Kaliko Orian has seen her share of hurdles in the egg business, which can be unexpectedly brutal at times. But nothing prepared the mother hen of the popular Kaliko Farms for the devastation she endured on Friday.
The Malibu farm on Kanan Dume Road had a flock of 1,000 free-range, non-GMO project verified, corn-free, soy-free chickens in 15 varieties. There were black copper Marans, which lay dark chocolate-colored eggs, and green Icebergs, which produced green speckled eggs. The blue Whiting hens laid vibrant blue eggs and the large brown eggs came from her Orpingtons.
“From the time the fire crossed the 101 to the time that we were notified through the news that the fire was on its way and had hit Malibu Lake, it felt like seconds,” Orian tells L.A. Weekly at the Mar Vista Farmers Market on Sunday as ashes floated through the air. “I was so confident that everything was going to be fine. I had an order of eggs to deliver to one of the local stores, and I got into my car and drove. The smoke came over the hill and as I drove out the smoke was at my back. It was only when I was about halfway there that I turned my head and saw the growing cloud.”
She figured she still had enough time to drop off her eggs at Pacific Coast Greens and turn around. As she was driving back, her son called in a panic asking where she was and told her they had to evacuate.
“My brother had a van full of $10,000 worth of egg sales in it. I said, it’s going to be hours before that fire makes it over here, it only just jumped the 101. We need to get those eggs out and not disappoint any of our vendors, so I said to him, 'Go ahead and make the deliveries, you’re going to be fine.'”
In a matter of 45 minutes, Orian found herself evacuating her condo across the street from the farm, grabbing family photos and her computer. Most of her belongings were still in tubs from her last evacuation. She raced over to the farm and grabbed Lucy and Gracey, the two oldest hens, who had no chance of survival, and then headed to the Zuma Beach parking lot to wait it out.
As the family, along with son Cameron and daughter Sarah sat in the lot, they saw the smoke coming up from where the farm would be. Orian’s brothers Kyle and Keith jumped on a motorcycle and barreled through Kanan Dume — which she admits is not advisable — and disappeared for two hours. There was no cell service, so she had no idea if they were OK. They made it to the ranch, refilled the water and feed and stayed until they saw the fire coming down near the coops. At that point they had no choice. They opened up all the cages and let the birds out. There was nothing else they could do.
While at the Mar Vista market, Orian got a call from sheriffs, telling her that of her 1,000-head flock, they counted 100 roaming the area, which was described as a Gone With the Wind battle scene.
“The idea that I was responsible for all of those birds and could not save them, that they just died, is too much to bear,” Orian says through tears. “It’s worse than losing everything I own in my house.” Which she did. The Woolsey fire also burnt her condo to the ground, taking with it $10,000 worth of egg coolers and feed that costs her $6,000 a month.
“They were hand-fed, they were nursed,” Orian says. “We had them in our bedrooms as babies because we were worried that the electricity would go out and they’d freeze to death. At one point I had 150 baby chicks in my bedroom in tubs. Now they’re gone. People call me crazy chicken lady. What we do is a labor of love.”
The Kaliko Farm chickens that perished in the fire were hatched and raised in Malibu, with lines the family has been working on for the last three years to get the colors that customers won’t find anywhere else. The Kaliko eggs are sold in 52 stores and at four local farmers markets .
It will take time to recover but Orian plans to stay in Malibu and start over. It’s where she brought her family up and developed a dedicated clientele.
In the meantime, they’re living at a Motel 6 (with Lucy and Gracie) and the only clothes they have are what they bought at Target Saturday. Friends have started a GoFundMe page.
“The magnitude of what has happened is tragic,” Orian says. “But what we are doing is a calling. I will be in the egg business until I’m in the ground and I’ll be at the farmers market the day after losing my house because this is where we are supposed to be. My hens who have now died laid these eggs last week and I’m not going to not come here where loyal customers are looking forward to them. I have to do what I’m supposed to do with them. They’ve given us these wonderful eggs that we can share with everybody.”
Lucy is a Bantam Frizzle; their feathers grow backward. Gracie is a little d'Uccle. The girls have lots of personality and love to talk, but they’re traumatized. They aren’t used to being in cramped quarters. Gracey got a little smoke damage and has to see the vet.
“You know when they have fires go through the vineyards, the vintners run through the vines yelling, ‘Get a clipping, get a clipping and we’ll rebuild from the clipping!’” Orian says.
“For me it was, ‘Run and get Gracie and Lucy and we’ll build from them again.' They will be our mascots as a reminder of how we started and why we started.”