Malibu Slowly Returns to the Routines of Daily Life after the Canyon Fire
• Signs of Recovery Are Evident Throughout the Community
BY HANS LAETZ
As fire investigators concentrated on the possible failure of a power line in Malibu Canyon, students returned to classes, construction crews labored to remove debris, and life in the Malibu fire area began to take on a more routine status.
Although no local loss estimate has been tallied yet, the Los Angeles County Fire Department says it took $5.8 million in public funds to extinguish last week’s fire, tentatively blamed on 100 mile-per-hour winds that snapped power poles in Malibu Canyon.
Initial official damage assessments missed some classroom damage at Our Lady of Malibu Catholic School, and two businesses closed by fire at the shopping center: the First Bank and Trust Company’s branch, and the city’s newest Starbucks outlet, both red-tagged due to roof damage.
Construction crews at the stricken Malibu Colony Shopping Center on Monday finished demolishing a clock tower and several sections of roof that roared with flame during the Oct. 21 Canyon Fire, which burned 4566 acres and destroyed 12 structures and damaged another 20 in Malibu.
School children returned to their classrooms at Webster Elementary and Our Lady of Malibu schools Monday, and found the two neighboring schools on Winter Canyon freshened up thanks to heroic volunteer efforts.
Two classrooms at the parochial school burned. A computer lab in a trailer was destroyed and the ceiling of the 7th/8th grade classroom was charred.
A large crew of demolition experts labored all week at Our Lady of Malibu to remove debris. “They have to redo the ceiling in that classroom,” said parent volunteer Scott Schoenberger. “That class will meet in the Fellowship Hall this week.”
Across the street at Webster, “we had about 30 parents put in a five-hour workday Sunday, to clean the yard up,” said Webster’s PTA president, Dorothy Reinhold. “We removed anything and everything that looked burned.”
Several truckloads of burned trees, playground equipment and a destroyed art-project shed had to be carted off. By Monday, the only sign of fire was the singed trees ringing the campus.
Parent Catie Norris had arranged for the Sylmark Corporation to donate 25 air purifiers to remove any lingering smell from the classrooms.
Other than the landscaping, only two temporary storage rooms were lost to flames at Webster. “Stunning,” was the assessment from principal Phil Cott, as he watched pupils arriving for class Monday after a week’s closure.
At City Hall, it was business as usual this week, the power back on and employees processing permit requests. The downstairs offices were being painted over the weekend the fire struck, further complicating an almost Murphy’s Law set of circumstances that included the municipal offices being surrounded by fire, blacked out, its cable TV station off the air, its cable system down for four days, and its Internet servers dead.
“I’m very, very proud of the city staff’s response” that Sunday morning, said City Councilmember Andy Stern. “(Administrative services director) Reva Feldman literally drove through flames to get to City Hall, and when she got in, it was filled with smoke.”
Mario Reyna, the city’s computer administrator, also braved surrounding flames to retrieve hard drives with vital records, Stern said. The leased building itself did not burn, although trees and brush on all four sides did.
Craig George, the city’s environmental and building safety manager, said Monday that “not one” septic or sewage system failed anywhere in Malibu due to the fire. He and other staffers are compiling a tally of damages within city limits but have not completed it yet, said city manager Jim Thorsen.
Los Angeles County Health Department officials put out a news release last week that said the fire had caused a “minor” spill of 20,000 gallons of treated sewage into the ocean at the Malibu Bay Club apartments, located near County Line.
That prompted several news agencies to mistakenly report that beaches in Malibu were polluted by sewage systems incapacitated by the fire.
Verizon crews continued Monday to repair cables in the Civic Center area that were burned, but outages were reported only in actual burn areas. The Charter Communications connection to the outside world was reconnected as promised on Wednesday, restoring phone, Internet and local television service.