On Tuesday morning, Mikke Pierson drove his Subaru Outback in a slow route around Malibu, scanning houses. Stopping periodically, Pierson would scratch a note in a small notebook scrawled with page after page of addresses he had noted down over the first few days since the Woolsey Fire began. Since the flames subsided, Pierson has taken charge of the monumental task of notifying homeowners that their houses were destroyed.
The somber mood stood in stark contrast to last Tuesday night—Nov. 6—when Pierson, a lifelong resident of Malibu West, stayed up waiting for election results to roll in. By Wednesday, it was clear Pierson had earned enough votes to secure a seat on the Malibu City Council, but his celebration didn’t last long.
Just one day later, the Woolsey Fire was tearing its way through Ventura County and threatening to make the “jump” over the Ventura (101) Freeway and into Malibu. It did, around 5 a.m. Friday, and by the time flames reached Pierson’s neighborhood later that morning, he and a handful of his neighbors were ready.
Pierson, his 23-year-old son Emmet, and four to five other neighbors defied evacuation orders and stayed to battle the flames, using mostly the neighborhood’s garden hoses. Some houses were lost, but many more were saved.
As news of Pierson’s heroics spread throughout the week, including a much-shared profile published in the LA Daily News, Pierson spent most of his days outside of cell service, doing perhaps the most unpleasant job in Malibu: informing residents their homes were destroyed.
By Wednesday, Nov. 14, most of the homes were accounted for. Pierson invited The Malibu Times to ride along with him as he checked a couple more addresses and worked on one of his newest tasks: caring for Malibu’s chickens.
“I got contacted by a couple of people, actually, to go help with some chickens—a couple of hundred chickens,” Pierson described. The chickens, about 200 on one farm, were ‘extremely thirsty,’ the first time they were visited, which was a couple of days after the fire came through.
“I got to the chickens a couple of days ago and [the owners were] worried they were not hungry, but thirsty, and that was exactly true,” he recalled. “They were extremely thirsty. Boy, were they happy to see us. I mean, they came running to see us, they were so excited.”
Pulling up to the property Wednesday, hundreds of chickens swarmed Pierson’s car, squawking excitedly as he gathered up buckets and began the laborious task of refilling water troughs. All the while, Pierson coo’ed to the birds and reassured them help was on the way. The fire had come all the way up to one of the coops, melting the plastic tarp on top of it and singing the hillside right up to the fence around the enclosure—but no birds had been injured or killed.
That afternoon, Pierson added another coop to his list, this one housing just four birds. With no cell service, it took about 30 minutes of searching to find the coop, in the backyard of a house above PCH.
“I went to another house today ... it took us a while to find it, and those chickens were in much better shape; they were clearly hungry, clearly needed water,” he said. “Water is a big thing for chickens.”
The tougher task has been informing evacuated homeowners their houses were lost in the Woolsey Fire.
“Since the firefighting calmed down, I put a message out on social media, [saying] if people wanted to know about their houses, let me know, which led to hundreds of people wanting to know,” Pierson described. “I started going out into the community and looking, for myself. And, at that point, taking pictures of their house so they would know, because, I thought, psychologically, seeing it is really helpful, so you don’t have this vision that maybe it’s sort of half there, when it turns out that it’s not.”
“I teamed up with Laura Rosenthal, so we did all of Malibu Park together—that was a very big day. That was, you know, 181 homes,” he said. Pierson said he started off meticulously, going street-by-street, from as far as Sycamore Park and Via Escondido down to past Trancas, hitting almost every street.
“It’s not meant to be scientific, you know, it’s sometimes really hard to tell,” the council member-elect said. “Some addresses you can’t figure out. Sometimes, I’d write the first two numbers and guess on the last two.”
Pierson said he estimated he informed about 125 people that their homes had been lost.
“Every single person I let know—my estimate is about 125 people I let know—seemed very grateful to just have—to be able to move forward, be able to take the next step, even though it’s hard,” Pierson said. “And, of course the people whose homes didn’t burn down were ecstatic—ecstatic, but still sad for everybody else.”
As for the week ahead, Pierson has added daily chicken duties to his list of tasks—along with cleaning up his house in preparation for his family to return once evacuation orders are lifted.
Pierson’s wife, Maggie, has been helping organize contributions of clothing out of Venice, and Pierson suggested those who were evacuated and not able to reenter the city, but who wanted to help, could look for ways to begin the process of providing for neighbors who lost it all.
“My wife Maggie is a great example. She’s been working really hard to get people clothing, and some people, really good friends of ours, just have nothing. They have zero,” Pierson said, later adding, “They’ve been giving clothing away for a couple of days now, but she said the response is huge. They didn’t have anything, especially kids and teenagers. So, to get clothing from some really great companies and have something that—it made people really happy. She said she saw a lot of tears. And things will eventually get moving in the right direction.”