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1970 Chatsworth-Malibu fires

1970 Chatsworth-Malibu fires

Sept. 25, 1970: Randy Pearson, 18, kneels in front of his Chatsworth home as the roof goes up in flames. This Los Angeles Times image ran on Page 1 after brush fires in Malibu and Chatsworth combined into a 20-mile front, destroying 150 homes.

Over the next five days, Southern California fires killed 10 people, burned 500,000 acres, destroyed four churches, 400 homes and 190 other structures. Santa Ana winds were clocked at up to 80 mph.

Sept. 26, 1970: A statue of St. Francis of Assisi stands in front of Serra Retreat in Malibu, most of which was destroyed by fire. About 175 homes in Malibu burned. (Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times)

Sept. 25, 1970: Two teenagers toss pool water on flames in Chatsworth. Firefighters who later took over the fight at the home said the teens’ efforts helped to save it. (Bill Varie / Los Angeles Times)

September 1970: Firetrucks stand guard as flames from the Malibu Canyon fire race toward Pacific Coast Highway during the night. (Jack Gaunt / Los Angeles Times)

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12 Comments

  1. September 28, 2010, 12:15 pm

    I was in 8th grade at Lawrence Jr. High during this fire. 1970-71: the Shake and Bake year at school. Huge black and white ashes from the fire were blowing all over campus as we sat down for 6th period History. A few minutes after the bell, a voice on the room intercom asked for one of my classmates to come to the Main Office. He returned a few minutes later saying he had to pick up his books and leave, his house up in the hills north of Chatsworth Street had just burned down. Then the Office asked for another student – same thing. This must have happened 5 or 6 times just to kids in my class; we were all shell-shocked after a while – it was a terrible, terrible day. Later we found out that the bushes on the north edge of the campus had even caught on fire at one point from all of the flying embers. I'll never forget walking home that day through the hellish blizzard-like ashfall…a few months later the Sylmar Earthquake turned our lives upside down again.

    By: Doug Neville
  2. September 9, 2012, 12:44 am

    I remember this fire as if it was yesterday. I lived in Simi Valley at the time and I can remember the once blue sky, the color of red, the wind blowing 90 mph and my parents moving horses throughout the day and night. This fire started around the Sylmar area and didn't stop till it hit the pacific ocean. I remember my Mom cleaning off soot from the house for over six weeks. I beleive this was one of the worst fires in the Chatsworth/Simi Valley area to ever hit. It was horrible, something I will never forget!! Wish I knew where I could get more photos of it.

    By: CHERIMAC02
  3. April 30, 2013, 11:27 pm

    I see your hair is burning, hills are filled with fire…. I always wondered if that was about the 1970 fires. I was a tiny thing in 1970, the fires are one of my first memories. The sky was glowing red in every direction and it was raining ashes. In the 40 years since, the only fire that came close to the 1970 creepiness level was the 2009 fire which looked like a nuclear bomb went off.

    By: rakava
  4. September 25, 2013, 7:00 pm

    Funny how some dates stick in your mind forever. 9/25/70 is like 2/9/71 to me. I walked home from Hale Jr High in Woodland Hills at 3pm in wind and smoke. That night, houses west of Valley Circle, where I lived, were evacuated, though I tend to think it was somewhat voluntary. Few if any of the homes in our area burned. Amazing that we all share similar memories from so long ago.

    By: Stormchaser
  5. January 17, 2014, 6:49 pm

    I will never forget this fire. I was 27, a nurse at UCLA on the evening shift and living in Hidden Hills with my parents. My husband had left a few months earlier to serve in Okinawa. I worked late and headed home at midnight in the San Diego Freeway, and as I crested the hill, the whole Valley was rimmed in fire. I began praying, and at the interchange with Ventura freeway N, I had to slam on the brakes of my mustang when 12 firetrucks sped on in front of me with sirens screaming. I took off after them passing them all, and the closer I got to the West Valley, the more fire I saw. When I got to the Calabasas/Valley Circle, the firemen were evacuating Hidden Hills. They let me go home where my parents were waiting. We left for a while but went back early AM. The firemen on the line above our house kept us appraised of the situation. Few months later, the Sylmar earthquake! What a time!

    By: Karen Graham
  6. February 9, 2014, 11:22 pm

    I'll never forget that day/night, in 1970. I lived in the Oak Park neighborhood of Agoura Hills. We were very remote, with just one road, Kanan Road, going to or from the Ventura Freeay. The flames came from Chatsworth and a few other fires joined it, racing toward Ventura County. We had all smelled smoke for a day or two already, and on the day of the evacuation, embers and big cinder flakes were floating into Oak Park. That evening, the fire department came into Oak Park with sirens and bullhorns, ordering everyone out, saying that a HUGE fire was coming. My parents grabbed the important documents and our dog, and we tried to drive to my grandparents' house in Westlake Village. We invited several neighbors to join us there. We didn't know if our house, or our neighborhood, would be there when we got back.

    The problem was, Kanan Road was only 1 1/2 lanes in either direction, and the traffic jam was unbelievable. We crawled along, and by the time we got to Westlake, the danger was passed, and we drove back home pretty quickly. It was very dark, and I vividly remember there were still patches of grass burning along Kanan. I was afraid it would flare up while we slept and burn us all. The next day we awoke to burned hills that looked like black velvet. The fields around Brookside and Mae Boyer Park were full of deep hoof prints from cows and horses that had been herded there during the fire

    By: LewisMom7@gmail.com
  7. October 26, 2014, 10:59 am

    I flew out of Norton AFB, San Bernandino, at midnight on Sept. 26, 1970 on my way to Vietnam, and watched this fire rage from my port side seat for what seemed hours as we made our way across the Pacific to our first stop Honolulu. It was a sight I will never forget.

    By: Sonnyjimt@yahoo.com
  8. March 15, 2016, 7:16 pm

    I was 8 and the fire left an imprint on me. About 4:30am being woken up by police to evacuate. Dad got mom ,sister,brother in car and headed to Sequia JR. High. I stayed with dad to put the double rainbird system he made for the lawn on the roof. He wet a bandana and tied it around my face an got up on the roof. The view I saw ,…….. Unbelievable!!!! I lived on Flood St. Near Township Ele. At the top of Cole St. About 150 yards up from my house eucalyptus trees were exploding while dad and I were setting up the sprinklers and at the same time putting out spots on the roof that started catching fire. Dad and I stayed on that roof till the fire past. I became a Firefighter because of that fire, I will never forget !!

    By: Russ Skinner
  9. June 22, 2016, 8:16 am

    This is why I love this framework section of LATimes. Bring some old but golden memories of our history so that we'll never forget what we had before, and from who we're now become great. Thanks !!

    By: airfryerreviewblog
  10. June 22, 2016, 12:27 pm

    I wonder where Randy Pearson is now and if he is in the area?

    By: b hudson
  11. June 23, 2016, 1:26 pm

    We lived in Malibu and I remember the incredible, other worldly force of this fire. We were told to evacuate but my father and I stayed to fight the flames along side dozens of firemen. My dad on the roof with a hose, me in the yard with another hose. I was only about 10 but I did all that I could to stand with my father and fight back the wall of fire to save what he had worked so hard to build for our family. It was a moment I will never forget for so many reasons – but most of all because my father saw in me someone who could remain calm in the face of certain destruction. Our home was spared and my dad and I had forged an unbreakable bond that lasted until he passed.

    By: ava.rochon@gmail.com
  12. June 23, 2016, 4:55 pm

    I remember my father taking me and my two brothers over to what was then the Lockheed airport to watch the fire fighting aircraft load up with the fire retardant Borate and fuel. Back in that time the Forestry Service was utilizing WW II era aircraft such as the B-17, PBY Catalina, and F7F Tigercat. It was quite awesome to witness this operation. In the distance towards the west you could see the huge plumes of smoke rising miles into the air. The aircraft were taking off from north to west and quickly turning toward the fires. We even have home movies of this!

    By: goplad

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