Wind-whipped fire erupts in Malibu

/ Source: The Associated Press

A wildfire fanned by Santa Ana winds destroyed four seaside mansions and damaged at least two others as it spread over more than 20 acres in this celebrity enclave Monday, authorities said.

Flames boiled furiously out of the skeletons of multimillion-dollar beach homes for about two hours until there was little left to burn. No injuries were reported, fire officials said.

Los Angeles County firefighters initially said eight homes were lost, but after full containment was achieved, officials cut that number in half.

TV news helicopters broadcast scenes of a large area of flame blowing down seaside slopes toward shoreline homes, with lines of flashing lights from emergency vehicles. Winds appeared to be blowing the fire toward the ocean rather than up into steep, brushy coastal canyons.

“Unfortunately, the homes in that area are very close together,” said City Council member Pamela Conley Ulich, who stopped at the Michael Landon Community Center, in a state park near the fire, when she spotted the flames. “We’re praying that this is going to pass. It’s a catastrophe right now.”

More than 300 firefighters aided by helicopters battled the blaze, which began about 5 p.m. in the heart of 21-mile-long Malibu, said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Ron Haralson. Streams of water were pumped onto the embers of what were once homes.

Flames could be seen four miles away at Duke’s Malibu restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway, said Travis Jang-Busby, 20, a host at the eatery.

“The fire is on a point that juts out into the ocean, and it’s burning all expensive, oceanfront homes,” he said.

Famous residents
The fire burned near the Malibu Colony, one of the area’s original beachfront neighborhoods, dating to the 1930s. The densely built stretch of luxury homes has been a favorite of celebrities over the years.

Famous residents of Malibu include Mel Gibson, Pierce Brosnan, Pamela Anderson, Barbra Streisand, Ted Danson, David Geffen and Courteney Cox-Arquette.

Malibu has frequently been the scene of devastating fires. In 1993, hundreds of homes were lost and three people were killed. A 1996 fire injured 11 people and destroyed six homes.

“It’s so windy out there, it’s kind of scary,” said Roberto Cardenas, an employee at Coogies Beach Cafe.

“We’ve been seeing fire trucks screaming by,” said Mike Gibson, manager of Diedrich Coffee, just over the hill from the fire.

The fire was less than a mile from Pepperdine University, but there was no immediate threat, spokeswoman Molly Drobnick said. “It’s less than a mile away. There is quite a few flames. It’s a pretty big fire.”

Winds and low humidity
“Red flag” fire danger warnings had been posted for much of Southern California because of strong north and northeast winds and low humidity.

Santa Ana winds blow when high pressure forms over the Great Basin and cold, dry air rushes out of the north or northeast toward the coast, reaching high speeds through canyons and passes.