Brush Fires

What is a wildfire/brush fire?

When dry brush ignites, flames can spread quickly to surrounding dry vegetation, buildings, and infrastructure creating a wildfire. If left unchecked, these fires can burn for days, weeks, or even months. When a wildfire threatens property, California firefighters respond prioritizing the life safety of citizens before focusing on property protection.

Why do some wildfires grow so large? 

The weather has a significant impact on how quickly a wildfire can spread. In California’s hot dry summer months, vegetation loses moisture, allowing it to catch fire more easily. When paired with Santa Ana winds, which blow from the northeast at more than 25 MPH, a fire can grow rapidly. Historically, fires that have impacted Pepperdine’s campuses have occurred on hot, windy days, typically marked by Red Flag Warnings, which is why the University takes special precautions on these days..

What are Red Flag Warnings and how do they impact wildfire risk?

Red Flag Warnings issued by the National Weather Service identify time periods when conditions are ideal for wildfires, typically with higher winds and lower humidities. During Red Flag warnings it is especially important to:

  • Report any signs of smoke immediately to emergency responders. If on the Malibu campus, call Public Safety at 310.506.4441. At all other locations report smoke by calling 911.
  • Use caution when disposing of cigarettes and ensure that they are completely extinguished.
  • Minimize any use of open flame in outdoor settings.
  • Consider taking down umbrellas and moving patio furniture inside.

During Red Flag conditions, Southern California Edison (SCE) may issue a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), a preemptive deenergization of electrical circuits in an attempt to prevent power lines from starting a potential wildfire. This may result in the loss of power for a Pepperdine campus. While SCE has promised to advise the community in advance, and University officials are in regular communication with SCE representatives, the community should nevertheless be prepared for the possibility of a PSPS. 

Can wildfires impact Pepperdine’s campuses even if their flames are not visible from campus?

Yes, there are times wildfires burning in the region may impact traffic flow to Pepperdine campuses due to road closures. Pepperdine community members can call the University’s Road Conditions Hotline at 310.506.ROAD (7623) for Malibu campus road conditions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Additionally, smoke and debris from the fire may impact air quality in the area close to the fire and, depending on weather conditions, could impact air quality throughout Los Angeles County. The University’s EOC closely monitors the air quality at University campuses and takes proactive steps to advise the community, accordingly. These steps could include encouraging the campus community to refrain from strenuous exercise, remain indoors, or even issuing N95 masks to the community to filter particulate matter from the air.  

Pepperdine’s Own Wildfire Fighting Resources

University Public Safety officers are cross trained to handle brush fires and utilize the University’s two fire trucks. Trucks are equipped with water tanks, pumps, and hoses to disperse water onto a fire or foam as a preventative measure onto campus buildings. Additionally, crews use hand tools to clear vegetation and create fire breaks.

Pepperdine’s Partnership with Local First Responders

Pepperdine officials prioritize developing good working relationships with local first responders, government officials, and other agencies who could assist during an emergency. 

As part of that ongoing relationship with local first responders, Pepperdine offers to host the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Incident Command Post (ICP) on the Malibu campus for wildfires in the area. The fire department command staff use designated spaces on the Drescher campus for planning, logistics, and other organizational functions. In addition to firefighters, first responders from other agencies also access the command post to coordinate their response.

Additionally, fire fighting helicopters utilize Alumni Park as a landing pad to draw water from the University’s lakes to fight nearby fires. 

When has Pepperdine been impacted by wildfires?

Historically the University has lost trees and landscaping to wildfires and has had otherwise minor damage to campus. No campus buildings have been lost to a wildfire. Additionally, the fire department routinely praises the University for its brush clearance efforts, as the space cleared and maintained every year by Facilities Services provides defensible space away from structures for firefighters and can be seen as a clear demarcation line after fires of where the fire burned and where it stopped. 

Pepperdine’s Malibu campus has been impacted by several fires throughout its history including the:

  • November 8, 2018 – Woolsey Fire
  • November 24, 2007 – Corral Fire
  • October 21, 2007 – Canyon Fire 
  • January 8, 2007 – Malibu Road Fire 
  • October 28, 1996 – Calabasas Fire 
  • November 2, 1993 – Old Topanga Fire

How does Pepperdine respond to a wildfire?

Because Pepperdine experiences wildfires with some frequency, the University has developed a detailed shelter-in-place plan, which is reviewed annually by the L.A. County Fire Department. Due to the University’s success in mitigating the impact of wildfires to the University community and its campuses, Pepperdine is recognized nationally as a leader in wildfire and emergency response.

When a wildfire may impact a University campus, most likely either in Malibu or Calabasas, Pepperdine’s EOC is activated to lead the University’s response and may activate the shelter-in-place plan. 

What is it like on the Malibu campus during a shelter in place order?

Those in the University community sheltering in place on the Malibu campus may smell smoke in the air, imagine a campfire smell, and see flames on the campus’s hillsides. Historically, the flames have burned around the campus, stopping at the brush clearance lines around campus buildings, which provides defensible space for L.A. County firefighters to battle the flames and prevent them from spreading to campus buildings. 

Those inside a Pepperdine shelter-in-place location will find caring staff, food, and other supplies to provide for their basic needs. Many who have experienced a fire on the Malibu campus have said they look back on it as a bonding experience which brought them closer to those around them.

Additional Information

  • To report a brush fire, at the Malibu campus and at all other domestic University campuses, call 911. Then call the Department of Public Safety at (310) 506- 4441.
  • Give your name and the location of the fire. Do not hang up until the dispatcher tells you to do so.
  • If you are outdoors, seek shelter in a safe nearby building.
  • If you are indoors, close all windows and doors; open all curtains and blinds. Relocate all combustibles away from windows. If time permits, back up important files from your computer hard drive to a disk that you can take with you. Turn off and unplug all electrical equipment.
  • If the fire is large, you may be instructed at the Malibu campus to proceed to a designated relocation area (typically Tyler Campus Center). At the relocation area, report to your RA or your Residential Emergency Response Team (RERT) member.
  • Because of road closures, traffic congestion, and the possibility that the fire may outrun you, it is normally not advisable to leave the Malibu campus during a brush fire. This is referred to as “sheltering-in-place.” For more information on “sheltering-in-place” please see the Shelter-in-Place page which includes a video explaining the practice and how we do so at Pepperdine’s Malibu campus.
  • If instructed to relocate, do not return to the vacated location until instructed to do so by Public Safety or public agency personnel.