On November 8, 2018, a brush fire broke out in the dry grassy hills in the Malibu area of Los Angeles. Dubbed the Woolsey Fire, the flames erupted during the subsequent days, tracing a massive path across Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. The fire killed three individuals and prompted the evacuation of more than 295,000 residents. 1 In the end, the Woolsey Fire consumed over 96,000 acres and destroyed 1,643 residential and commercial structures, becoming one of the most destructive fires in California’s history.
Among the many groups impacted by the devastating Woolsey Fire and its aftermath was a large workforce of domestic workers and day laborers in Malibu and surrounding areas. These workers are a vital — if frequently overlooked — resource in these communities, often hired informally by residents to provide services to ensure the safety, security and wellbeing of families and properties. Yet, as the public’s focus during the Woolsey Fire remained fixed on images of burned out hillsides and families in evacuation shelters, these domestic workers and day laborers continued to toil in the shadows, helping residents battle flames, escape from harm’s way, and cleanup properties soon after the immediate fire risks subsided — all the while with few guarantees of economic or safety protections.
In the last several years, the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA) has been supporting domestic workers and day laborers who work in areas impacted by wildfires. Through dedicated outreach efforts, IDEPSCA has become the main point of contact for domestic workers and day laborers in the Greater Los Angeles area seeking relief and support during and after recent wildfire events. Following the Woolsey Fire, IDEPSCA staff surveyed 195 workers in the Malibu area — house cleaners, childcare providers, gardeners, construction workers, and caregivers to the elderly — to learn how their work was shaped by the fire and to document the consequent health and safety and economic impacts. This report highlights some findings from those surveys, along with other information IDEPSCA has gathered from workers impacted by other recent wildfire incidents.