• Malibu Is Ready for Winter •
The winds that wreaked havoc throughout most of the rest of Los Angeles County last week were not Santa Ana winds—many of the weather reports to the contrary—but north winds, which is why Malibuites spent the first three days of this powerful and perilous wind event on the sidelines.
It was not until the strong winds became northeasterly in nature, true Santa Anas, that Malibu residents had to join those battening down the hatches and anything else that was freestanding, while having the additional task of going into red flag alert response.
As fierce as this week's winds were—I clocked a little over 54 miles per hour on my handheld anemometer on Monday and other instruments recorded up to 67 miles per hour further up into the mountains—they didn't come close to matching the 80-plus mph winds that battered the community two years ago.
The statistics comparison notwithstanding, Santa Anas always spell danger if people are using power tools outdoors, have vehicles with faulty catalytic converters, or carelessly toss a lit cigarette out a car window. All it takes is one errant spark making contact with the abundant dry fuel that exists in even the smallest of open spaces throughout the community and the adjacent hillsides.
The speed with which a wind-driven wildfire travels and the intense heat on its front lines makes these conflagrations virtually impossible to head off, let alone contain, until the weather conditions change and nature demonstrates once again that it calls the shots when it comes to wildland firefighting.
As soon as the winds threatened to change course, the Los Angeles County Fire Department reacted swiftly to the potential for dangerous wildland fire behavior with major augmented staffing and the predeployment of resources into position to respond quickly to areas deemed most vulnerable.
Among the added resources were 20 engines in strike team configuration, eight water tenders, 10 fire crews, three dozer teams and two helitenders, joined by the three CL-415 SuperScoopers (whose Canadian contract was recently extended by the county because of concerns about local weather patterns), five LACFD water-dropping copters and one Ericson SkyCrane. An additional 290 firefighting personnel were also at the ready.
That the crews and equipment did not have to be called into action left local residents with an extra dose of post-Thanksgiving gratitude. But there are no delusions about the ongoing wildfire danger if another major wind event occurs before the next rainstorm. Malibu has to remain vigilant until winter arrives and it has to come to grips with a whole new set of meteorological unknowns.