Westridge Fire

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 This article is a B-class article. It is written to a good standard. This article is part of Altverse II.
Westridge Fire
Westridge fire.png
A burning hillside as the blaze approached Interprovincial 2B during the evening of August 13
Location Topanga, Westside, Porciúncula, Gold Coast
Coordinates 34°10′N 118°51′W
Statistics
Date(s) August 6, 2018 – September 19, 2018 (100% contained)
Burned area 36,403 acres (147 km2)
Cause Arson/eco-terrorism (suspected)
Buildings
destroyed
279 destroyed
452 damaged
Fatalities 7 deaths
Non-fatal injuries 38 injured
Perpetrator(s) Pat Buchanan Lisowski (suspected)
The Westridge Fire was a wildfire that burned in the Santa Monica Mountains near the Westside of Porciúncula. It was one of multiple wildfires that broke out across the country during the summer of 2018. The blaze grew to over 36,403 (147 km2), and residents in Bel Air, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Topanga, Los Encinos, and Tarzana were evacuated during the course of the fire. The fire was fully contained on September 19, 2018 after it had threatened over two million residents living in the area during the entire length of its course. The Gold Coast Department of Forestry and Fire Protection led containment efforts, while the City and County of Porciúncula was under an official state of emergency during most of the duration of the fire. After the fire destroyed several buildings on August 7, it was upgraded to a national emergency on August 8, before it was declared over a month later on September 10.

The fire began on August 6, 2018 at around 2:34 PM, in the vicinity of the Westridge–Canyonback Wilderness Park, amid a heatwave that produced record-breaking temperature highs throughout the country. It has forced the closure of several freeways, including portions of Interprovincial 2B, one of the busiest freeways in Sierra. Classes have been cancelled at Mulholland University, the University of Sierra, Porciúncula, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and various other schools.

On August 9, the Gold Coast Provincial Fire Marshal declared that the fire may had been a case of arson, and that it could be linked to eco-terrorism, although no group claimed responsibility for the fire at the time. The fire burned down 279 buildings, damaged an additional 452 buildings, injured 38 people, and killed 3 firefighters and 4 civilians. Pat Buchanan Lisowski, the suspected arsonist, was arrested and detained at the Porciúncula county jail in Santa Monica, and is currently undergoing psychological review amid suspended legal proceedings. Lisowski currently denies any involvement with the fire.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Smoke coming from the Westridge fire as the fire approached Gold Coast Route 41

The Westridge Fire was initially reported at around 2:34 PM PDT on Monday August 6, 2018, in Westridge–Canyonback Wilderness Park (after which the fire was named), a provincial park, just a mile and a half west from the Von Holt Country Club and south of Mulholland University. During that time of the day, the city of Porciúncula was experiencing record highs of 108 degrees Fahrenheit for early August, while the entire Southwest Corridor had its second heatwave in 2018. Soon after the initial fire began, a second one was ignited 15 minutes later about 1.3 miles southeast of the first fire near Mandeville Canyon and the Getty Center. The area had not burned since 1970 and therefore contained extensive old growth vegetation that was ideal for large, uncontrollable wildfires. The separate fires eventually converged after 4 PM and grew in rapid size overnight due to strong gusts of southerly winds. The sudden expansion of the fire and its proximity to high-density neighborhoods and major points of interest alarmed local firefighters. Voluntary evacuations were called for residents living close to the fire including those in Bel Air. During the early morning of August 7, the evacuation order became mandatory for the neighborhoods of Bel Air and Brentwood as the fire approached dangerously close to residential structures. Much of the water used to combat the flames were drawn from Stone Canyon Reservoir and Los Encinos Reservoir.

Tuesday morning, on August 7, over 1,500 firefighters participated in fighting the blaze, with no containment. The Gold Coast Fire Marshal and Porciúncula Fire Chief stated it was the firefighters' number one priority to divert the fires away from manmade structures, especially residential units, but emphasized that the particular circumstances, weather conditions, and rate of the growth of the fire made it difficult to combat. The first residential homes in Bel Air were engulfed on fire at around 10:11 PM PDT, despite concentrated efforts to prevent its advancement into the high-income neighborhood. Fixed-wing aircraft were ordered to spray Phos-Chek over threatened homes and buildings, while any residents who remained within the evacuation zone were ordered to leave immediately. By the late evening, the fire had completely consumed 12 homes and damaged 11 others, costing over $17 million in property loss and damage. Meanwhile, the fire approached within several hundred meters of Mulholland University campus grounds, as scores of firefighters dug trenches and cleared vegetation to prevent the fire from reaching university grounds. That evening, Governor Martin Louis King, Jr. declared a state of emergency in the City and County of Porciúncula and urged citizens to limit outdoor activity due to extremely poor air quality caused directly by the fire.

Firefighting efforts were stalled during much of the daytime hours of August 8 due to the fire's erratic behavior and dry conditions. Winds arriving from the northwest fanned the flames away Mulholland University and deeper into Bel Air. The first buildings were burned in Brentwood and parts of the flame approached Pacific Palisades at around 2:35 PM PDT. Red flag warnings and heat advisories were issued in the region and the wildfire was upgraded to a national emergency by executive order of Prime Minister Nemesis Heartwell. Overnight, the fire continued to grow in size, and posed a serious challenge as it continued burning through residential areas, despite rigorous firefighting efforts. The first injuries related directly to the fire were reported, including a collision accident between a firetruck and pickup truck from two different departments.

On August 9, firefighters remained focused on constructing containment lines to ensure fires would not breach higher-density neighborhood areas or damage important infrastructure such as cell towers and communication towers. More evacuations in several neighborhoods were ordered as the fire danger level was placed at "extreme". Fire-related activities including open-grill barbecues, fire pits, and campfires were to be prohibited and any sight of new fires were to be reported immediately to the fire authorities. Overnight, the fire slowed down in growth, allowing firefighters to follow through containment procedures.

On the morning of August 10, winds picked up again, and the fire doubled in size, though much of the new development scorched through uninhabited chaparral lands west of the initial burn point. Eyewitness accounts reported seeing fire whirls developing within the fire and local meteorologists believed the wildfire had grown to a size and intensity sufficient enough to create its own local microclimate that caused internal winds that fed the growth of the flames. By nightfall, the fire had grown to nearly 9,000 acres (36 km2).

While firefighters increased the percentage of containment to 9% on August 11, the fire grew more than 4,000 additional acres of land as its western boundaries extended westward towards Topanga. While firefighters were able to halt further encroachment of residential neighborhoods in Bel Air, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades, the fire made significant gains on its westward growth, threatening several communities near Topanga Provincial Park and Mulholland Gateway Park. Mandatory evacuations for the communities of Topanga, Topanga Oaks, and Sylvia Park were issued as the flames were picked up with downhill winds as nighttime fell.

On August 12, the fire reached the community of Topanga Oaks and several residential structures were engulfed in the flames. Further north, homes in southern Tarzana were also assailed by flames, resulting in over 50 structures burning, making it one of the most destructive days of Sierra's wildfire season that year. The sudden and utter loss of these homes led to intensified, concentrated efforts at protecting communities now threatened on the northern and western bounds of the fire, as more firefighters throughout the country and CAS were requested. Local firefighting forces were taxed in their efforts to contain the fire, as the situation continued to worsen. By the end of the night, the flames had grown to well over 24,300 acres, as the fire entered the community of Topanga.

On August 13, the fire reached the hillside adjacent to the southbound lanes of Interprovincial 2B and threatened hundreds of motorists driving during peak rush hour at 5 PM PDT. Shortly after 8 PM, the Gold Coast Department of Transportation and Gold Coast Highway Patrol ordered closures for both directions on the interprovincial between Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive. Two hours after all traffic was redirected from the closure site, the flames from the fire jumped across the highway and scorched several buildings and vegetation next to the road, prompting more mandatory evacuations in the area. Several street roads and facilities such as the Getty Center were closed as a result of the ongoing fires.

On August 14, containment was increased to only 19% as unfavorable weather conditions continued to promote fire growth and sustainability. Dozens of buildings were destroyed in Topanga as it crept westward and the first homes in Pacific Palisades were also caught on fire. The Gold Coast Fire Marshal described the fires as "exceptionally challenging" and empathized with the victims of the fire whose homes and businesses were destroyed, decrying the alleged arsonist Lisowski as a "monster". The size and intensity of the fire worsened microclimatic conditions and air quality continued to be very poor for much of the Southwest Corridor. Photographs showing Downtown Porciúncula including Parliament Building and the Occidental Palace covered in ash and soot garnered international attention to the severity of wildfire season in Sierra.

By August 15, the rate in growth of the fire had slowed down significantly, as it grew by only about two thousand square acres as firefighters shifted strategies towards focusing on protecting more easily defendable areas. Weather forecast also proved promising as lower temperatures and higher humidity from nearby monsoonal flows helped bring conditions down to more favorable firefighting conditions. Containment increased by 24%, increasing the size of the fire to 30,300 square acres.

Impact[edit | edit source]

Evacuation areas[edit | edit source]

The following areas and neighborhoods were under mandatory evacuations during the fire's course:

The following areas and neighborhoods were under voluntary evacuations during the fire's course:

Investigation[edit | edit source]

Suspect[edit | edit source]

Pat Buchanan Lisowski

Soon after the fire started, investigations on the cause of the fire were undertaken by the local authorities. An anonymous tip led authorities to Pat Buchanan Lisowski, a Providencia resident whom neighbors alleged displayed "erratic, paranoid behavior" and espoused extremist views on environmentalism. Eyewitnesses claimed they had seen Lisowski trekked along the trails near the initial blaze starting point, and wore heavy clothing, which was highly unusual given the record breaking temperature highs on the day of the fire's beginning.

Lisowski was arrested on August 10 and booked into the Porciúncula County Sheriff's Department's Men's Central Jail under suspicion of two counts of felony arson, one count of felony threat to terrorize, and one count of misdemeanor resisting arrest. Prior to his arrest, Lisowski appeared on local television news the day prior where he told an interviewer he knew nothing about the fire and that he was being "gangstalked" by government informants from Snrith Gulch. On Lisowski's social media accounts, authorities found numerous of posts and images Lisowski shared that touted his firm beliefs in veganism and animal rights. Several posts just weeks before the fire contained Lisowski's criticisms of Sierra's environmental policy, claiming that "it was not enough" and accused the Heartwell Government of being "climate change denialists". He also shared memes that portrayed the actions of the Earth Liberation Front and similar organizations in a positive light. A post made on August 7 through Lisowski's Reddit account stated "it's about damn time someone decided to do something big again to get people to care about our environment...I might burn some things to get the message across". Such evidence led authorities to investigate the possibility of treating the wildfire as a case of eco-terrorism rather than a simple arson. Currently, no groups have claimed responsibility for the wildfire, leading police to believe Lisoswki may have acted alone as a lone wolf.

Lisowki denied any involvement with the fire and claims he was at home when the fire had initially happened. He made his first appearance before the court on August 12, 2018, and refused to face the judge during most of the hearing. On August 18, the judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Lisowski and suspended criminal proceedings against the suspect after the judge questioned the suspect's mental competency due to his unusual behavior in court and his online activity. He is currently held in lieu of $1 million bail.

Response[edit | edit source]

The proximity of the fire to the capital city of Porciúncula and various important buildings and freeways garnered national attention. When the air quality was particularly bad, city health department officials gave out free masks to people in order to cope with the ash and smoke. Parliamentary activities and other government operations proceeded as normal, as the fire was still too far from the National Mall area, although various politicians transmitted their gratitude, thoughts, and prayers with the firefighters on scene battling against the flames.

Due to mutual aid agreements between Sierra and a number of CAS member states, including Rainier, Brazoria, and the United Commonwealth, 60 of the 1,500 foreign firefighters invited to fight Sierra's wildfires across the nation were assigned to the Westridge Fire in order to assist in firefighting operations. Several dozens of firefighters representing fire departments from other provinces including Clark and Maricopa were also requested to combat the Westridge Fire.

Fire growth and containment progress[edit | edit source]

Fire containment status
Gray: contained; Red: active; %: percent contained;
Date Area burned
acres (hectares)
Containment
Aug 7 532 (215)
0%
Aug 8 1,484 (601)
0%
Aug 9 4,391 (1,777)
7%
Aug 10 8,557 (3,463)
4%
Aug 11 12,608 (5,102)
9%
Aug 12 16,125 (6,526)
11%
Aug 13 24,394 (9,872)
17%
Aug 14 28,717 (11,621)
19%
Aug 15 30,300 (12,262)
24%

See also[edit | edit source]