Freeway reopens just as thousands of residents are told to return homeFree Access

Locals begin to survey the damage from devastating fire


A view of the devastation at Seminole Springs, a mobile home community southwest of Agoura Hills in unincorporated Los Angeles County. At least 80 homes have been destroyed at the park off Mulholland Highway. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

Thousands of Conejo Valley families were told they could return to their homes this evening, and the 101 Freeway reopened in both directions between Calabasas and Agoura Hills, two signs that the worst of the devastating Woolsey fire could be over.

Still, the fire threat remains, evidenced by the areas that remain under mandatory evacuation, including all of Calabasas, Lake Sherwood, Hidden Valley and parts of Agoura Hills and Westlake Village south of the 101. A red-flag warning is in effect through Tuesday and all public schools in the Conejo have announced they will remain closed until at least Tuesday.

As of 10:50 p.m., the vast majority of mandatory evacuations affecting Thousand Oaks, some which had been in place for over two days, had been lifted. Only residents living in a small section of T.O. east of Westlake Boulevard, south of the 101 near Westlake Lake were still advised to stay away.

At a 4:30 p.m. press conference Nov. 11, officials detailed what had been a largely successful day for firefighters. Even with winds reaching in upwards of 30 mph, personnel battling the now 83,000-acre blaze in Ventura and L.A. counties benefited from preparations made the night before. By day’s end, the Woolsey fire was listed as 15 percent contained.

“Today we’ve had some huge successes,” said Chief Daryl Osby of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “We had significant flare-ups in Bell Canyon. That was concerning to us because if that got out of Bell Canyon it could wrap around to the south side and come in behind Topanga Canyon and maybe the Pacific Palisades, but we were able to keep that pipe buttoned up. It was outstanding work by the Los Angeles city Fire Department.”

Firefighters are focusing on containing the flames in the coming days, which are expected to be just as windy.

Damage assessment teams report that 177 structures have been lost, a figure that’s expected to grow significantly; as many as 80 mobiles homes were lost in a single mobile home park south of Agoura Hills, Seminole Springs.

Despite comments made in the morning that the 101 Freeway would be open by “midday,” the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans waited until late this evening to lift roadblocks between Agoura Hills and Calabasas, allowing thousands of families to return to their homes.

Capt. Tony Imbrenda of the LA County Fire Department said he was confident their decision to keep the freeway closed was well thought out.

“Fire activity was very intense on both sides of the freeway, there was still a lot of active firefighting going on, there are power lines down all over the region. It’s a very hazardous piece of road,” Imbrenda said this afternoon. “Any notion that CHP is closing that road down without a lot of thought behind it, trust me, there’s a lot of hazards out there. I went down it and when I got about halfway down it I started to regret my decision. I’m not in a fire engine but I started to feel like I was in a bad spot.”

To reassure residents who had been away from their homes, some for over 48 hours, that their belongings were being protected, Cmdr. Scott Gage of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Sheriff Jim McDonnell has ordered the department to begin working 12-hour shifts, so that 500 deputies could patrol evacuated areas around the clock for looters.

Three such looters had been arrested in Thousand Oaks between Friday and Saturday, police said.

To see check the status on all mandatory evacuations orders, go to vcemergency.com.