Travel News

California Wildfire Crisis: Who Helped, Who Balked

Locations in this article:  Los Angeles, CA New Orleans, LA Santa Barbara, CA

Fires SparksHere in Southern California, where upwards of 1 million residents have been evacuated from their homes, nearly everyone knows someone who has been affected by the wildfires.

As of Thursday, firefighters are starting to make headway on the 22 fires that have ravaged parts of San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles County, Santa Barbara, and Santa Clarita. At last count, 881,000 residents forced to evacuate their homes, and 1,285 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed.

So how is the travel industry dealing with the biggest natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina?

Once the reality sunk in, many hotels jumped in to help. But it didn’t necessarily start out that way.

Writer and contributor to, Phil Baker, told us about his experiences on Monday, October 22, when his family was evacuated from their San Diego-area home.

“We checked into the Westin Horton Plaza. They’re only letting us stay for one night due to a convention coming to town tomorrow. [They] say all the evacuees they let in today (300) will need to leave.”

Later, when Baker called up the Hotel del Coronado to book a room for the next night, he was denied entry. Why?

His family had a small dog with them.

“When I asked if they could make an exception because of the fire emergency the person said ‘No exceptions, didn’t you hear me the first time?'”

Since then, he notes that the Westin allowed a few evacuees to stay on another night (due to convention cancellations).

The Hotel del Coronado revised its policy to allow dogs up to 35 pounds for evacuees, and reduced its rates by about 60 percent to $129 a night. (Read more about Baker’s experiences here:

More FireThe general hospitality atmosphere now seems to be a bit more positive. The California Hotel and Lodging Association encouraged its members to provide free or discounted lodging to evacuees, fire fighters, volunteer and emergency workers. Other efforts included donating food and supplies to victims, as well as donating used hotel furniture to residents.

“People are stepping up to the plate and doing what you hope humans would do,” explains Jim Abrams, President and CEO of the California Hotel and Lodging Association. “Big chains and small independent properties are doing whatever it takes … looking at what rules don’t make sense in this situation. They’re taking on a concierge function, helping people figure out where to get food and supplies, but mostly, people want to know how to get information on what’s happening in their area.”

David Peckinpaugh, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, reports that “Virtually every hotel I know of reduced its rates [for evacuees] … everything from $39 a night, to $99, to half off. The hotel community has done a phenomenal job.” He also notes that most hotels “have lightened up with their pet restrictions.”

InterContinental Hotels (IHG) announced besides housing evacuees and fire fighters, its hotels waived individual and group cancellation fees in the “highly-impacted” areas of Southern California (other affected areas being considered on a case-by-case basis). IHG has also reached out to its Priority Club members to donate points to the Red Cross, which will be converted to cash; IGH is then matching those donations up to $100,000.

Most hotels have reached capacity over the past few days, but as evacuations are being lifted, residents are starting to return home. The next wave of hotel guests will include Red Cross workers, insurance inspectors and volunteers.

Many of San Diego’s major visitors’ attractions have been closed, including Sea World, San Diego Wild Animal Park, Legoland, Old Town Trolley Tours, and the Old Globe Theatre. Casinos Harrah’s and Barona are closed, but Pechanga remains open. Click here for a complete list.

BonfireIn Malibu, where many of Hollywood’s elite had left to seek safer ground, the fires have been 85 percent contained, according to Los Angeles county officials.

Reports note that that media mogul David Geffen opened his hotel, the Malibu Beach Inn, to house evacuees and firefighters for free.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press has reported that posh L.A. hotels are filling up rapidly, including Santa Monica’s Shutters on the Beach, the Beverly Wilshire and the Peninsula. Celebrity-friendly Malibu rehab center, Promises, remains closed.

The Pacific Coast Highway remains open, despite nearby fires and a “minor” sewage spill of 20,000 gallons near the Malibu Bay Club. Malibu’s Getty Villa also remains open. In Santa Clarita, the threatened Six Flags Magic Mountain is normally closed on weekdays this time of year, but is expected to open as scheduled this weekend.

According to AP reports, most major U.S. airlines have waived their change fees for travelers who had tickets to California:

  • American waived change fees for travel to six California airports through November 1.
  • Continental waived fees for San Diego International Airport through October 25.
  • Delta waived fees for eight airports through October 25.
  • Frontier waived fees for San Diego Airport through October 27.
  • JetBlue is waiving change fees “on a case-by-case basis” for travel to airports in Burbank, Long Beach, Ontario and San Diego.
  • Northwest waived fees for San Diego Airport through October 25.
  • Southwest is allowing customers traveling to or from airports in Burbank, Los Angeles, Ontario or Orange County, through Wednesday, to rebook without paying a fare difference.
  • United waived fees for 11 airports through October 25.
  • US Airways waived fees for eight airports through October 27.

For more resources on dealing with this disaster, check out:

The Red Cross California Wildfire page.

Wildfire updates in each county and resource links @ Cal Fire.

For updates on the wildfires and a list of closed businesses in San Diego, visit the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

List of wildfire updates and road closures in Los Angeles County.

By Managing Editor Sarika Chawla for

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