Malibu residents run for their lives as destructive fire hits the Pacific: ‘It’s just like everything happened all at once’

Sheriff's deputies block off Mulholland Drive in Malibu as the Woolsey fire continues its path toward the coast Friday.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

Cars inched down the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu on Friday, trying to evacuate as the Woolsey fire moved in.

The fire was moving toward the Pacific Ocean, and much of Malibu and surrounding areas were under evacuation orders. Homes in the hills above the city were burning as winds pushed the flames toward the coast.

Inside a Winnebago, a couple and their 3-year-old son visiting from Germany cut a family trip short. They were planning to leave tomorrow, but officials ordered them to evacuate Friday morning.


A large cloud of smoke darkened the sky behind them as they crept along the road. In another car was Quinn Kuriger, 22, of Calabasas, who found refuge Thursday night at a friend’s Malibu home.

But the fire moved farther south, and he was forced to move again. He gathered his things and was headed to Santa Monica.

He’d been in the line of cars for at least two hours. The most he’d seen of the fire was the large cloud of smoke nearby. “It’s kind of intimidating,” he said.

A few cars down, Siobhan de Cleir and Layla Tipton-Ortiz, both 18, blasted Kesha as they waited in the slog of traffic.

The two Pepperdine students, who share a suite on campus, were awakened at 6 a.m. to class cancellations and evacuation orders. They packed a bag and went to the cafeteria by 7:30 as instructed by school officials.

“They said, ‘This is the safest place you guys can be,’” de Cleir said. But Tipton-Ortiz’s father told her to come home and bring de Cleir too. They got in the car and made the trek to Laguna Niguel.

“All the stuff that happened yesterday too, it’s just like everything happened all at once,” Tipton-Ortiz said. “It’s so strange. It’s sketching me out.”

The fire knocked out power at the Union 76 gas station Friday, leaving more than a dozen residents trying to escape the Woolsey fire to make a tough decision: brave the congested PCH with little to no gas, or wait for the power to be restored.

John Rodrigue of Malibu waited.

His El Nido neighborhood in Corral Canyon was under mandatory evacuation. But when he looked at his gas gauge and the traffic backed up for miles on the PCH, he feared he might get stranded.

“We won’t want to run out of gas on the PCH,” he said as he walked his dog Ellie.

His fiancee sat inside their car, parked near about 15 other vehicles waiting to get gas. Meanwhile, travelers began driving in the wrong lane, turning the road into a single-direction artery going south.

Darshani Bruite has lived in a house off Pacific Coast Highway near Kanan Dume Road for 10 years. She has never seen seen anything like this so close to her home.

She was planning to evacuate and drive to Santa Monica early Friday afternoon.

“Hopefully our house will be safe, but I don’t know. I feel really sad is what I’m feeling — it’s where you live,” she said.

Pet owners walked their dogs on Zuma Beach, the winds whipping up the sand around them and fire engine sirens blaring nearby. Others had set up chairs nearby their cars, settling in for hours, waiting to be able to get home. The water was hardly visible because of the smoke that had settled on it.

The sounds of waves crashing on Zuma Beach provided a calming soundtrack to the chaos brewing around.

When Talley Hutcherson got the evacuation order to leave her Old Agoura home earlier that morning, she didn’t have enough time to properly transport her horses.

“There was just no time to do anything,” said Hutcherson, 57, the owner of Connemara Ranch. “Within hours we had to make the decision to come to the beach because the PCH was shut down.”

She brought four of her horses down to the beach then drove to a second location to gather six more. She abandoned her car there and rode the horses to the beach with the help of a friend. Then she returned to retrieve her car as flames danced 100 yards away.

“This is the definitely the worst fire I’ve been through, and I’ve lived here almost 40 years,” she said. “It was pretty intense.”


4:15 p.m.: This article was updated with more details from Zuma Beach.

2:30 p.m.: This article was updated with details from the scene at Zuma Beach.

2 p.m.: This article was updated with information from more residents.

1:30 p.m.: This article was updated with new details about evacuations.

This article was originally published at 11:10 a.m.