The Fire First Broke Out Monday Morning on Palisades Drive
By CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA and SARAH SHMERLING
A warm, sunny day quickly darkened for residents in The Highlands and Marquez Knolls on Monday, October 21, as heavy smoke from a 42-acre brush fire burning through steep, cliff-like terrain turned the sky orange.
What was called the Palisades fire first broke out at 10:39 a.m., prompting immediate ground and air response to what the Los Angeles Fire Department reported as a “terrain-driven” brush fire.
Within the first hour of burning, the fire had grown to more than 30-plus acres, threatening several homes along Vista Grande Drive and Charmel Lane. Video footage showed civilians battling towering flames with garden hoses, and cars backing down out of driveways as they rushed away.
“This is an extremely challenging fire for hand crews,” LAFD Capt. Cody Weireter said at a media briefing Monday afternoon. “If you look at the firefighters, they’re essentially clawing their way up this hillside with rocks coming down on them.”
A mandatory evacuation order for all residents within the area bordered by Charmel Lane, Bienveneda Avenue, Lachman Lane and Merivale Lane at 12:30 p.m.—more than 200 homes—sent residents into emergency mode in a town that has been anticipating a major incident for years.
Streets became gridlocked after law enforcement officials shut down Palisades Drive, and Fire Road was used as an emergency vehicle-only street.
With nature on their side, little to no winds prevented the Palisades fire from impacting homes and spreading throughout the heavy fuels of The Highlands that have not burned since 1978.
“My wife was here with the dogs, but we got [them] out of here early—thank God—and the flames were right up to the fence just a few minutes ago,” said Palisadian Gordon Gibson, who has lived in the area for 22 years. “We’re really lucky the winds haven’t gotten out of control. We’ve had [fire] down below on Palisades Drive, but nothing at this magnitude.”
Construction workers who were trying to catch their breath on the sidewalks reported being at the scene when the flames first encroached on the homes of Charmel Lane.
“We were the ones who first started spraying water on this side,” one of the workers said in Spanish. “We were just working when someone started yelling, ‘fire, fire, fire!’ But we saved the house.”
LAFD reported two injuries were sustained: one civilian and one first responder. The first responder, reported by one media outlet to be an inmate firefighter, was also taken to a hospital after being overcome by the heat on Monday.
An evacuation center was set up at Palisades Recreation Center headed by volunteers from the Red Cross and AmeriCorps, as well as rec center staff, until the orders were lifted at around 8 p.m. on Monday evening.
“If there is a need, we’re here, that’s our job,” said Nigel Taylor, a Red Cross volunteer who also helped out at the Woolsey fire. “We are thankful everyone is engaged in brush clearance and how that’s helped the Los Angeles Fire Department.”
An LAFD spokesperson said that evacuations for wildfires are normally kept overnight, but officials felt comfortable letting residents back early.
“It shows the training with LAPD and others, and that the people there were in tune with what was happening,” the spokesperson said.
As repopulation began and residents were allowed to return up Palisades Drive with an escort, traffic remained gridlocked and community members reported drives taking as long as three hours from the Village area.
As the Post went to print on Tuesday, October 22, LAFD reported a 10% containment of the fire, as aircraft continued to drop water from the sky. By Thursday morning at 9 a.m., containment was at 55%.
On Friday morning, LAFD gave a final update, reporting that the fire was 75% contained, with 40 personnel assigned. The final update included that there was one civilian and three first responders injured.
“Firefighters will remain on scene extinguishing hot spots and ensuring wind gusts do not spread embers outside out containment lines,” LAFD said. “We would like to thank our community for their continued support during this incident.”
While the cause of the Palisades fire remains under investigation, early video from the incident shows a small spot burning on the side of Palisades Drive before exploding into the 42-acre behemoth.
This is the third brush fire to break out in The Highlands since the official start of fire season. A 2.3-acre fire burned on Tuesday, August 13, followed by a two-acre fire on Monday, September 30.
“This is not an isolated incident or threat,” Pacific Palisades Community Council shared in a statement on Tuesday. “Wildfires are a way of life in Pacific Palisades.” The council offered a “grateful thank you to all of the first responders who protected our community,” including LAFD, Los Angeles County Fire Department, LAPD, CalFire, and multiple agencies, schools and community members.
Fire officials are now on high alert with extreme fire weather forecasted to start on Thursday afternoon and into the weekend, requesting that members of the public are careful with heat, sparks and flame.
“We appreciate the community’s cooperation following directions from public safety personnel,” LAFD shared. “We respectfully request residents drive cautiously, as emergency workers and large fire equipment moves through our communities over the next few days. Please be aware of falling debris and rolling rocks from nearby hillsides.”
City News Service and Jennika Ingram contributed to this report. This story has been updated with acreage and structure damage information.