Here’s What I Saw as I Fled the Wildfire in Malibu

November 10, 2018

I can’t tell you how it started, or even where or when. I will not be the most informed person that you will find regarding the fire currently invading the city of Malibu. I can tell you, though, what it felt like trying to get out of there Friday morning, and what it looked like.

A little over three years ago, I moved into a van and started driving around the country for a project I was calling Connected States. On Thursday night, I was parked at friend’s property in southern Malibu, about a mile up a canyon.

I woke up at 8am Friday morning for a physical therapy appointment 5 miles north on the Pacific Coast Highway (aka the PCH). I realized that I didn’t have any reception, but that isn’t totally unusual for the area. The winds had been extreme all night, and I figured a tree had taken out some power-lines.

When I got down to the PCH at about 8:20am, I saw that traffic was bumper-to-bumper heading south. It’s LA, so traffic is par for the course, but this was much worse than usual.

I figured a tree must have fallen on the highway, too. I started heading north, and finally my phone got back online, and I saw a text from my mom saying, “Please tell me that you have evacuated to somewhere safe!!” That’s when I realized that something was very wrong, and it was a whole lot worse than a downed power-line.

Some of my video footage is in this video.

I called my mom back, and that’s when I heard about the fire. Suddenly, everything made sense. I promised her I’d get out as quickly as possible. I was kicking myself, though. I’d just driven five miles toward what now appeared to be a giant mushroom cloud forming over the hills, and traffic heading south was basically stopped. I had probably added three to four hours to my evacuation.

I checked Google Maps, and all of the canyon roads heading east looked to be at a standstill, or blocked off by police. I knew that I didn’t want to get stuck in one of those with flames approaching.

North still looked relatively clear, though. And if I made it as far as Oxnard (northwest of the fire) I figured from there I could cut east to highway 5 and get back to LA.

So that’s what I did.

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