Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Archive Footage: Setting Back Fires in Pico Canyon
2003 Simi Valley Fire


It was a crazy week for Los Angeles and Ventura County firefighters. The Simi Valley Fire started Oct. 23, 2003; the Verdale Fire started the next day near Val Verde; and the Piru Fire started the day after that. They merged.

The combined fire hit Pico Canyon in the western SCV on Oct. 28, 2003. Firefighters from multiple agencies set "back fires" at the back of the canyon, at the fire's eastern flank, in an attempt to drive the flames into themselves.

Ultimately the effort failed. Shortly after this video was shot, the wind shifted. The fire jumped the would-be containment line and shot down the canyon, sending firefighters, reporters and photographers running to beat the flames.

Firefighters made a herculean stand against the onslaught to save the historic buildings in the pioneer oil town of Mentryville. They succeeded. All of the structures were saved, just as they escaped major brush fires in 1970 and earlier. (Unfortunately that part was not captured on this video.)

The video starts in Mentryville as firefighters prepare for battle, and ends with the setting of back fires near the historic Pico No. 4 oil well, 1.4 miles to the west. Historical note: The equipment seen on the left side of the road going up the canyon is a jackline plant from Griffith Park, similar to those used in, and later removed from, Pico Canyon. (Search for an explanation).

Bonus video at the end: Flames threaten the Southern Oaks subdivision in Stevenson Ranch later that same day. Includes firefighter interview.

The Simi Valley fire consumed 107,590 acres and destroyed 37 homes. The Piru Fire burned 63,719 acres, destroyed 1 home and damaged 8 more. The Verdale Fire burned 8,680 and destroyed no homes.

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