Firefighters battled through the night into Saturday morning to save communities from the raging Woolsey fire in Southern California, which has killed two people, grown to cover 70,000 acres, destroyed scores of homes and forced 250,000 people to leave their homes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The fire spread in several directions, burning homes in Malibu, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks while threatening parts of Simi Valley, West Hills and numerous Ventura County communities. The fire doubled in size since Friday afternoon.
Firefighters staged a furious battle overnight to save Pepperdine University in Malibu. The attack by air and ground resources appears to have prevented any major losses, though some outbuildings may have been damaged, the university said. It was a tense night, with those on campus taking refuge in several buildings as the firefight unfolded.
The news was grimmer elsewhere in Malibu, where two people died Friday as the fire invaded picturesque canyons, swallowing house after house. It reached the Pacific Ocean in several places, destroying a yet-uncounted number of beach homes.
Investigators were unable to reach the area until Saturday morning.
The destruction was also widespread in Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village, where condo complexes and homes burned as the fire hopscotched across canyons and hillsides. Landmarks were obliterated, including Western Town at Paramount Ranch, whose sets were the backdrop for “Westworld” and other productions.
Officials said they had been unable to tally the number of homes lost.
The Woolsey fire was fueled by intense winds that weakened Saturday morning. But the Santa Ana winds are forecast to return Sunday.
At times Friday, heavy smoke and wind gusts as high as 50 mph grounded the helicopters and tankers that had been sent to drop water and retardant on the fire.
The Woolsey fire and the nearby Hill fire, which burned about 6,000 acres in the Santa Rosa Valley area, prompted Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency on behalf of Gov. Jerry Brown, who was traveling out of state.
Newsom also sent a request to federal officials and President Donald Trump for assistance to support communities affected by the fire.
Trump approved a state-of-emergency declaration but again attacked California, Saturday, claiming erroneously that poor forest management policies caused the fires, even though the Woolsey fire didn’t occur in a forest.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” Trump wrote.
The Woolsey fire started near Simi Valley in a hillside area next to the old Santa Susanna Field Lab and quickly spread to nearby suburban communities.
Trump has threatened to cut off funding over fire policy before, but has never been specific. California officials have rejected his criticism and said he’s playing politics.
Environmentalists believe Trump is trying to use fire prevention as an excuse to raid California’s forests.
They contend he is making a move to open ecologically sensitive public land for timber production, as well as for potential solar, wind, broadband infrastructure, mining, off-road vehicles and grazing uses.
Trump’s comments come during a week in which fires wrought destruction up and down the state, with more than 6,000 structures lost and at least nine dead in Paradise north of San Francisco and massive losses in Southern California.