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LETTER: A History of Malibu Fires

A list of Malibu wildfires through the years from 1929 through 2007.

As a resident of Malibu since 1969, I have been a witness to many of the events listed below. I find it difficult to imagine that anyone on the board of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy have any boots on the ground experience in confronting a raging Malibu wildfire. 

Perhaps someone has posted this data before. Regardless, these facts cannot be underscored enough. In building a case against overnight camping in Corral Canyon, the history of devastating wildfires in the Santa Monica Mountains speaks louder than any online petition.

Malibu wildfires through the years:

  • October 26, 1929 – Malibu Colony, 13 destroyed.
  • 1930 – "Potrero," Decker Canyon Road Corridor, 15,000 acres, accidental blaze caused by walnut pickers in Thousand Oaks area.
  • October 23, 1935 – "Malibu" or "Latigo/Sherwood," Kanan/Decker Corridor, 30,000 acres 
  • November 23, 1938 – "Topanga," Topanga Canyon, 14,500 acres 
  • October 20, 1943 – "Las Flores," Malibu Canyon, 5,800 acres
  • November 6, 1943 – "Woodland Hills (Las Virgenes)," Kanan/Decker Corridor, 15,000 acres
  • December 26, 1956 – "Newton," Kanan/Decker Corridor, 26,000 acres, 100 homes, one death, Frank Dickover.
  • December 2, 1958 – "Liberty," Malibu Canyon, 18,000 acres, eight firefighters injured, 74 homes destroyed (17 in Corral Canyon).
  • November 6, 1961 – "Topanga," Topanga Canyon, 8,000 acres
  • September 25, 1970 – "Wright," Malibu Canyon, 28,000 acres, 10 deaths, 403 homes destroyed.
  • October 30, 1973 – "Topanga," Topanga Canyon, 2,800 acres.
  • October 23, 1978 – "Kanan," Kanan/Decker Corridor, 25,000 acres, 2 deaths, 230 homes
  • October 9, 1982 – "Dayton," Malibu Canyon Corridor, 44,000 acres, 15 homes in Paradise Cove destroyed.
  • October 14, 1985 – "Piuma," Las Flores area, Topanga Canyon, 4,700 acres).
  • October 14, 1985 – "Decker," Kanan/Decker Corridor, 6,600 acres. Both arson-caused; six homes destroyed; $1 million damage. 
  • November 2, 1993 – "Old Topanga / North Malibu." In 1993, from November 2 to 11, Malibu experienced one of the largest fires in its history, which burned more than 16,516 acres. Three lives were lost and 739 homes destroyed in the central Malibu/Old Topanga blaze. 
  • October 28, 1996 – "Calabasas," Malibu Canyon Corridor, Brush fire ignited by arcing power line, 13,000 acres; 10 houses destroyed.
  • January 6, 2003 – "Trancas", Trancas Canyon, 759 acres.
  • January 8, 2007 – Bluffs Park in Malibu. The fire hit near the Colony area, burning down four houses on Malibu Road. Officials announced that a discarded cigarette stub started the blaze.
  • October 21, 2007 –  Five homes destroyed, nine others damaged. Two commercial structures completely destroyed. Castle Kashan and the Malibu Presbyterian Church - both destroyed.
  • November 24, 2007 – "Corral." On November 24, 2007, the Corral Fire destroyed 53 homes, damaged 35, and burned over 4,720 acres (19.1 km2), forcing as many as 14,000 people to evacuate. Damages from the fire were expected to reach more than $100 million. The blaze originated at the top of Corral Canyon, where a group of young people who were in closed parkland after dusk had started a bonfire despite the presence of high Santa Ana winds.

Emilio Estevez, Malibu

Patch accepts and publishes letters to the editor and commentary regarding any relevant local issue. The views expressed in the above commentary do not reflect the opinion of the publication, its editor and/or its writers. Emails may be edited for length and clarity. Have an opinion? Write to the editor of your Patch site at malibu@patch.com.

William Brown January 20, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Actually, there is one fire event that I know of that is missing from Emilio's list. And it speaks volumes about the idea of building camp sites in Corral Canyon. Unfortunately I can not recall the date, but there was a large secret pot farm operating above the Malibu Bowl section of Corral Canyon and the people tending the farm started a fire when they fell asleep and left a propane stove unattended. It took fire crews hours to cut a road down to the area to gain access and the fire was quite large by the time they contained it. Luckily, there was not a breath of wind blowing that night so the fire was extinguished fairly quickly. IF there were Santa Ana winds blowing that night (the fire broke out at approximately 3am) I believe the fire would have rivaled the firestorm in 2007 when we lost 53 homes. Can anyone put an exact date on this event??? William Brown
Susan Tellem January 20, 2013 at 11:50 PM
@William Brown - I remember that fire as well, part of Joe's lack of maintenance allowing illegal pot farms to grow in the land he owns because he does not have enough staff to supervise. Perhaps the fire department can give you a date on that.
M Stanley January 20, 2013 at 11:59 PM
Great point to bring up the lack of supervision and enforcement re illegal MJ grows in Edmiston's lands! When Joe doesn't do the required fire protection work to protect the public lands and a fire does start, then Joe benefits from more public funds sent out to protect those very lands he deems not worthy of his own fire protection measures. The same can be said for the multitude of illegal MJ grows as he employs armed ranger patrols that never seem to find these things although reports put the farms in the same regions as previous "farms" that were earlier busted. They know the areas that these criminals use yet they once again turn to outside law enforcement to do a more costly and people consuming work effort rather than rangers finding these farms on routine patrols - to KNOWN AREAS OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES. Those farms wreck serious environmental damages that is also not held against the SMMC although they really should get the bills for all the labor and cleanup costs. Blue water streams often diverted and toxic chemicals dumped right into the waterways that then end up at the ocean's shore and giving bad water quality testing measurements. Joe's got to be held to the fire rather than allowed to make fires. Why give him anything when he clearly cannot manage, maintain or support the lands he already holds title to!!!
Cece Stein January 21, 2013 at 12:30 AM
Yes William, it was a still warm night in October 2001 not long after the terrorist attacks of 911. Everybody had there windows open and at about 2 am many smelled smoke so they called 911. The fire fighting units showed up but no one knew where the fire was for about 20 minutes even though a thick layer of smoke was visible by moonlight. Steve Woods and retired fire Capt. Neil Petzing drove all around searching for the source. Steve drove up past the residential houses and spotted a fire deep down in the canyon and reported the location to the fireman who were searching the winding little residential streets below. You are right, had there been the typical Santa Ana Winds that night it would have been a disaster. The Green Harvest helicopters did extensive aerial surveillance for growers every year but failed to see the pot farm deep in the 35 year old scrub. There was also another fire at the top of our canyon a few years later when a stolen vehicle was abandoned and torched causing about 12 acres to burn. There was a mild off shore wind that night but the hand crews got a line around it really fast. Shew ! John Shafai who has commented on Patch is a fairly new resident here and we are lucky to have him as part of the LA County recognized fireman. To have to earn a living and go through the extensive training programs is no easy feat. We can sleep better at night because of our volunteer firemen. Steve also has keys to work the foam pumping truck parked up here.
J. Flo January 21, 2013 at 01:27 AM
There have been quadruple the number of fires as on Emilio's list! Small, medium - luckily put out. God Bless our fire department!

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