During 2020’s intense wildfire season, former Navy SEAL Kaj Larsen was part of an impromptu mission to land on the beaches of Malibu and recover people hemmed in by California wildfires. Thanks to the Navy SEAL, his friends, and a private yacht, medical personnel were able to reach stranded survivors and several residents could finally make it past the fire line to safety.
The adventure started when the president of a music management company, Jeff Jampol, learned that a friend’s house was made inaccessible by the quick progress of the Woolsey Fire around Malibu, California.
This is distinct from the Camp Fire burning in northern California, but together, the two fires have killed at least 50 people. A third fire, the Hill Fire, is burning in Ventura County but is largely contained.
Jampol offered the use of his private yacht to help the friend check on his home, but quickly realized that other people attempting to survive the fires might need assistance as well. The Woolsey Fire has forced the closure of many roads and some airspace in the area nearby. This has limited the flow of necessary supplies, like water, food, and medical equipment. It also stranded some pets behind the closed logistics lines, leaving some owners eager to attempt a rescue.
So, Jampol asked friends Kaj Larsen and Mace Camhe to help plan the mission and ferry supplies. The men quickly agreed and a call was put out on social media for people who needed to get into Malibu and people who needed to get out. They called emergency coordinators before departing to ensure that their mission wouldn’t cause headaches for the already over-tasked first responders.
The video below comes from Kaj Larsen and shows the small boat leaving the yacht en route to the beach:
“[Jampol] called me up and said he was going to take his yacht up to Malibu to assist people, he needed me to help,” Larsen told WATM. “Last thing I wanted to do was head up in the dark to the smoke and fires and get in the ocean as the winds were kicking up, but as you know, everyone wants to be a frogman on a sunny day. It’s moments like this that you earn your trident.”
“We headed up through the smoke to multiple points along the Malibu coast where we could insert folks close to their homes, before extracting them for safety,” Larsen said. “Because the roads are still closed, going over the beach was the only way people could check on their homes and lives. The anxiety among the group was palpable because the potential loss was great.”
Jampol told Variety that they were able to land 12 people who needed to get in, including a doctor and his assistants, as well as pull out 10 people who needed to evacuate. They also landed necessary supplies before retrieving all 12 people they had landed on the shore. Larsen, as one of the most experienced with coastal operations, spent most of his time going back and forth with the small boat and inflatable paddle boards.
These were necessary because the yacht could not come in past the surf line without risking running aground.
“I made about 30 trips over the beach through the surf line and back, double paddling people and supplies onto the beach,” he said. “I wore a mask because the air quality was so sh*tty, which made paddling people in and out through the surf intense. It was like a supercharged workout. One of the doctors had about 150 pounds of O2 that I swam in over the beach to get the supplies to first responders.”
One of the property owners who was able to grab valuables from his home and give it a quick coat of water, Ron Stoliar, sent WATM a quick statement of gratitude for the men who organized the mission (lightly edited for clarity):
“No words can describe my gratitude to Jeff for allowing me the privilege of being part of the adventure and his kindness of supporting our efforts, what a ship. To both Mace and Kaj for their professionalism, knowledge, toughness, dedication to the mission, and, most importantly, brotherhood. You gentlemen are the epitome of warriors. You brought me back 20 years to my days of service and reminded me of relationships built by men of tremendous respect and kinship, and can mostly be described by ‘I’d take a bullet for you brothers.'”
In the end, the men were able to, over a six-hour window, land hundreds of pounds of supplies and get 10 stranded people out. During the final movement from the shore back to the ship, Larsen was forced to jump into the water and be towed behind as his vessel began taking on water.
Jampol and Larsen have both made it clear that the best part of it for them was seeing how people came together in the face of the deadly fires.
“There are only so many multi-million dollar yachts in Marina Del Rey,” Larsen said, “…it was an honor to do our small part and an honor to be of service with those two guys. As sad as I am about the fires devastating the state, if there is a silver lining, it’s in all the amazing members of the community who have rallied to donate and volunteer and help. This is the definition of Charlie Mike. Continuing the Mission.”
They weren’t the only ones out there over the past few days, either. The Malibu Chamber of Commerce sent out a message to those still in the city that seven boats were at Paradise Cove with fuel and supplies around the same time as Larsen’s mission. Howard Leight, a billionaire possibly best known for his winery, piloted his yacht near the city on Tuesday as well.
While Jampol and Larsen landed supplies with a small boat and paddle boarders, Leight went with a small boat and surfers to close the gap from ship to shore.