to Sherman Oaks Bum Center.

Pilots chased and attacked the fire all the way to Pacific Coast Highway. It was during this last push south that the fire vented its most anger. Despite tireless efforts, the heaviest home losses of the day would take place in the Rambla Vista, Las Flores and Big Rock tracts. As the fire contacted the coast it then bifurcated and spread along Pacific Coast Highway to both the east and west.

The fire, barely hours old had now burned its way to the Pacific Ocean.
"We didn't give up
anytbing to tbisfire,
wbat it got, it bad to
takefrom us."

By the end of the initial attack period the fire had traveled a lateral distance of six miles. As Fire Department officials had predicted the fire had blazed a trail to the coast, consuming many homes in it's path and charring over 10,000 acres. Many stories of heroics occurred during this time period and the fives of three citizens were lost. Numerous units were trapped and overrun by the fire and five fire fighting units were ultimately damaged with six fire fighters receiving bums as a result. The initial operations of this devastating incident will no doubt be recorded as one of the most gallant efforts in the history of fire fighting as well as one of the most devastating with regard to property lost. Although the fire had vented a significant portion of it's devastative energy, within these initial few hours, it still was not exhausted and the incident moved on.

Tuesday, November 2, 1993, 800 hours to November 3, 1993, 0600 hours At this point of the Incident the Operations Section had been expanded to include five geographic Branches. These Branches were supported by nine Divisions, as well as the Air Operations Branch. The fire at this point had consumed in excess of 10,000 acres and due to it's movement toward Fire Station 70 the Command Post had been relocated to Pepperdine University. The General Control Objectives during this period were: To effect structural protection in conjunction with Fire Fighter safety. To confine the fire west of Old Topanga Canyon Road.

To keep the fire out of the Femwood Pacific area.

To begin permissive evacuation of Topanga Canyon.

To confine the fire east of Cold Canyon and to direct it around Monte Nido. To tie the fire control line into Malibu Canyon Road at the tunnel location. To construct and tie in a control line from the Monte Nido area north to Mulholland Highway.
To confine the fire east of Malibu CanyonRoad and north of Pacific Coast Highway. To provide structure protection in the urban interface areas of Serra Retreat, Big Rock and Las Flores Canyon and begin overhaul and mop-up of damaged structures. 110 Strike Teams (550 engines) were now committed to the fight.


Was responsible for the continued mopping up operations of all areas between the point of origin along Old Topanga Canyon Road (including the Skyline Villa area) to the intersection of Old Topanga Canyon Road and Topanga Canyon Boulevard. It was imperative that no "rekindles" spot east of Old Topanga Canyon Road.

Divisions A and E carried out this assignment. Although many flare-ups would occur during the night hours, the fire never spotted east of Old Topanga Canyon Road. Units labored through the night to keep the fire's flank from spreading east. Although their area did not see the fire storm like conditions as did many other divisions during the night, their efforts cannot be understated.

Branch 11 was also assigned to confine the fire west of Old Topanga Canyon Road and to restrict fire spread to the Femwood Pacific area as well as to effect evacuation of Topanga Canyon south to Pacific Coast Highway. Having heard of the destruction wrought earlier by this fire, the Branch Director knew that this would be no easy task. He suggested back-firing operations at Tuna Canyon Road to eliminate fuel. This was turned down as the winds were too erratic and air support would not be available. It was decided that fire fighters would hold this flank until morning when back-firing operations could be supported by Air Operations.

Division B, deployed along Tuna Canyon Road, Topanga Canyon Boulevard and in Femwood Pacific, watched and waited as bulldozers and hand crews labored to construct lines along the east flank.

The east flank of the fire began to spread east during the early evening hours between the hours of 2200 and 0100. The winds increased moving on-shore and easterly along the coast, this pushed the fire along the three mile front. The fire was stopped along the boundary of Femwood Pacific during this operational period and hundreds of homes were now held in a precarious balance.

The scene at night was one of wonderment and respect. Swirling winds sent brightly lit embers aloft and made the sky seemingly filled with millions of fire flies. Smoldering bushes, fanned by winds, glowed with an eerie quality. Now, the visual enormity of this fire was more recognizable. The fire's glow on distant hilltops and canyons on the horizon stretched for miles. Pushed up canyons by strong winds, the flames seemed to jump the length of football fields at a time - then roll back to the oncoming head of the fire in a sweeping wave-like motion.


The primary objectives assigned this Branch were to confine the fire east of Cold Canyon and to direct it's path around Monte Nido as well as to tie the fire control line into Malibu Canyon Road at a location around the tunnel and to tie in a control line north from Monte Nido to Mulholland highway utilizing direct tactics.
Divisions F and G had been combined to promulgate this operation. At the beginning of this operational period the fire looked as if it might overrun the controlline. Thefirehadjustmadeits most significant effort west since early in the fire. Shifting winds had suddenly given it new life on this flank. The fire umped Mullholland High way north of Monte Nido - fire fighters were hell bent on preventing an extension into Monte Nido.
Bulldozers, air tankers, camp crews supported by helicopters, and strike teams utilizing aggressive firing-out techniques created new control lines. As good fortune would have it the winds which had been pushing west suddenly ebbed. Fire fighters, their efforts now at rabid heights, were able to successfully control this flank.

Division T deployed resources around the Hughes Research Facility currently being threatened. Combining efforts with Hughes's own fire department at the facility, fire fighters were able to prevent a single loss.

With the timely decrease in winds a firing operation was ordered to establish a more defensible control line. Firing-out operations are always risky as they are at the mercy of the wind. After lengthy consultations, the firing plan was established and promulgated. Soon after the operations began the winds began blowing gusts westward - it didn't take long for the fire to spot behind the control lines, and once again the fire was raging out of control in a mile long edge.

It would take fire fighters well into the night to once again establish a control line nearly two miles further west. It should be noted that no homes were lost as a result of the firing operations.

Divisions X deployed resources, protecting the University grounds throughout the night, and by working diligently were able to prevent a single structural loss.

Divisions Y was now mopping-up in Serra Retreat after a very successful operation. Mop-up operations were also taking place in Sweetwater Canyon and Sweetwater Mesa. Many strike teams from this division were now gamely engaging the fire around the businesses near the Malibu Civic Center.

On the coast, Fire Department boats along with Los An2eles County Life Guards were positioned to assist people who might be trapped in their ocean front homes. In addition, the Coast Guard had positioned the cutter "Conifer" off the coast with the capability of holding 500 people.

Although the fire did manage to catch fire in a lagoon area across Pacific Coast Highway, no property losses occurred as fire fighters were able to quickly extinguish incipient fires before they could cause damage.

As this operational period began this Branch faced a tall order - confine the fire north of Pacific Coast Highway as well as structure protection in the Las Flores Canyon and Big Rock areas. At this point Big Rock was in the middle of a fire storm and multiple homes were on fire. The eastern head of the fire was moving rapidly along the hills and canyons above Pacific Coast Highway. If it continued at this rate it would surely jump first Tuna Canyon and then Topanga Canyon.

Division Z was augmented with strike teams as the fire blew into Big Rock. There were 50 plus homes ablaze. Running shuttles of water, engines attacked structure fires when they felt there was the possibility for a save. The winds were blowing hard and personnel reported that embers were spotting everywhere. In spite of frustrations, fire fighters saved a remarkable number of homes during this time.

During the night the fire seemed to ebb and flow as it pushed east. Winds would die down then as if turned on by a bumer, rage ahead. Final I y, the winds calmed down around 0100 hours and the fire would only creep throughout the remainder of the night. It was decided to take advantage of the diminished conditions and initiate firing operations, along Tuna Canyon Road, at the first break of daylight.
As day light first broke across the Malibu area, Branch V in conjunction with Branch II began back firing operations to hold Tuna Canyon Road. This would take them into the next operational period.

The fire struck hard in the Las Flores Heights area during this time. Water shortages hampered efforts to stop the fire from claiming more structures.

After 0100 hours fire fighters would finally get a break-the winds substantially diminished. Fire fighters took advantage of this lull to aggressively overhaul and mop-up in the Las Flores Heights area; thus, preventing further damage. Engines would apply their precious water to burning structures then quickly drive down to areas where they could refill.

As darkness set in and the winds continued. Four helicopters remained in operation until 21 00 hours with a fifth helicopter joining the night battle at 1800 hours. These five County of Los Angeles Fire Department air ships operated until after 0100 hours on the morning of the third. Fearing pilot fatigue and the associated safety concerns, it was decided by the senior pilot that air operations would be halted until daylight to provide the weary pilots with well deserved rest.

By the end of this night fire fighters had faced tremendous challenges. Steep inaccessible terrain made it difficult to control the fire in the wild land. Narrow winding roads with singular access and egress points made it not only difficult but extremely dangerous for units committing to structure protection.

Radio communications were bad at best due to the steep narrow canyons in which units operated. Water systems were found to be inadequate for the provision of water needed for fire fighting operations. The smoke hampered visibility and the weather had definitely chosen to align and side with the fire. As a result of the fire crossing Malibu Canyon Road the fire burned back firing operations to hold Tuna Canyon Road. This would take them into the next operational period.

The fire struck hard in the Las Flores Heights area during this time. Water shortages hampered efforts to stop the fire from claiming more structures.

After 0100 hours fire fighters would finally get abreak-the winds substantially diminished. Fire fighters took advantage of this lull to aggressively overhaul and mop-up in the Las Flores Heights area; thus, preventing further damage. Engines would apply their precious water to burning structures then quickly drive down to areas where they could refill.


As darkness set in and the winds continued. Four helicopters remained in operation until 2100 hours with a fifth helicopter joining the night battle at 1800 hours. These five County of Los Angeles Fire Department air ships operated until after 0100 hours on the morning of the third. Fearing pilot fatigue and the associated safety concerns, it was decided by the senior pilot that air operations would be halted until daylight to provide the weary pilots with well deserved rest. By the end of this night fire fighters had faced tremendous challenges. Steep inaccessible terrain made it difficult to control the fire in the wild land. Narrow winding roads with singular access and egress points made it not only difficult but extremely dangerous for units committing to structure protection.

Radio communications were bad at best due to the steep narrow canyons in which units operated. Water systems were found to be inadequate for the provision of water needed for fire fighting operations. The smoke hampered visibility and the weather had definitely chosen to align and side with the fire. As a result of the fire crossing Malibu Canyon Road the fire burned completely around Pepperdine University. Fire fighters defended all structures on the University grounds and the Command Post without loss. By the end of the First Operational Period the fire had charred over 12,000 acres and many homes had been destroyed throughout the night.

Wednesday, November 3, 1993, 0600 hours to 1800 hours

The morning of November 3rd found fire fighters exhausted yet somehow eager to continue the battle. The Operations Section had consolidated the operation to include four Branches, an Air Operations Branch and 16 Divisions. The General Control Objectives were;

To provide structure protection, overhaul and mop-up procedures within the urban interface, and to maintain patrol operations.

To provide foroersonnel safety, identifying escape routes and posting lookouts. To keep the fire within all established control lines.

To maintain good communications.

Branch I and Branch V began this operational period by initiating a firing-out operation along Tuna Canyon road. This was highly successful along much of the control line. Unfortunately, the winds along the lower end of the fire caused spotting near the Rodeo Grounds area and once again threaten structures. This fire pushed right down to the coast and threaten not only many businesses, but also to cross Topanga Canyon Boulevard. With several helicopters dropping water in close support, fire fighters were able to stop the fire from crossing Topanga Boulevard.
Division A was assigned to contain the fire west of Old Topanga Canyon Road. Division B was to complete mop-up and overhaul.

Division C was charged with keeping the fire west of Topanga Canyon from Femwood Pacific to Pacific Coast Highway. In conjunction with camp crews, heavy lift helicopters and L.A. City units, they held the fire west of Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

The strength of the Santa Ana Conditions had diminished and natural on-shore breezes began blowing. Unfortunately, this meant that the fire would began traveling north to unburned sections of brush along the west side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Fire fighters would chase the fire up the rugged hills of Topanga Canyon Boulevard all morning long.

Division D assisted Division C to keep the fire west of Topanga Canyon and west of the Femwood Pacific Tract.

Division E was also to assist in confining the fire west of Old Topanga Canyon Road.


Division F was assigned to confine the fire east of the dozer line from Mulholland Highway to Monte Nido.

Division G was to keep the fire east of the dozer line from Monte Nido to Piuma and east of Malibu Canyon.


Division H was charged with keeping the fire east of Corral Canyon. Division I was assigned to confine the fire north of Pacific Coast Highway. Division J was assigned to keep the fire east of Puerco Canyon and to construct a control line from Malibu Canyon to Pacific Coast Highway.

Division K was assigned to mop-up and overhaul.

Division L was also assigned to mop-up and overhaul as well to confining the fire north of Pacific Coast Highway.


Divisions W, X and Y were assigned to overhaul and mop-up and to keep the fire north of Pacific Coast Highway.

Division Z was assigned to structure protection and to keep the fire west of Topanga Canyon and north of Pacific Coast Highway.

At 0600 hours Air Operations once again resumed. Although not completely diminished, the winds had subsided somewhat however the fire demonstrated that it still had some fight left. As the winds began to pick up with the advent of the day, the fire once again began spreading east and west, jumping fire control lines on both sides.
Pilots now had smaller areas in which to concentrate their efforts and more resources with which to do it. By now the large Vertol and Sky Crane helicopters had joined in the fight. Using the large copters to strike areas closer to the ocean and at targets not requiring precision, the smaller copters of both the County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles City Fire Departments worked in unison to prevent the fire from crossing Topanga Highway.

On the west side of the fire California Department of Forestry helicopters, Vertol helicopters, Sky Crane helicopters and Air Tankers attacked relentlessly. Their efforts proved successful as the West flank of the fire was slowed to a creep by 1000 hours. On the east side of the fire along Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Air Operations were operating at a feverish pitch. Slowly but surely the air crews were preventing the fire from crossing this all but too important point of demarcation. If the fire would have been successful in crossing this control line, it would have certainly made an uphill run into Pacific Palisades. Crews were now feeling confident that they may have this monster under control - but fires have a way of humbling even the most wily of fire fighters.

At approximately 1500 hours the fire spotted in several places east of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. An all out effort was mustered to snuff it out - 1 0 to 1 1 helicopters diligently worked the area. As if they were magically being spit out of the sky, the helicopters lined-up for drop after drop. After hours of arduous work the threat was mitigated.

Helicopters would continue their drops for many days to come; however, during the first 32 hours of the fire, County of Los Angeles Fire Department helicopters alone made over 750 drops.

Wednesday, November 3, 1993, 1800 hours to Thursday, November 4, 1993, 0600 hours

By the evening hours of November 3rd the strong Santa Ana winds had subsided and fire fighters were making significant gains in controlling the fire. Branch V was re-established and the control objectives for this, the Third Operational Period were:
To confine the fire west of Topanga Canyon.

To confine the fire east of Corral Canyon.

To confine the fire north of Pacific Coast Highway.

To confine the fire south of Mulholland and Old Topanga Canyon Road.


Division A was assigned to keep the fire west of Old Topanga Canyon Road and to provide structure protection as needed as well as aggressive mop-up of their area. Division B was instructed to maintain the current fire control lines and provide structure protection and aggressive mop-up.

Division C was to keep the fire west of Topanga Canyon and to patrol for and extinguish spot fires.

Division D was assigned to keep the fire west of Topanga Canyon, provide structure protection if necessary, to patrol for and extinguish spot fires and to perform aggressive mop-up of their area.

Division E was to keep the fire west of Topanga Canyon, patrol for and extinguish spot fires and to perform aggressive mop-up of their area.

Divisions F was assigned to keep the fire east of Cold Creek, to patrol for and extinguish hot spots, and to perform aggressive overhaul.

Division G was assigned to mop-up the Mulholland area and around all structures in their area.


Division H was assigned to confine the fire east of Corral Canyon and to protect structures in Corral Canyon. They were also assigned to perform aggressive mop-up and to extinguish spot fires.

Division I was assigned to confine the fire north of Pacific Coast Highway, protect structures along Pacific Coast Highway, to extinguish hot spots and to perform aggressive mop-up. Division J was assigned to protect structures in Puerco Canyon, to extinguish hot spots and to perform aggressive mop-up.


Divisions W and X were assigned to keep the fire north of Pacific Coast Highway, to protect structures, to extinguish spot fires and to perform aggressive mop-up. Division Y was to confine the fire north of Pacific Coast Highway and west of Topanga Canyon, as well as to extinguish spot fires and perform aggressive mop-up. Division Z was assigned to protect structures in Latigo Canyon, to confine the fire east of Latigo Canyon and to extinguish spot fires.


Division K was assigned to protect structures in Solstice Canyon, to confine the fire east of Solstice Canyon and to extinguish spot fires.
Division L was to keep the fire east of Latigo Canyon, to protect structures in Latigo Canyon and to extinguish spot fires.

Division M was assigned to confine the fire north of Pacific Coast Highway between Corral Canyon and Latigo Canyon, to protect structures and to extinguish spot fires. During the Third Operational Period many fire fighting foot holds had been gained, however many tasks were yet to be completed.

Thursday, November 4, 1993, 1600 hours to Thursday, November 4, 1993, 1800 hours The Operations Section during this period was anticipating 100% containment by 1800 hours. The General Control Objectives to effect this goal were:
To confine the fire west of Topanga Canyon.

To confine the fire east of Corral Canyon.

To confine the fire north of Pacific Coast highway.

To confine the fire south of Mulholland and Old Topanga Canyon Road.

Division D was assigned to the south end of the Femwood Tract where hand crews were to construct a fire control line and to Division Z was made up of LA City strike teams and they had staged themselves along Pacific Coast Highway, Topanga Canyon Boulevard and to the east along the boundaries of LA City to remove vegetation from around the residences. Engines were to mop-up and protect structures.

Division E was to improve the fire control line at Topanga Canyon Boulevard from the slop over south to Pacific Coast Highway, with engine strike teams mopping-up. Division S was a contingency Division and they were to evaluate and plan for the fire if it crossed Topanga Canyon Boulevard. All resources within this Division were to stage at Coast Staging available on a three minute status.

Division T was assigned to the north end of the Fernwood Tract where hand crews were to remove vegetation around residences with engines mopping-up around structures. All additional resources assigned to Branch I were to report to staging.


Division B was designated at this point in the incident to be an Interior Structure Group. The Group was assigned to mop-up and patrol and be prepared to respond to calls within the fire perimeter. They were also instructed to stay mobile and visible to the public. Division F was assigned to construct hand lines and effect mop-up. The lines were to be constructed north from the Division G/F break and south from the Division N/F break.

Division G hand crews were to construct a fire line along the fire perimeter from the Malibu Canyon Road tunnel north and east to Monte Nido with engines staying prepared to hold the road if necessary.


Divisions H, K, L and M were contingency Divisions charged with developing contingency plans for the fires edges from; 1.) Pacific Coast Highway to Latigo Canyon Road, 2.) Latigo Canyon Road from Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu Vista 3.) Solstice Canyon Road from Pacific Coast Highway to the east for approximately two miles and 4.) Corral Canyon Road from Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu Bowl east to the fire's edge.
Division J was to construct a fire control line as needed between Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road mopping-up as necessary.


Divisions W, X and Y were assigned to patrol, mop-up and stay mobile.


Division A was assigned to aggressively mop-up and patrol in and around structures. Division C was assigned to protect structures, pre plan and make public contact.
Thursday, November 4, 1993, 1800 hours to November 5, 1993, 0600 hours From the Fifth Operational Period until the conclusion of the Incident all units on the fire were to continue interior mop-up and active patrolling. Fire control lines were improved and 100% containmentwas declaredonnovember I 1, 1993. The maximization of assistance to the public was an assignment known to all, and performed in a manner to have contributed to the title of "Fire Fighter" becoming a term of endearment for the citizens of Malibu California.

The Planning Section for the Old Topanga Incident was responsible for the collection, evaluation, dissemination, and use of all available information, about the development of the incident, as well as the status of pertinent available resources. This information was needed to: Understand the current situation.

Predict the probable course of incident events.

Prepare alternative strategies, and control operations for the Incident. The Planning Section was further divided into the following functional units with the accompanying responsibilities:


Established all check-in activities.

Prepared and processed resource status change information. Prepared and maintained displays, charts, and lists which reflected the current status and location of suppression resources, transportation, and support vehicles. Maintained a master check-in list of the resources assigned to the Incident. The facility initially utilized by the ResourceUnitwas County of Los Angeles Fire Station 70. This also was the location of the initial Command Post. This proved to be valuable for identification of the initial attack resources assigned to the Incident including their Branch anddivision assignments. The Resource Unit was later relocated to the Plans Trailer stationed at Pepperdine University. Planning functions continued to operate out of the Plans Trailer for the duration of the incident. Check-in functions were set up at the stagingareasandatPepperdineBase. Throughout the Incident the Resource Unit was responsible for the tracking of 165 engine strike teams, 25 single resource engines and Emergency Support Teams EST'S, 129 hand crews, 31 air tankers, 23 helicopters, 13 dozers, 50 water tenders, I I fuel tenders, 8 food dispensers and over 7000 fire fightersand support personnel.


Collected and organized incident status and situation information. Evaluated, analyzed, and displayed this information for use by lCS personnel, agency dispatchers, and the Operations Coordination Center.

The Situation Unit was also initially located at County of Los Angeles Fire Station 70 and later relocated to theL.A. County Haz-Mat Trailer situated at Pepperdine University. As the unit personnel received and processed information it was displayed on status boards for Plans Team personnel consideration.


Maintainedaccurate andcomplete incidentfiles.

Provided duplication services for incident personnel.

Packed and stored incident files for legal, analytical, and historical purposes. The documentation of the Incident was accomplished by maintaining hard copies of all Incident Action Plans, ICS 214 forms, situation maps and any other written documentation.

Duplication services were provided by using the on site duplication machine provided at Pepperdine University. The use of standard forms, that are recognized state wide, proved to eliminate potential confusion among assisting agencies.


Prepared the demobilization plan

Assisted Incident Sections and Units to ensure orderly, safe and cost effective movementofpersonneland equipment from the Incident

All strike teams and individual resources were demobilized through the Staging Area at the Civic Center Base. It was felt that by tracking all resources through a central demobilization location the chance of recovering equipment and Incident documentation was more likely. Units utilized form (ICS-22 1) which was presented to the Finance, Supply, Communications, Facilities, Ground Support and finally Demobilization Units before final check out.

All Forest Service and out-of- county vehicles required inspections for road worthiness before they would be released.

Vehicle inspections were provided at Civic Center Base and Tapia Camp. Release for all resources was coordinated through Expanded Dispatch with L.A. County Region I Emergency Coordination Center. A total of 7 3 3 resources were demobilized. A listing of release priorities from the Incident Demobilization Plan is on the previous page.


The facility designated for the planning section operation initially was County of Los Angeles Fire Station 70 and later moved to the Plans Trailer at Pepperdine University Base.


The Old Topanga Incident was a rapidly escalating situation that presented the Plans Team with enormous fire suppression and resource tracking concerns. A significant number of County of Los Angeles Fire Prevention Division personnel, normally assigned Plans Team positions, were manning reserve engines and therefore only a Limited Plans Team could be assigned. Due also to this limited number of available personnel, check-in functions were performed by the Staging Managers in addition to their normal tasks. As resources arrived at the various staging areas the Staging Managers would inform the Resource Unit via radio communications with personnel in the Plans Trailer. This information would in sequence be relayed to the Incident Commander. Assignment of resources would then occur in the reverse order. Additional resource orders were placed through L.A. County Region I Emergency Coordination Center by the Plans Team via telephone. On November 4th, Planning Section functions were transferred to certified California Department of Forestry Plans Team personnel. The transference was initiated by the Incident Commander to relieve County of Los Angeles Fire Department Plans Team members who had been serving for extended time periods. The County of Los Angeles Fire Department's pool of certified Plans Team officers was significantly depleted due to additional Plans Teams established for the "Green Meadow Incident", service in the Emergency Coordination Center as well as those called to man reserve apparatus in support of the Operations Section. The anticipated work load with regard to preparation and coordination of the Demobilization process required a fresh certified team and therefore the Planning Section component was transferred to the California Department of Forestry. CDF directed all Planning Section activities from November 4th through Demobilization until full containment was declared on November 11, 1993.


The Logistics Section, within the Incident Command structure, provides for facilities, services and materials in support of an incident. To facilitate this aspect of an incident the Logistics Section is generally divided into two Branches. The two Branches are the Services Branch and the Support Branch. The Services Branch oversees concerns regarding communications, medical and food needs, and the Support Branch deals with supplies, facilities and ground support needs.


During the "Old Topanga Incident" the Logistics Section was directed by the Logistics Section Chief who divided the section into Services and Support Branches. These Branches were in turn managed by Branch Directors, reporting directly to the Logistics Section Chief and coordinating the activities of the Units under their supervision.
Key positions in the Logistics Section were staffed by County of Los Angeles Forestry Division personnel during the first three days of the Incident. On November 4, 1993 a California Department of Forestry Logistics Team became available from the "Green Meadow Incident" and was requested for service by the Incident Commander. This request was made to support relief for County of Los Angeles Fire Department Forestry Division personnel, to augment staffing resources for Logistics overhead and to make Forestry Division personnel available to begin soil erosion rehabilitation procedures for areas effected by the "Kinneloa" and "Old Topanga" Incidents. The California Department of Forestry directed all Logistics Section activities from November 4th through Demobilization until full containment was declared on November 11, 1993.
The Units and activities they performed in support of the Incident objectives were:



The primary communications function in support of the Incident was managed from the Mobile Communications Trailer which was established at Pepperdine University and later moved to the Malibu Civic Center.


The medical unit established the Medical Aid Station at Pepperdine University. Requests for medical aid, to support the Incident, were received through the Mobile Communications Trailer and dispatched with accordance to EMT- I or Paramedic priority. Training with regard to level of medical care required was done in the field. It was determined that requests for Basic Life Support incidents would receive an EMT- I response only and those for Advanced Life Support would receive an EMT- I ambulance as well as a Paramedic Unit.


Eight food dispensers were used on the incident: 5 County of Los Angeles Fire Department; 2 United States Forest Service; and I California Department of Forestry. Three field kitchens were established, one each at Pepperdine University, Malibu Civic Center and Malibu Creek State Park. An additional field kitchen was not established due to the lack of a complete set of cook ware. 20,000 sack lunches were purchased from one vendor and more than 20,000 meals were served in a single day. Voluntary food contributions were also provided by the American Red Cross and Salvation Army.



The Supply Unit was established at Pepperdine University and later moved to the Malibu Civic Center. An estimate of costs for supplies, prepared by Procurement follows:

Medical $2,860
Fire Equipment $200,000
Kitchen Food $187,410
Rentals $46, 000
Restaurants $4,430
Warehouse $30,341
South Zone Fire Cache $813,261
Fuel $9,500
Miscellaneous $6,700
Total Estimated Cost $1,300,500


The Facilities Unit utilized Pepperdine University due to the University's ability to provide space and facilities forhygiene, meetings, media interaction and rehabilitation. Portable toilets were set up at Pepperdine University, the Malibu Civic Center, Fire Stations 67, 69 and 70, along New Topanga Canyon Road and Coast Staging Area. Recreation Tents with televisions were constructed at the Malibu Civic Center and Malibu Creek State Park. A Human Resource Specialist was also available for social problems that developed. A shower unit was set up at Malibu Creek State Park and portable telephones were established at Pepperdine University and the Malibu Civic Center.


The Ground Support Unit saw to the fueling of emergency apparatus by utilizing I I mobile fuel dispensers. 13 mechanics, 6 rental vans and 2 rental pick-up trucks were also made available through Ground Support.


The Finance Section is established on incidents when the involved agencies have a specific need for financial services. On November 3, 1993, The Incident Commander requested that a Finance Section representative report to the Incident Command Post. Additionally, Finance Sections were set up by the California Department of Forestry and the United States Forest Service on this date. The following is a synopsis of the Finance Section activities on the Old Topanga Fire, as reported by Finance Section Personnel.


November 3, 1993

At noon, the Incident Commander requested that Finance Section Personnel report to the Command Post at Pepperdine University. At this time, the United States Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry had also established Finance Sections. Los Angeles County was designated as the lead agency for financial administration of the Incident. The Finance Section began to work with the Logistics and Plans Sections to prepare cost estimates for the Incident.

November 4, 1993

At 1800 hours, the California Department of Forestry took over as the lead agency for financial administration.

November 5, 1993

The first meeting on cost recovery was held. Since the Incident had been declared a Federal Disaster, it was clear that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be a source of cost recovery. At issue, however, was from what source other cost recovery monies would come. Central to this issue was the question of structure protection in State Responsibility Area Land, and it's effect on cost reimbursement to the County of Los Angeles from the California Department of Forestry.

Initially, the use of a Cost Apportionment Team was considered to be the most reasonable way to assign cost responsibilities. However, the fact that structure/perimeter responsibility in the State Responsibility Areas was unclear, as well as that timely tracking of resources had not been accomplished for this incident, made the use of these teams impractical.
November 7, 1993

At 1330 hours, the final meeting on cost recovery was held at the Incident Command Post between representatives of Los Angeles County, California Department of Forestry, United States Forest Service, and Region I Counties. At this meetingcostrecovery issues were settled.


The conditions of the Cost Share Agreement are as follows: Since a cost responsibility contract was already in place between the California Department of Forestry and Los Angeles County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement process was already in place, and other methods of cost assignment could not be fairly utilized, it was decided that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the existing contract would be the two sources of cost recovery for Los Angeles County.
An advance of recovery money from the Federal and State governments of $18.75 million was distributed to those jurisdictional agencies involved in the fire storms. A letter was prepared to the County of Los Angeles Chief Administrative Officer giving a rough estimate of the Fire Department's costs during the ftre storms for all of the fires combined. In this manner, the Fire Department would be receiving reimbursementfrom the Federal Emergency Management Agency prior to filing a claim with that agency. As a result of the fires that occurred between October 25, 1993 and November 8, 1993 which were declared a federal disasterreimbursableby the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the State of California. The County of Los Angeles Fire Department received an advance for costs incurred "Above Base." The total advance payment for costs paid to the County of Los Angeles Fire Department from the State and F.E.M.A. is $9,782,000 for all fires combined.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency Claim was prepared and filed. In accordance with this claim, cost ajustments will be made.


The Old Topanga Fire is particularly noteworthy as it became the largest mobilization of emer- gency resources within a 24 - 48 hourperiod in the history of the United States. All told, resources were represented from every state west of the Continental Divide. This would not have been possible without the well established, coordinated efforts throughout all branches of public government from local to Federal levels. In effect, the Old Topanga Fire was a model for intergovernmental relations in action.


As outlined within the "California Civil Defense and Master Mutual Aid Agreement," the "California Fire Services and Rescue Emergency Mutual Aid Plan" specifies how fire agency mutual aid is coordinated throughout California. Coordinated through the "Office of Emergency Services" (OES), this system allows for the coordinated dispatch of fire agencies resources throughout the state on a "at need" basis. Although there are several divisions, the Office of Emergency Services, Fire and Rescue Division, is specifically responsible for the coordination of fire resources. The state is divided into six regions. Region I consists of the following counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. Each county is designated as an operational area with the ex- ception of Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County is the only county that is further divided into Operational Areas A through G due to the density of fire resources and agencies.

As with all Region Coordinators, Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman is elected as the Region I Coordinator and is responsible for the coordination and management of mutual aid resources that either leave Region 1, or are assigned to incidents within Region 1. The mobilization, coordination, and tracking of these resources is accomplished though the Region I "Emergency Coordination Center" (ECC) located on the second floor of the Los Angeles County Fire Command and Control Facility (FCCF). This facility is equipped with computer terminals and specially designed software to electronically track the ordering and disburse- ment of mutual aid resources.
Before the Old Topanga Fire:

October 26, 1993 - November 1, 1993:

From October 26, 1993 to November 1 st, 1993, the ECC had tracked resources on six of the eight major fires in Southern California. When the last of Region I resources had been released from these fires on November 1, 1993, at 1700 hours, the ECC ceased operations but remained on telephone stand by.

On November 2, 1993 at approximately 0945 hours the ECC resumed operations in a "stand- by" mode as a result of unfavorable weather conditions and the "flare-ups" on the "Green Meadow Fire" (a previously fully contained fire) in Ventura County. Under the direction of Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman and according to ECC protocols, Region I operational area communication centers were notified immediately to survey their
respective jurisdictions and report on resource availability.

At 1132 hours the ECC began filling requests and tracking resources for the Old Topanga Fire. (It should be noted that although prior to this time many resources were actively engaging the fire, the ECC does not track fires until requested by Chief Freeman or his designee) The first request was for 20 engine strike teams and 10 additional hand crews. These were filled with engine strike teams, and hand crews from the County of Los Angeles Fire Department and engine strike teams from Los Angeles City Fire Department.

At 1201 hours the ECC received a request for an additional twelve engine strike teams. These were filled from Areas D, C, E, F, & G within Los Angeles County, Orange County, Santa Barbara County, and San Luis Obispo County. This was quickly followed by a request for an additional 18 engine strike teams, and six strike teams of hand crews. This new request was well beyond the capacity of available Region I resources; however, it was notbeyond the capacity of available resources through the mutual aid plan.

The Operational Coordination Center (OCC), located in Riverside and operated by the California Department of Forestry, was contacted with the request for additional resources. The OCC, using a similar method to the ECC, (e.g.; through regions, locally first, then statewide, and if necessary, nationwide) locates available resources.

Once the resource has been located and the order filled, the OCC contacts the ECC and turns the control of the resource over to Region who has made the request (Region I in this case). ECC then notifies the Incident Plans Team of the filled request and the expected arrival time.

Coincidently, resources from virtually all over the Western United States were just demobilizing from the Southern California area having been utilized in the recent rash of fires. As a result, resources that normally would have had extended arrival times, arrived quickly to Topanga.

At approximately 1220 hours, in addition to numerous other resources requested (e.g.; strike engines, water tenders, crews, etc.) the Topanga Incident Commander ordered five air tankers. At approximately 1400 hours six more air tankers were ordered. Air Tankers are fixed-winged aircraft capable of dropping chemical retardant. Whenever air tankers are ordered a "Air Attack Coordinator" and a "Lead Plane" are also sent. Both of these are smaller fixed-winged aircraft. Air bases in California are located so that no area is farther than 20 minutes flying time from an air tanker's base. The Old Topanga fire was a case in point. OCC received the request at approximately 1230, contacted the air base, and the first airtanker arrived over Topanga Canyon at 1256.
Over the next 12 hours, the ECC would receive over 272 individualrequests forvarious resources. Amortized over twelve hours, this meant a new request was made every three minutes during this twelve hour period. Some were as small as a single person (e.g.; "Finance Section Chief') or as large as a strike team of crews (36 persons total). Some were simple needs (e.g.; portable toilets) and some were complex, high technological needs (e.g.; infrared mapping and satellite mapping). In this time period, 670 engines were ordered. Altogether, in the first twelve hours 575 fire engines were actively engaging the fire, with 75 more allocated an en-route. November 3, 1993

As midnight passed, the fire was burning freely and toward several densely populated areas. The request for more resources continued to pour into the ECC. On this day the ECC would receive and fill an additional 256 resource requests. This placed the total number of resource requests over the two day period to 528.
The number of personnel and equipment that descended upon the incident seem to grow in logarithmic fashion. An additional 33 engine strike teams were requested to swell the total number of engines alone on the fire to 835. 31 fixed-wing aircraft worked to bombard the hillsides withretardapt. Twenty-three helicopters worked in close support with ground crews. A total of 129 hand crews were either actively cutting lines or en-route. Thirteen bulldozers were carving out lines where fire officials felt the fire could be stopped. Literally hundreds of overhead personnel had arrived to support fire fighting operations.

The number of resources that were either already at the incident, or were en-route, staggered the minds of even the most veteran fire fighters. The legions of forces that had arrived at Malibu severely tested the recommended span of control, and the abilities to rapidly and effectively supply these resources. It should be noted that these numbers do not reflect the number of agencies other than fire, that were actively in support of fire operations (See "Cooperating Agencies").
By the end of the second day, the combination of favorable weather conditions and deft fire suppression techniques had reduced the menacing threat of the fires. Just as important as receiving and filling resource requests, the ECC must also track the release of resources. As previously mentioned, when resources are assigned to an ECC they are under that region's authority. A particular resource (e.g.: engine strike team) may be released from an assignment or incident, but not necessarily demobilized (released to return to their respective jurisdiction). Because that resource may be held for some other immediate assignment, it is imperative that the ECC closely monitors the release and demobilization process.

The first resources were demobilized and sent back to their respective agencies on November 4, 1993. Although the ECC would field an additional 255 resource requests from November 4th, through November 9th, the ECC was also busily tracking the demobilization of all resources under its control.

All told, the ECC filled and tracked 733 resource requests (in excess of 7,000 personnel) representing 12 different states and approximately 458 different fire agencies during the operational period of November 2 through November II th.


The County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) enables the all agencies within the county to coordinate emergency operations. This includes prioritizing disaster incidents, coordinating requests for use and distribution of resources, communicating with other operations centers, and collecting and disseminating information to and from local, state, and federal levels. The EOC is activated whenever a need to coordinate the efforts of county departments, agencies, and local jurisdictions in response to emergencies, disasters, or other significant events is recognized. On November 2, 1993, the magnitude of the Topanga Fire was becoming evident to all those involved in emergency services, and at approximately 1230 hours the Los Angeles County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was ordered open by the County of Los Angeles Chief Administrative Officer Sally Reed. The County of Los Angeles Fire Department personnel were activated and functioning in the County EOC by approximately 1300 hours. The primary activities consisted of frequent information exchanges with County Fire ECC, and EOC staff members as well as filling requests for services and supplies. On the first day of the fires, the EOC made the necessary contacts to supply the sheriff's department with 550 sets of goggles. However, the bulk of the functions within the EOC consisted of fielding literally hundreds of informational requests from other county departments as well as from cooperating agencies. Frequently during this fire these requests came from the Board of Supervisors, legislators, and law enforcement agencies. The EOC also readily coordinated Supervisor Edmund Edelman and Governor Wilson's trip to the fire areas. It was also through the EOC that evacuation centers were arranged and disaster recovery plans were first initiated.

In all, the EOC played a crucial role as a contact point for other agencies with the County of Los Angeles Fire Department during the Topanga Fire.


When an emergency agency requests resources through The Multiagency Coordination System (MACS) there aretwo terms thatindicate whether the agency is of like nature or not. These terms, "Assisting Agencies" and "Cooperating Agencies," may seem similar, but in fact have two very different missions. Assisting Agencies are those agencies that provide similar mission oriented resources (e.g.; fire engines for fire related incidents, etc.). Cooperating Agencies are those organizations, either public or private, who provide some type of augmentation to the mission established.
The Old Topanga Fire involved both cooperating and assisting, agencies that contributed in some manner to the mitigation of the Old Topanga Fire. It is certain that without the cooperation of these agencies the impact of this fire would have been much greater.
The majority of these agencies were the many outside assisting fire department agencies that were called in to battle the blaze. These agencies accounted for 458 of the separate agencies that provided some type of equipment or resource. The remainder of agencies varied greatly in type and size, as well as the service or resource provided. The following list does not account for all the cooperating agencies, but it does give a glimpse of the conglomeration of agencies that were necessary to bring the fire to a successful conclusion:

The California Highway Patrol was assigned to the nearly impossible task of traffic control in the Malibu area. The following figures demonstrate the proportions with which they deployed officers in an effort to maintain traffic order, both in and out of Malibu:

The County of Los Angeles Life Guards became another unorthodoxed source of assistance. The Life Guards not only provided vessels in the water to assist trapped beach-front residents, but also provided facilities and paramedics.

1. 338 total hours by personnel
2. 3 vehicles at peak
3. 2 vessels at peak
4. Will Rodgers HQ used by LAPD
command post
5. Topanga station used by LACOFD
as rest area
6. Zuma Beach used to house
evacuees, Rvs and horse trailers

In the past, Pepperdine University has always proven to be a natural field operations headquar- ters location for large fires in the Malibu area. This time would be no exception.
1. Three buildings were provided for support purposes.
2. Three separate copying services were provided.
3. One park was used as a helibase.
4. Numerous parking lots and streets were used for staging and feeding centers for literally thousands of vehicles and personnel
5. Hundreds of students volunteered their time.
The County of Los Angeles Animal Care and Control reported that approximately 27 different organizations (including themselves), both public and private, contributed to animal control efforts.
1. Actors & Others for Animals
2. Agoura Animal Hospital
3. Bellflower Animal Control
4. California Highway Patrol
5. Humane Society of the United States
6. Johnny Cat, Cat Litter
7. Kal Kan
8. LA City Department of Animal Regulations
9. LA County Agoura Animal Care Center - Staff & Volunteers
10. LA County Comparative & Veterinary Medical Services
11. LA County Sheriff's Department
12. LA County Forester & Fire Warden
14. City of Malibu
15. Malibu Animal Hospital
16. Malibu Marine & Mountain Wildlife Rescue
17. Mercy Crusade
18. Nature's Recipe Pet Food
19. North Shore Animal League
20. Nutro Pet Products, Inc.
21. Pasadena Humane Society
22. Pomona Valley Humane Society
23. Red Cross
24. Santa Barbara EVAC
25. Science Diet Pet Food
26. Southeast Area Animal Control Authority
The Southern California Edison Company was intricately involved with the Old Topanga Incident as numerous poles, wires, and transponders were damaged (See "Damage Assessment" in the following section).
1. 57 crew members were brought in to replace damaged equipment (poles, wires, transformers, and cross arms).
2. Three separate helicopters were used for various tasks (patrol, set poles, string wire over canyons).

Community Organizations always play a key role as a facilitator of assisting residents during a disaster. The following list does not account for the number of small groups and individual efforts that provided assistance, yet worked in complete anonymity.
1. Clothing and Supplies:
"Artifact Tree"
"St. Aidan's Episcopal Church'
"Our Lady of Malibu"
"Malibu Jewish Center"

2. Food.-
"St Aidan's Episcopal Church'
'Artifact Tree"

3. General Assistance:
"Operation Recovery"

An untold number of Restaurants in Malibu and surrounding areas provided fire fighters with welcomed relief from standard "Camp Chow." Everything from donuts to sushi were served to those in the right place at the righ ttime. Of the legions of food that were provided, not a single bill was received.
The important role of The News Media in the Old Topanga Fire cannot be understated. Many agencies representing several countries descended upon the Malibu area. Television and radio reporters were able to provide residents with critical information on road closures, evacuation notices, disaster assistance, and a overall awareness of the fire conditions.

The Federal Aviation Administration always plays a critical role when emergency aircraft are operating. During the Old Topanga incident the FAA restricted airspace for non-emergency aircraft to 6,000 feet. With nearly twenty-five media helicopters and airplanes flying over the fire at it's peak, the FAA's role became a necessity.
The United States Coast Guard placed the cutter "Conifer" off the coast. The Conifer" had the capability of holding 500 people.

The City of Malibu suddenly found itself in the middle of a fire storm and the center of world wide attention on November 2nd. City officials established their Emergency Operations Center early on during the fire and kept it open for the next ten days. In addition to streamlining many procedures necessary for re-building homes and businesses, the city was crucial in organizing community help groups and as a contact point for residents and fire officials as well.

The County of Los Angeles Internal Services Department was a major player in the area of communications during the fire. Altogether, ISD personnel provided over 1,615 hours of time at the fire enhancing, repairing and impro- vising communications. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department coordinated the exemplary evacuation process which guided countless citizens out of harms way.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works was instrumental in clearing the roads of rocks and debris during the height of the fire as well as the arduous task of overhaul and cleanup.
1. Approximately 20 "Heavies" (Dozers, Tractors Etc.) were used.
2. Structural engineers assessed buildings and bridges for surety. 3. Sand bags (to guard against flooding)
Other agencies that did not necessarily provide direct fire fighting support but simplified resident's access; thus, relieving stress and anxiety were:
1. California Insurance Commissioner Office
2. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
3. Califomia Coastal Commission
4. United States Internal Revenue Service
5. California Franchise Tax Board
6. United States Department of Agriculture
7. Suicide Prevention Hotline (LACO Health Services)
8. Federal Housing Authority
9. Small Business Administration
10. Home Loan Counseling Center
11. Individual Family Grants (IFGP)
12. Low Interest Deferred Loans (CAL DA P)


The scope and intensity of the Old Topanga Incident placed a tremendous demand on both civilian and fire fighting personnel. With over 7,000 fire fighters mobilized on an active fire perimeter of nearly fifty miles, casualties were inevitable. Civilian injury potential was also heightened by the sheer speed with which the fire swept into the communities surrounding the Topanga area. At approximately I 1 15 hours, with smoke from the fire creating nigh time visibility conditions, strike teams in the Old Topanga area, as well as jurisdictional engines in the Monte Nido area of Malibu Canyon, made simultaneous requests to the Incident Commander for Sheriff's units to effect evacuation of what would eventually number over 3634 homes.


There are three confirmed civilian fatalities attributed to the incident. In all three cases, individuals were overrun by the fast moving blaze during the first burn period. The first fatality was a forty-one year old male, who along with a male companion, returned to an evacuated area near the point of origin to rescue a pet cat. The victims were trapped inside an open Jeep, on a driveway positioned mid-slope when the fire made a run to their vehicle. The second individual inside the Jeep suffered critical bums.

The second and third fatalities occurred to a couple in their mid-eighties, who while traversing a motor way in a remote area above Carbon Canyon in an effort to escape, became entrapped in a chimney above the fire. The couple was found in their vehicle the following morning by County of Los Angeles Sheriff Deputies.

Overall, there were twenty one civilian injuries attributed to this incident. Most of these injuries were minor. Information on these injuries was primarily gathered from County of Los Angeles Fire Department Field Incident Reporting System entries from Fire Stations 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 88, and 125.

During the Old Topanga Incident and primarily in the inhabited canyon areas, fire companies put themselves in harm's way time and time again to accomplish their mission of protecting life and property. There were 565 fire fighters injured on this Incident and we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have suffered no fire fighter fatalities. Thirty three fire fighters required immediate transportation to medical facilities and six fire fighters suffered significant burn injuries. In the performance of their duties, fire companies were forced to utilize their protective fire shelters on several occasions as numerous companies were completely overrun or entrapped by the flames.

The ruthless dynamics of the fire placed fire fighters in anxious situations. During the period of 15:00 hours to 15:28 hours the fire consumed approximately 2,200 acres;, this calculates to about 75 acres per minute. The fire was driven by winds from the north-northeast blowing consistently at 30 to 40 miles per hour with gusts approaching 70 miles per hour. Flame lengths were observed at times to be 200 feet in length, with flaming brands and embers igniting spot fires one-half mile to one mile in advance of the fire's front. As the "Santa Ana" driven fire approached the coast it was met by a flow of on-shore air. These opposing winds caused the fire to stall in the coastal canyons and produced extreme heat. The convergence also caused a rolling-type air flow as the fire moved down upon the mesas. This phenomenon, known as roll eddy wind currents, caused firebrands to be lifted from the ground, circulated hundreds of feet into the air, to be carried by the wind and imbedded into structures and vegetation. The dangerously dry and heavy natural vegetative fuel load, super heated by the fire's constantly advancing front, augmented this fire's tremendous rate of spread. By taking these conditions and phenomena into account, and combining them with homes built in the steep narrow canyons of the urban interface, the scope and magnitude of the life threatening danger presented to the fire fighting crews becomes readily apparent.

These crews risked their lives by choosing to hold their locations and accept the extreme challenge of protecting the canyon homes. They fought valiantly to protect structures while the fire actively burned around and over their locations.


The following accounts of fire fighter entrapments relate the stories of 74 fire fighters that were overrun or entrapped by the Old Topanga Fire. This information was researched and documented by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department Safety Office:


DATE: 11-02-93

TIME: Approximately 1600 hours.
LOCATION: 23224 Saddle Peak Road, 2 story single family dwelling, wood frame stucco exterior and sheet metal roof. This structure was located at the end of a 50' long hillside residential driveway. Engine II 8 parked in front of the garage above a steep draw that descended toward the east into Hondo Canyon. The hilltop pad was surrounded by 8' to 12' high native brush, cleared to a distance of approximately 50'. On the south side of the site was a small parking area and a slope descending into Las Flores Canyon.

ASSIGNMENT: Structure protection.

WEATHER: Winds were estimated upon arrival to be 20 mph and coming from the east. as the fire front arrived, the wind increased to exceed 60 mph. The winds were described as, 4 6strong enough to blow a helmet off your head."
EVENTS: Engine 118 was parked on the driveway near the garage approximately 50' back from the draw, in front of a 4' high concrete block retaining wall. Hose lines were placed around the exposed east face of the structure toward the canyon and water was supplied from the engine's tank due to dry hydrants. When the fire blew out of Hernandez Canyon, on it's way into Las Flores Canyon, flame lengths in excess of 100' were observed blowing over the roof of the two story dwelling. Engine II 8 was under the sheets of flame that were deflected by the retaining wall. Engine company personnel ran for shelter to the lee side of the structure but continued to apply water to the east side of the structure for cooling purposes, as conditions permitted. The home was saved as a result of Engine II 8's aggressive and courageous fire fighting.


DAMAGED: Light bar and plastic light lenses melted, minor paint blistering and a cracked windshield from the intense heat.

TIME: Approximately 1430 hours.

LOCATION: 2145 Rambia Pacifico Road. Single family residence, two-story, stucco and wood frame with tile roof. The structure was located approximately 5o' below Rambla Pacifico Road on the west side of Carbon Canyon. Brush clearance was 30' or more around the structure and property limits. The structure was approximately 150' to 200' above the riparian canyon drainage. Brush was heavy, with native growth estimated to be 12'to 15' tall. ASSIGNMENT: Strike Team 9251C (CDF Group 1), structure protection. WEATHER: Temperature 80 to 90 degrees. Wind blowing from the northeast at approximately 25-35 mph with gusts in excess of 45 mph.
EVENTS: Engine 2179 was backed into a mid slope residential driveway approximately 50' below Rambla Pacifico road on the east slope of Carbon Canyon. Two 11/2' hose lines were deployed, one for structure protection and the other for engine protection. Both lines were charged and ready. High winds caused the fire to spot approximately 300' down Carbon Canyon well ahead of the fire's front. Burning fire debris carried by the wind was falling into the canyon. Engine 2179 was positioned to provide shelter from the predominant down canyon wind.
It is believed that up canyon winds from a roll eddy, combined with the topography to channel the fire up the canyon toward Engine 2179's location. Numerous spot fires also occurred in the canyon at this time caused by wind blown burning debris.
The engineer, while trying to fire out 300'down into Carbon Canyon, saw the fire advancing up slope towards Engine 2179's location and the structure they were attempting to protect. He was unable to ignite the grass with a fusee, and ran up slope to join the fire fighter on the protection line at the structure. While running the distance of approximately 300' he narrowly escaped the advancing heat and smoke.
The captain and second fire fighter also unsuccessfully attempted to fire out below their location which was behind Engine 2179. A spot fire ignited the hill proximal to and above the drivers side of Engine 2179. The fire fighter and captain took shelter from the advancing fire by entering the cab. During this process, the captain was burned while attempting to enter the cab through the drivers door - a faulty latch mechanism caused the door to stick. The captain, after entering through another door, deployed a fire shelter and pressed it against the windows to shield himself and his fire fighter from the radiant heat. As the heat and smoke intensified the engineer and second fire fighter, positioned at the structure, opened their nozzle and discovered they had no water pressure. The engineer radioed to the engine that there was no pressure at the nozzle - it was then discovered by the fire fighter after opening and looking out the cab door, that the structure protection line had been burned.
With no water available, the hose line was abandoned and the engineer entered the dwelling for protection while the fire fighter deployed his shelter on the east end of the house. They remained in these positions for approximately 10 seconds. The fire fighter then, by using his shelter as a cape, joined the engineer after seeing him exit the house. They then reentered the house together.
After radio contact confirmed all personnel were accounted for, the engineer and fire fighter exited the structure and joined the captain and fire fighter now located midway between the house and the engine. The four entered the garage to seek refuge from the blowing smoke and ash and requested assistance via radio. During the time flames overran their location, both protection hose lines ruptured as a result of contact with extreme heat and hot embers.

A small fire was observed in Engine 2179 which started in combustible sleeping bags stored on top of the engine. All attempts to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher and buckets were unsuccessful. The fire was later extinguished by CDF Engine 2563. County of Los Angeles Engine 73 arrived at the scene and by working with CDF Engine 2563 extinguished an attic fire saving the structure.
INJURIES: Captain suffered third degree bums to 15% of his body, one fire fighter and the engineer suffered first degree bums and the second fire fighter suffered smoke inhalation.
DAMAGED: Major damage to the engine, rendering it out of service.


DATE: 11-02-93

TIME: Approximately 1350 hours.

LOCATION: 22271 Carbon Mesa, single story dwelling located on a level hilltop at the end of a curving private driveway. Brush clearance of approximately 50' on the east (windward) exposure side of the property.
ASSIGNMENT: Structure protection.

WEATHER: Wind blowing from the northeast, approximately 45-50 mph. ACTIONS: Engine 70's crew observed a large smoke column over a ridge line, north of their location, in the general vicinity of Fire Suppression Camp 8. After listening to a radio report from a helicopter in the area who stated, "it looks like the fire is going to come down Carbon Canyon;" the crew selected a single family dwelling to defend on what they believed would become the fire's flank.
They then deployed two hand lines for protection, one in the front and the other to the rear of the structure.
Firing out around the perimeter was attempted shortly before the fire arrived. This was unsuccessful due to the surrounding vegetation's inability to sustain fire from a fusee.
The fire spotted across a canyon and ran up the hillside below their location. The captain, one fire fighter and an explorer positioned themselves in the rear yard. The engineer, second fire fighter, and apparatus were positioned in the front driveway.
The fire's heat and blowing embers rapidly increased in intensity. Personnel decided to retreat from their location and seek protection from the heat and burning brands on the lee side of the building.

The captain discovered his original route, used to enter the rear yard, was now blocked by a near solid wall of flying red embers. He, along with two of the assigned personnel attempted to escape from the rear yard by exiting through a gate at the opposite end of the structure. This escape route was also discovered to be blocked by a locked wrought iron gate and masonry wall.

Having no other escape route from the rear yard, the captain ordered fire shelters removed from their packs and made ready for use.

The personnel attempted unsuccessfully once again to run through their original access route, but found it still impassable. At this time the captain and explorer unfolded their fire shelters and used them as capes, in the standing position, to shield the fire fighter who had not removed his own shelter from it's case. The three stood huddled against the exterior wall of the dwelling as the flame front passed.

The engineer and fire fighter positioned in the front yard where also confronted with the same extreme heat, smoke and blowing embers. The engineer who had earlier in the day given his fire shelter to the explorer, now found himself vulnerable.
The engineer decided his engine's cab would not provide sufficient protection, due to the location, and chose to seek shelter by running down the drive way to a clearing below a steel water tank approximately 100 yards away. The following account of the incident was given by the engineer from Engine 70:

"Everything in front of me was igniting faster than I could run. I looked back and saw a red wall that was 200 feet high. I don't know how, but I made it behind a water tank at the bottom of the driveway, approximately 100 feet away. It sounded like a train, a tremendous roar that seemed to go on and on. I couldn't breathe, so I crawled out to find air, but the air was gone. Somehow I rolled back behind the tank, and then I heard a propane tank explode down the hill, and I realized that the fire's head had passed. The next thing I heard was the captain calling out. I was sure that one of us had been killed."

The second fire fighter, remaining on the driveway, deployed his fire shelter in the recommended manner.

After the fire front burned passed Engine 70's location, the crew attempted to extinguish the fire that now involved the structure. They found that the hose lines deployed prior to the arrival of the fire had burned through and ruptured. By the time new lines were deployed, the fire spread had exceeded the capacity of the engine's water supply, and with the hydrant dry the dwelling was destroyed.
INJURIES: One fire fighter received an eye injury from blowing embers and the engineer suffered smoke inhalation and a severe headache. EQUIPMENT
DAMAGED: Blistered paint on the engine, ladder halyards melted, slight charring to wood ladders.


TIME: Approximately 1500 hours.

LOCATION: 3401 Serra Road. A rambling religious complex consisting of 2 story structures with stucco exteriors, tile roofs and boxed in eves. An approximate 20'to 50' wide perimeter of parking lots, walkways, courtyards and shrines surround the complex. The site is located on a hilltop, which is covered with native brush, eucalyptus and oak trees. ASSIGNMENT: Structure protection with Strike Team 11 15. WEATHER: 30-50 mph wind blowing from the east - as the fire front arrived, the winds were described as swirling in a 3600 direction.
EVENTS: Engine 502, along with other strike team units, arrived at the above address approximately 30 minutes prior to the arrival of the wind driven fire. Engine 502 deployed a supply line from an on site hydrant which had very low pressure initially and later dropped to zero when the fire arrived. Protection lines were also deployed and pre-wetting of hillside brush was performed. During this operation, the engine's incoming tank supply was less than the pumps discharge, resulting in a near empty tank.

A short time later, the fire spotted across a green cultivated canyon, one quarter to one half mile in width. These spot fires resulted in the fire making two runs up the hillside. The first run was in light fuel on the southern end of the location and was controlled by the strike team at the scene. The second run was more on the north side of the hill and occurred in heavy fuels pushed by the wind. This fire was estimated to last for approximately 15 minutes and resulted in over-running the strike team and causing several small fires on the tile roof, eves and among the piles of wind blown vegetative debris.
As the strike team had exhausted its water supply prior to the arrival of the fire, the companies at scene laddered the building and extinguished these fires with hand tools.

At the time the strike team was hit by the fire's front, personnel took shelter in a building lobby, and plaza area between buildings. Engine 502's engineer took shelter inside his apparatus cab after attempting to check on its condition. During his trip out to the apparatus, he was knocked off his feet by wind and blowing fire debris.

DAMAGED: Miscellaneous fire fighting equipment.

TIME: Approximately 2300-2400 hours.

LOCATION: 21200 Saddle Peak Road, The Sandstone Ranch. A combination of residential and resort structures and out buildings which consisted of tile roofs with stucco exterior and a swimming pool with a wood and fiberglass cover. Geographical location surrounded by pine and eucalyptus trees. Building pad was cut into the hillside with the up slope above the structures and the down slope leading into Las Flores Canyon.
ASSIGNMENT: Structure protection with Strike Team 1409A. WEATHER: Winds were estimated at 40-50 mph with gusts to 75 mph. EVENTS: The strike team chose to defend this area based on a request from a civilian and confirmation of a water supply (gravity fed 10,000 gallon steel tank) with 80-90 psi static pressure. This pressure later dropped to 10-15 psi after depleting the supply i the tank.

A fire burning in the bottom of Little Las Flores Canyon was the primary concern of Engines 19 and 933. The fire may have been a result of a fire burning down Las Flores Canyon that had spread laterally into Little Las Flores Canyon. A second fire burning behind a nearby ridge was not visible to Engine 19 or Engine 933 due to their physical location in the canyon, a smoke column however was visible to them.

The main wind driven fire was approximately 1/4 mile away when it became visible burning down hill toward their location. The engine company captain decided to retreat to a safe location. They now had fire burning on two flanks as the speed of the approaching main fire increased. Before Engine 933 could link up with Engine 19, Engine 19's captain determined it was too late to drive out on the escape route to Las Flores Canyon Road (unknown to them, the fire had already moved through and this route was now closed).

Engine 19's captain then ordered supply lines reconnected to the tank for protection. Fire shelters were deployed behind a 3' high rock retaining wall and breathing apparatus were taken inside the shelters. Masks were donned but not connected to the breathing apparatus.

Fire crews were protected from the fire's heat by deflection off of the structures they were trying to protect, as well as by the 3' retaining wall. After the main fire passed through their location, Engine 19 and Engine 933 crews were notified it was safe to exit their shelters by County of Los Angeles Camp Superintendent 19. Superintendent 19 had come to check on Engine 19 and Engine 933 after receiving a radio message from Superintendent 8 regarding the fire shelter deployment by the Orange County strike team known to be operating in the area.

DAMAGED: Engine 19 sustained melted light lenses, burned left jump seat, decals and paint.

TIME: Approximately 1530-1600 hours.

WEATHER: Initially Northeasterly down canyon wind 25 to 30 mph, then an up canyon wind estimated at 50 mph.
LOCATION: 3000 Block of Rambla Pacifico, two story single family dwelling with large glass windows facing down canyon, the house was built on stilts over the canyon edge.
ASSIGNMENT: Structure protection.

EVENTS: The structure was located on the outer rim of a canyon chimney. Recognizing this, the decision was made to protect this structure to assist two young civilians in cutoff short pants and tee shirts attempting to protect this property with a 21/2" hose and nozzle attached directly to a hydrant. The fire equipment was supplied by a Santa Fe Springs engine.

Engine 8 connected to the same hydrant located in front of the structure. Static pressure was approximately 80 psi. Trees and canopy around the engine were cut back by Engine 8's personnel. Two 13/4" hose lines were deployed to both sides of the house. Fire Fighters were directed to let the fire blow by, then knock down any remaining fire after the front passed.

After hose lines were deployed, the fire was seen creeping down Carbon Canyon. The fire spotted ahead of the main fire and firing out operations were initiated by Engine 8's personnel. Within moments Engine 8 was overwhelmed by fire. It approached with such intensity that the crew reported, "it sounded like a freight train." Attempts made to save the structure by the crew, were to no avail. The flames impinged on the underside of the stilt house's sub-floor and the heat was so intense that the large plate glass windows imploded, allowing the flames to quickly engulf the entire structure. At this point, the captain and two fire fighters retreated o the unexposed side of the structure. A 21/2" hose line was placed into operation to try and knock down the structure fire. One 13/4" hose line was redeployed from the structure to protect the engine. Simultaneously, the deck gun was placed into operation to dissipate convected heat and to provide a safety zone. The fire was so intense that the 21/2" hose line was shut down and the second 13/4" hose line hose was redeployed to also protect the personnel and the engine. At this point, personnel donned breathing apparatus, due to the intense heat, thick smoke and fire brands. The main focus was now saving the crew and fire engine. At approximately this time the hydrant went dry, but fortunately the main body of fire had passed and the immediate danger mitigated.

During this incident not only was Engine 8 involved with protecting the structure but also had civilians to protect. When Engine 8 arrived at the location, the property owner and his friend were involved in fire fighting and three civilians were in their vehicles, one was panic stricken. The civilians were instructed to position their vehicles so they were parked parallel to the engine and protected from the flames by Engine 8's hose lines. After the fire storm passed, these civilians were directed to caravan to Camp 8.
INJURIES: One fire fighter sustained second degree burns to his face. All fire fighters suffered smoke inhalation and mental trauma. EQUIPMENT
DAMAGE: 200' of 13/4" hose.


DATE: 11-02-93

TIME: Approximately 1430 hours.

LOCATION: 2899 Rambla Pacifico, south of Hume Road, one story, single family dwelling with approximately 100'brush clearance.
ASSIGNMENT: Structure protection.

WEATHER: Wind Blowing from the northeast estimated to be 50 mph. EVENTS: Engine 52 was assigned to structure protection at the above location by the strike team leader approximately 45 minutes prior to arrival of the main fire. Engine 52 was deployed on the street in front (east side) of the dwelling at the above address. Engine 52 was concerned with a fire burning uphill out of Carbon Canyon, this fire was backing uphill, against the wind in medium to light brush toward the rear of the structure. Engine 52 laid a supply line from a nearby hydrant that provided 80 psi static pressure. A direct attack was planned with hand lines when the fire reached the structure's northwest facing side. Unknown to Engine 52 was a second fire burning to the east of the structure, across the street and below their position in Las Flores Canyon area. Unaware of this second fire, Engine 52 chose a location for deployment that was in a saddle and next to an east to west running draw. The fire blew out of this draw at approx 1630 hours.

At approximately the same time Engine 52 lost its water supply. Engine 52's crew were entrapped without water and with a near solid wall of burning embers blowing across the road, approximately 3'to 4'high above the ground. Engine 52's personnel observed 30'to 40'flame lengths near Vernon Engine 1, which was nearby and down the road from their location.
Engine 52 had approximately 25' to 35' (the street and dirt shoulder) of clear area (safe zone) around their apparatus. Engine company fire fighters took shelter on the lee side of the engine, the captain entered the engine cab and the engineer entered the structure for protection. At this time, the jump seat area of the apparatus caught fire and spread into the cab area.
After the main fire passed Engine 52's location, the crew extinguished the fire engulfed apparatus by using dirt and shovels. The crew of Engine 52 was transported by other units of Strike Team 1287 to Fire Suppression Camp 8 during the night.

DAMAGED: Jump seat area, crew cab, engine compartment, all wood ladders and 15 sections of hose placing the engine out of service.


DATE: 11-02-93

TIME: Strike Team 1409A arrived at Pacific Coast Highway at approximately 1600 hours. The units were directed to the designated location after darkness. Two engines were overrun at approximately 2200-2400 hours. LOCATION: Little Las Flores Canyon Road at Sandstone Ranch. ASSIGNMENT: Structure protection.

WEATHER: Winds estimated at 40-50 mph with gusts to 50-60 mph. EVENTS: After committing five engines and seeing two engines overrun, forcing the deployment of shelters, Strike Team Leader 1409A decided to pull his other three engines off structures and place them into reserve for possible rescue of Strike Team 1409A engines and personnel.


DATE: 11-02-93

TIME: Approximately 1400 hours.

LOCATION: Engine 81 on Azurelee Drive, Engine 91, Engine 61 on Briar Bluff Drive and Engine 12 and Engine 71 on Castlewood Canyon Road. ASSIGNMENT: Structure protection.

WEATHER: Winds estimated at approximately 70 mph, changing directions frequently due to ground contours and the fire storm.
EVENTS: Laid supply lines off hydrant on Azurelee drive with adequate pressure and deployed hand lines among various residential structures. A warning was received by the strike team leaders approximately 1 0 minutes before they were overrun by the fire. Division Y suggested to the strike team leaders that they should consider changing locations. They decided however not to relocate due to their unfamiliarity with the area and the possibility of road closures from falling rock and downed power lines and poles.
Upon arrival of the wind driven fire front the hydrants went dry as the heat and solid wall of burning embers blew over the strike team. Flame lengths of approximately 100 feet were observed.
After the flame front passed, the strike team regrouped and located at Fire Suppression Camp 8 where they were able to resupply, get water, and make field repairs to their engines. During this time, many of the structures the strike team had attempted to protect were destroyed.
INJURIES: Two fire fighters suffered smoke inhalation, one fire fighter received an elbow contusion, and two fire fighters were released from duty due to mental fatigue.
DAMAGED: All five strike team engines received various damage consisting of melted hose, burned halyards, burned jump seats, blistered paint, burned air cleaners and a damaged turbo charger. Two engines were placed out of service until the following day due to damages incurred.



A quick look at information compiled by the National Park Service shows that the fire con- sumed an average of 1,200 acres per hour in the first ten hours. Even more remarkably, the fire blasted through nearly six linear miles of brush and struc- tures in the first four hours!

This incredible devastation, and the resultant deployment of the largest contingent of fire fighting resources in the history of the United States, burdened public resources to the maxi- mum degree. Hardest hit in the early phases of the battle were two agencies whose functions depend greatly upon the other-The Southern California Edison Company, the supplier of power to the region, and the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, who depend upon that power to operate pumping stations for Water District number 29. At approximately 1530 hours, the main pumping station at location ten lost power as the fire descended upon the coastal canyons and mesas above Malibu.
As units took up positions for structure protection, Public Works quickly set up generators to restorewaterpressuretothedistrict. A difficult situation became worse as telemetry units- used to measure the water level in a tank-were lost. This meant that engines would be depen- dent upon head pressure during the most intense period of the fire.

Fatalities 0 3
Total Injuries 565 21

A summary of these damages to District 29 and Southern California Edison, as well as from General Telephone are as follows:

191 Power Poles destroyed
508 Wire spans destroyed
36 Transformers destroyed
480 Cross arms destroyed


3 Helicopters (for pole setting, wire stringing, and patrol) 46 crews utilized


Water system damage $135,000
Water main damage 40,000
Water tank damage 140,000
Total Cost 315,000

75 miles of cable destroyed

On November 3, 1993, at approximately 0800 hours the Incident Commander requested that an initial damage assessment be coordinated in the affected areas. Due to the scope of the incident, the early focus of assessment was concentrated on private residential property. The following items WERE included in the assessment;
Address of occupancy
Type of occupancy
Related structures and property
Estimated dollar loss for property
and contents

This initial assessment began at I 100 hours on November 3, 1993, operating under the Plans Section. Assessment teams were formed from personnel assigned to the Petro-chemical, Haz- ardous Materials Disclosure, and Health Haz Mat units of the Fire Prevention Bureau. These teams consisted of two individuals, generally assigned from different units. Additionally, assessment units were sent from the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, as well as the City of Malibu. At the height of the assessment, teams in the field numbered thirty two units. The following data reflects a cross-compilation of infon-nation gath- ered from all agencies and validated by the Rand Corporation.
Total acreage: 16,516

Structures destroyed.- SingleandMultiplefamily-37
Detached garages - 15
Mobile homes - 12
Vehicles damaged 11
Vehicles destroyed: 92
Total Private Property Value Loss $208,484,786

As a direct result of the "Old Topanga Incident," 71 damaged and/or destroyed structures were identified to need hazardous waste clean up and control. The process was pursued by the Healith Haz-Mat entity of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department. The cost for clean-up is $68,286.00.

As a result of the fire's destruction of vegetative cover, and in anticipation of probable soil erosion. The Forestry Division of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department immediately initiated seeding procedures for soil rehabilitation and flood control. 7,000 to 8,000 acres of land were reseeded at a cost of $439,240.00. The type of seed utilized was a mixture of Zoro Annual Fescue, Native Brome, Blando Brome and Rose Clover. 85% of the total cost was covered by the Soil Conservation Service with the remaining 15% being split among the Office of Emergency Services paying 75% of the 15%, and the County of Los Angeles Fire Department picking up the bill for the remaining 25% of the 15%. Seed was also made available to home owners wishing to seed their own property, and numerous requests were received. POST INCIDENT FINDINGS

The recent history of fire storms within the County's growing urban interface, and the knowledge we have gained by participating on these incidents, presents the County of Los Angeles Fire Department, and the fire service in general, with an opportunity to explore pertinent issues. Issues that by thorough examination will serve to strengthen fire service operational involvement and community emergency preparedness thereby reducing the overall impact of future fires.

Our position of leadership in recognizing concerns, formulating solutions, and sharing these solutions within the fire service community and among residents living in urban interface communities, is therefore the challenge that rises before us. We are confident that the careful examination of these issues and the resultant enhancement of policies and procedures, will blaze new trails in the augmentation of efficient property and life preservation as well as fire fighter safety concerns for future incidents.


As a result of the urban interface fires within the County of Los Angeles during the Fall of 1993 the Wildfire Safety Panel appointed by the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has been working diligently to evaluate and develop recommndations for consideration by the Board to assist in mitigating wildland and urban interface fire hazards. The mission identified by the Wildfire Safety Panel, as a direct result of meetings held within the effected communities, was to enhance life safety concerns in Los Angeles County through the analysis and development of meaningful, cost effective ways to improve fire safety. In order to accomplish these goals, the Panel established four subcommittees including:
1) Water Supply
2) Vegetation
3) Building and Fire Codes
4) Brush Clearance Code Enforcement
The subcommittees were directed to conduct extensive research and analysis using broad-based resources including academia, past reports and studies (including the County's General Plan), applicable codes, pending legislation, community input, and input from other jurisdictions. Upon completion of the subcommittee reports, the Panel met to consider for approval each recommendation for presentation to the Board of Supervisors for their consideration.

The recommendations were based on the subcommittee findings and were discussed and approved by the Wildfire Safety Panel on June 9, 1994. The recommendations were made to address the following areas and are available to the public upon request to The County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.
0 Current building and fire codes
0 Building materials and construction techniques
0 Types and placement of landscaping
0 Degree of brush clearance and prescribed bums
0 Water supply, storage capacity pressure, and auxiliary pumping power sources
0 Access and traffic circulation in remote, rugged and urban brush areas


As an addition to the Los Angeles County Fire Department participation with the Wildfire Safety Panel, the Fire Chief established "Operation Firestop." This task force was to focus on specific areas within the Department to improve service delivery to the public with regard to preparation for wildland fire fighting. In addition, an intensified approach to educate the residents of-wildland urban interface areas to fuel modification, preparations for home fire safety and how to protect their homes in the event of a wildland fire.

The Departmental task force reviewed, developed, and implemented fire safety efforts directed at hazard abatement, prevention, training, fire suppression, community awareness and education. The objectives of the four work groups and the Communications Committee are discussed below:


Emphasis and support to our Department personnel with this season's brush clearance and code enforcement program.

Further educate and advise residents on compliance with existing codes and provide better information about landscaping alternatives.

Coordinating possible future code modifications to the Fire Code with the recommendations of the Wildfire Safety Panel.


Completion of a Department wildland fire fighting SOP document for Volume 10 "Emergency Operations."

Revision and reissue of the Department's Patrol Manual and the completion of a "Patrol Use" Guidelines Document.

Development of wildland "pre-attack plans" for all wildland/urban interface areas of the County.

Revision of the personnel listing of members with specialized skills, training and ICS position experience.

Investigation into and Department adaptation of "InciNet" computer program of fire resource and incident management.

Modification to first alarm brush response to add additional resources such as a paramedic squad, engine companies and helicopters.

An evaluation of the Canadair CL-215T "Superscooper" aircraft for initial attack wildland fire use for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Modification to mandatory list of personnel safety equipment for wildland fire fighting to include 100% cotton long sleeve "T" shirt and "Nomex" brush overpants. Revision and issue to the Departmental library the Rehabilitation Cache Policy and Procedure Document.
Modification and development of an "Incident Support Plan" to better provide overhead and equipment to support and manage wildland fire incidents.


Development and distribution of residential information kits regarding fuel modification, brush clearance and creating "defensible space."

Development and promotion of the A.W.A.R.E. (Arson Watch and Resident Education). Presentations of safety and fire self-protection information at community meetings, "wild land fire safety expos" and wildland fire site tours.

Increase the awareness of the public to fire weather conditions and fire including utilizing the media and telephone information services.


The establishment of training goals for this wildland fire fighting season to be received by uniform members of the Department this year.

Developing an Incident Command System, ICS Training Program to include ICS position and skill training that includes classes such as:
"Intro to ICS"
"Basic ICS"
"Intro to Fire Behavior"
"Intermediate Fire Behavior"
"Strike Team Leader"
"Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior Calculations" The development of video presentations of assorted wildland fire safety, tactics and strategy topics such as:
"Fire Shelter Deployment"
"Fire Entrapments"
"Progressive Hose Lay"
"Structure Protection"
"Class "A" Foam Use"
"Topography, Fuel and Weather"
"Wildland Fire Safety and Survival"

Development and training of four Fire Management Teams similar to those used by other wildland fire fighting agencies. These teams will be composed of ICS trained chief officers with specific assignments consistent with the Incident Command System.

In addition to the four work groups, this Committee was formed to identify major and multiple incident communication needs and to develop recommendations. This committee is made up of personnel from the Operations Bureau, Command and Control Division, and County Communications (ISD). This committee is charged with the development of an incident communication plan for our Department during high and major incident activity levels.


The following findings have been targeted and are actively being pursued: The need to educate the public with regard to hazards associated with ornamental vegetation.
The Fire Department has identified a serious concern with regard to fire spread as a result of ornamental vegetation which is planted near to structures and along drives and roadways. This ornamental vegetation has been found to provide a harbor for hidden incipient fires during and after fire storm activity. As these incipient fires develop and grow fire then spreads easily to adjacent structures or completely prohibits fire equipment access into the areas that have become involved. Although these concerns are addressed with homeowners during annual brush inspections, the Department feels that it is imperative to strongly impress upon residents, once again, the tremendous fire potential presented by this concern. It is therefore the intent of the Department to reeducate the public with regard to the hazards presented by ornamental vegetation, as well as lobby for stricter Fire Code enforcement. The need to educate the public with regard to hazards associated with limited vehicular access. The Fire Department has identified a serious concern with regard to the hazards associated with residing in areas serviced by limited vehicular access routes. It is therefore the intent of the Department to bring this serious concern to the attention of the public. Defending structures that are built in areas serviced only by one way access streets, narrow road ways, steep winding drives, rnid-slope road ways and fish hook road ways presents serious safety concerns to citizens and fire fighters which have resulted in citizen and fire fighter entrapments. These road ways render many structures indefensible. The Fire Department therefore feels the need to stress to citizens that developing and residing in areas with restricted access places them and their personal belongings at risk.
The need to educate the public with regard to personal safety concerns if they choose against permissive evacuation and remain with their homes during fire storm activity. Although the Department in no way advocates that residents stay with their structures during fire storm activity, the realization that some will make this choice remains. The Department, in full realization of this concern, recognizes the need to educate the public regarding measures they may take for protection if they make this dangerous choice. The Department will continue to stress the tremendous risk individuals take by refusing to evacuate but will work with citizens in the development of protective measures they may take in the event of entrapment or voluntary choices to remain after pen-nissive evacuations have been ordered. The need for aggressive brush clearance and fire prevention preparedness by property owners. The Fire Department has historically performed annual brush clearance inspections, in accordance with the Fire Code and jointly with the Agricultural Commission of Weights and Measures Department. These inspections are designed to ensure fire safety compliance by property owners residing in wild land urban interface areas. In light of the fire activity which occurred during November of 1993 it is the Department's intent to strengthen these efforts.

The need to legislate for augmented Fire Code ordinances. As a result of the recent fire history the Department has recognized the need to lobby for stricter compliance by individuals with regard to those fire prevention standards listed above. In addition, it is the Department's intent to seek legislation pertinent to additional concerns with regard to future construction attributes and limitations felt necessary by the Department and the Wildfire Safety Panel.

The need to work with utility companies and water purveyors in the establishment and upgrading of existing systems and to provide auxiliary pumping systems in the event of electrical power outages. As a result of the fire's destruction of power lines, which energized pumping facilities, the Department has recognized the need to solidify support of utility providers and community representatives and to explore legislation and alternatives to augment existing water systems and to provide for back up pumping systems in wild land urban interface areas. It should be recognized that typical residential water systems are designed to deliver a sufficient water supply to combat one or two house fires and that the magnitude of area conflagrations quickly overwhelm these system capabilities.

The need to explore and strengthen operational strategies and tactics with regard to wildland urban interface fire fighting. In order to increase operational effectiveness of fire fighting resources on wild land urban interface incidents, the Department is exploring the following strategies and tactics to further reduce the impact on citizens and property values:

1. The development of operational procedures regarding the formation and assignment of inspection teams to re-enter incident areas, after the passage of a fire's front, to specifically search for and extinguish spot fires that may by exposure spread fire to property values.

2. The development of strategies and tactics pertinent to pre-painting threatened structures with Class A Foam, prior to the fire's front passage through an area of potential involvement.

The need to strengthen training procedures with regard to fire fighter safety concerns. Fully recognizing the fact that ominous wildland urban interface fire conditions still exist, the Department is strengthening it's policy and procedures regarding fire fighter safety concerns pertinent to wild land urban interface incidents. The areas being addressed are fire shelter deployment, safe and efficient unit positioning and the efficient distribution of pertinent safety messages to all fire fighting personnel assigned on an incident.

The need to strengthen training procedures to ensure the availability of key Incident Command System personnel during peak operational periods. The Department is strengthening it's training program to ensure the availability of key Incident Command System personnel on major incidents. The key command positions which have been identified are; Command Staff personnel, General Staff personnel, Plans Team personnel, Staging Area Managers, Check-in Recorders, Medical Unit Leaders and Communication Unit Leaders.

The need to strengthen automatic aid agreements to hasten the utilization of water dropping helicopters on future incidents. The utilization of light, medium and heavy helicopters on the incident proved to be of great value in containment of the fire. It is therefore the intent of the Department to pursue automatic aid agreements to ensure the continued utilization and availability of these resources for future wild land urban interface incidents. As a result of the Department's pursuit in this area of concern an automatic aid agreement has been established with the Los Angeles City Fire Department to ensurejoint helicopter attack on initial brush fire responses within the area of Los Angeles County served by both Departments.

The need to strengthen standard operating procedures to ensure that fixed wing aircraft are ordered and dispatched on all working major wild land incidents. In the best interest of time the Department feels that fixed wing aircraft should be ordered and has taken steps to ensure that this type of aircraft shall be ordered, as a matter of standard operating procedure, whenever these incidents present to the initial responding units with significant smoke showing and on all second alarm brush fires.
The need to evaluate innovative air operations to facilitate rapid brush fire suppression. The County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has given the Fire Department approval to evaluate the CL-215T "Superscooper" aircraft. The Department will focus on the aircraft's ability to augment our initial attack on brush fires. The evaluation will be conducted during the Fall of 1994.

The need to strengthen the command, control, communications and information gathering coefficient of incident operations. The Department is currently in the process of exploring, for practical application, all possible avenues relative to advanced communications as well as static and dynamic information gathering technologies and management systems.

The need to evaluate logistical needs to facilitate personnel and equipment concerns on extended incidents. The County of Los Angeles Fire Department has instructed all fire fighting personnel to make self sufficient drinking water provisions for at least twenty four hours. The Department will supply fire fighting personnel with Meals Ready to Eat (MRE's) for a similar time period.

The Department has instructed unit leaders, company officers and command personnel to consider the duration of their supplies, including vehicular fuel, and to place requests through proper channels well in advance of total depletion. The Department feels that an attentiveness to needs will assist the overall operation, particularly on large widespread incidents.

The Department is considering shift duration for personnel on extended incidents. Historically, the County of Los Angeles Fire Department has utilized twenty four hour shifts. Personnel and equipment concerns, evidenced during the 1993 fires have prompted the Department to examine possible improvements in logistical needs to be gained by reducing the shift duration to twelve hours on extended incidents.
The need to strengthen the Region 1, Emergency Coordination Center's ability to order, mobilize, coordinate, track and demobilize mutual aid resources. The County of Los Angeles Fire Department is responsible for the coordination and management of mutual aid resources that either leave Region 1, or that are assigned to incidents within Region 1.

The 1993 fires identified that the demand for resource information had dramatically increased, that the frequency and complexity of incidents had increased and that the requirement for real time reporting of resource status had also increased. The Department, in fulfillment of it's function as Region I coordinator, has responded by completely revamping the Emergency Coordination Center's electronic tracking system. The Information Management Division of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department was charged with the development of a new resource management system.

The new system provides the mechanism to manage multiple incidents simultaneously by; 1. providing on-line report faxing of information to any agency or requester, 2. facilitating information sharing with ECC staffers on the automated bulletin board, and 3. developing the potential for on-line information sharing with other Regions or agencies.

This new system should greatly enhance the Region I Coordinators ability to mobilize, coordinate, track and demobilize emergency resources.


The recent history of "fire ston-ns" within the growing urban interface, and the resultant knowledge gained, presents the County of Los Angeles Fire Department with an opportunity to procedurally enhance policy and training that may effectively reduce the tragic loss of life and property resultant from the ravages of these fires.
We therefore have initiated action in recognizing concerns, formulating solutions, and sharing these solutions with fire fighting personnel and private citizens alike. We are confident that by careful examination of all inherent and contributing factors, presented in the urban interface fire fight, and by taking a firm proactive stance, we will blaze new trails in fostering the augmentation of efficient property and life preservation.

Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved