Members of the Malibu community gather on Horizon Drive, Malibu, California. Photograph by Robert Nethery.

How Malibu Residents Saved Their City

After the Woolsey Fire wreaked havoc on their towns, locals become first responders.

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Feb 8 2019, 1:58pm

Members of the Malibu community gather on Horizon Drive, Malibu, California. Photograph by Robert Nethery.

Radical love is an affirmation of life that radiates outwardly as joy and compassion for yourself and your community. For Issue 16, GARAGE profiled an eclectic group of artists, designers, and everyday citizens who have it in spades. Photographed by Robert Nethery. Sittings editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson.

Malibu has a reputation; there is no way around it. People hear “Malibu” and immediately think of movie stars and privilege. But it is known for something else, especially now: natural disaster. The area has had 30 major fires over the last 90 years, but none of them had prepared us for the Woolsey Fire, whose breadth of destruction is unfathomable. A few months on, the momentous task of rebuilding is overwhelming.

Among locals, Malibu is known for our shared connection to the land that we call home. The love for the land and the love for each other are what make Malibu such a desirable location. We love it, and we defend it actively—from development and outside interests during times of normalcy, from the wrath of nature when under siege by hell fire.

For those of us who stayed in the area through the worst of it—or returned as soon as they could, running roadblocks and finding forgot-ten mountain passes—the Woolsey Fire surrounded us for days on end. For those who left, the feeling of helplessness was all encompassing. Only emergency personnel or those with mountain-road savvy could make it back into the burn area. The rest had to sit back either north or south of our city and hope: Hope that their homes were still standing, hope that their loved ones and animals left behind were safe. Two days into the road closures, the feeling of helplessness was replaced by a passion for duty. Knowing that their families and neighbors were left fighting the flames, without utilities, fresh water, food, or virtually any government assistance, the community moved into action.

The primary relief effort came by sea. Boats would anchor outside of the Paradise Cove Pier or Zumirez beach access. This is a town made up of lifeguards and surfers, and the experienced watermen came by the multitude to ferry thousands of pounds of supplies to shore. The task of distribution became the next hurdle, and with no direction or experience the people established a makeshift relief center at Point Dume Elementary School that became a community market, cafeteria, and full-service gas station for a week straight.

The entire operation was orchestrated by civilians: citizens and friends of Malibu who would not leave our town undefended. No government or professional relief agency had anything to do with this herculean effort. This was accomplished by the people of Malibu, for the people of Malibu. Nothing could stop that love and resolve.

The rebuilding of our town has barely begun, and the donations and outreach from within and without have been astounding. We made it through a week’s long night, but the road ahead remains very long and very bumpy

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