Woolsey Fire Cause a Mystery: What We Know About How the Malibu Fire Started & Spread

Woolsey Fire Map

Getty Woolsey Fire Map

The Woolsey Fire has caused mass evacuations in the Malibu area, and many people are wondering how the fire got started and why it spread so quickly. At least 177 structures have been destroyed and 57,000 structures are threatened by the fire. It’s 83,275 acres in size and containment is only at 10 percent. Here’s what we know so far about the Woolsey Fire’s cause.

CAL FIRE is reporting that the cause of the Woolsey Fire is “under investigation.” When the cause is known immediately, such as when a car catches fire and starts the quick spread of flames, CAL FIRE will immediately mention the fire’s cause. If CAL FIRE knew the fire was caused by lightning, it would also list this as a cause. However, at this time CAL FIRE is unsure if the Woolsey Fire was caused by natural means or by human activity. So it appears that there’s a big mystery surrounding the Woolsey Fire so far. Sometimes the source of a fire can be determined, and sometimes the source is never known.

Here’s what we do know about the Woolsey Fire. It started on Thursday, November 8 in the late afternoon. When it started, the nearby Hill Fire was much bigger, as was the Camp Fire which had started that morning. The Woolsey Fire began Thursday afternoon as a “smaller” fire in Simi Valley near the Rocketdyne facility in Santa Susana Pass, ABC 7 reported.

Strong winds and low humidity with dry conditions combined to help the fire grow as fast as it did.

The main component in why this and the other fires in California grew so much is wind, with gusts up to 60 miles an hour or more in some places, Wired reported. Dry vegetation helped the winds push the fires even more. When the winds died down a bit on Saturday, firefighters were able to make some progress and get a little containment in place. However, gusts are picking back up and may continue through Tuesday. Wired explained that the winds originated from a jet stream of strong winds in the upper atmosphere that is common this time of year.

The air mass picks up speed as it hits the Sierra Nevada Mountains and flows down. Sadly, this could remain a problem for at least a few days.

So although we know why the fire grew and spread so fast, we don’t know how it originally got started. We don’t know if human activity was involved or if it was created by natural causes, or if it was just some kind of freak accident.

In the past, some devastating California fires have been started by human activity. For example, just this past July, Brandon McGlover was arrested on suspicion of starting not one but multiple fires in California, including the Cranston Fire. Witnesses reported that they saw a man in his vehicle stopping and starting fires along the road.

Then in August, Forrest Gordon Clark was arrested in connection with the Holy Fire. He reportedly sent an email warning that the place would burn.

CAL FIRE is investigating this fire’s cause. We’ll update this story when more is known.