Malibu Fires


Human beings are able to adapt to almost any environment, unfortunately
sometimes we take advantage of our natural surroundings. We find ourselves
amidst a struggle between our lifestyles and nature. Although we affect nature
profoundly with our activities, we in turn are shaped by nature's potent forces.
Nature can be brutal to humans, but we must remember that it merely is following
its course. As a result, we must learn to coexist with it. Fire is a naturally
occurring phenomenon which humans have learned to deal with throughout history.
Yet when fire burns uncontrollably, there is great potential for monumental
damage to all surrounding biomass. The Malibu wildfires are an example of one
such instance.
Historically, wildfires had been left to burn uncontrolled for weeks.
Fires were caused by different sources such as lightning or human hunters who
wanted to chase animals out of the woods. As prolonged as these fires were,
they had limited catastrophic effects on the nomadic humans. This is due to the
low population density and the fact that the fires were not very intense. As
people began to change from a hunting-gathering society to agriculturists, they
settled in communities. Homes built among the wild brush were perfect prey to
wildfires. Initially, wildfires were put out immediately and people were barred
from setting fires in open spaces. Due to the policy of fire suppression, only
one percent of all wildfires escaped early control. The land was safe from
fires temporarily, but this set the stage for catastrophe as the brush grew more
dense.
There have been more than 20 catastrophic wildfires in Los Angeles
County since the beginning of organized fire protection. The first "big one"
happened in December of 1927. The fire started in the La Crescenta Valley,
climbed over the Verdugo Mountain range and destroyed more than 100 homes.
In addition to the damage caused in 1927, fires have profoundly affected
the Southern California environment. Almost every square mile of chaparral land
in Los Angeles county has been burned at least once, since 1919. There are
basically two large fire breeding grounds in Los Angeles county: the San
Gabriel Mountain range and the Santa Monica Mountains. In 1993, the Kinneloa
Fire in Altadena caused a great amount of damage to the surrounding area and
destroyed 121 homes in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. It was the
most devastating fire in the area, surpassing the previous worst fire in 1980
that burned 55 homes at the mouth of the San Gabriel Canyon. The total damage
caused by wildfires in the San Gabriel Mountains within the past 60 years
amounted to the loss of 332 homes.
Statistically, Malibu and its surrounding area has seen much damage done
to its vegetation and inhabitants. There have been 24 wildfires that burned a
total of 271,047 acres since 1927. These fires have caused a total of five
deaths and the destruction of 1,502 homes along with 830 other structures.
Recent fires include the Malibu fire in 1985, Dayton Fire in 1982 and Malibu
Canyon fire in 1970. In the Malibu Fire, 103 homes were destroyed; in the
Dayton Fire, 85 homes were destroyed. The Malibu Canyon Fire, which joined
forces with the New Hall Fire on September 25, 1970, destroyed a total of 135
homes and burned through a total of 85,000 acres (Wildfire sec. 2 p.1). Out of
all the homes burned, 70 were located in Malibu and 65 in Chatsworth (Wildfire
sec. 2 p.1). Previous to that fire, the last time Topanga Canyon had seen a
damaging fire was December 30, 1956, when 74 homes were destroyed (Wildfire sec.
3 p.1). Another painful memory for Topanga Canyon occurred between 1938 and
1943, during which time three fires destroyed more than 600 structures.
1993 featured one of Malibu's most devastating firestorms. When
traveling through Malibu's scenic landscape, it is almost impossible to imagine
that this beautiful environment could foster such a deadly fire. Lovely ocean-
view homes are nestled within the lush vegetation of the mountainous landscape.
In fact, it was Malibu's beauty that originally lured people to settle there.
Unfortunately, Malibu has the ultimate combination of climate condition, wind
pattern, and lust biomass for wildfires. During the 1993 fires, biomass growing
in the Malibu hills acted as fuel, as did the homes that stood nearby. Some long
time residents of Malibu have lost not one but two or even three homes.
Like deciduous forests that have adequate moisture levels and cool
climates, Malibu is very rich in vegetation. However, Malibu experiences a
natural phenomenon unknown to deciduous forests: during the fall and