I just finished reading “Malibu Burning” by Robert Kerbeck, and what a compelling read it is. Having lost my home to the Woosley fire, I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about the devastating fire, but as usual, I was wrong.
Kerbeck interviewed hundreds of people before putting together what is clearly an extremely informative and well written book.
Obviously the people who were interviewed have different perspectives and opinions on what happened, but some facts appear indisputable. Firefighters assigned to Malibu were ordered to stand down when it came to protecting houses so they could be available to save lives. In many instances, they declined to protect property even though they could have saved many homes. Out-of-town firefighters seemed unfamiliar with our roads and refused to go up canyon roads for fear of not being able to turn around.
A few weeks following the fire, the LA County Fire Chief said at a public hearing in Malibu that he was unaware of the order to stand down and had not heard that many of his firefighters declined to help our citizens protect their homes.
What struck me most about the book is how many Malibuites refused to follow the order for mandatory evacuation. Hundreds of people stayed behind not only to save their own homes, but also to help save people, animals, and other people’s property. Were it not for these heroes, most certainly a great many other structures would have been lost.
What do these stories portend for the future? The LA County Fire Department has not yet announced a change in their future plans to fight a massive fire in Malibu. Given no assurance that firefighters will protect our property going forward, it is safe to assume that many more people next time will refuse to follow the order for mandatory evacuation, and the result could well be a significant loss of life.