clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Southern California ablaze in height of fire season

Upscale beach homes at risk; flames destroy a landmark castle

Structures burn as strong, gusting Santa Ana winds pushed flames through Malibu, Calif., on Sunday.
Structures burn as strong, gusting Santa Ana winds pushed flames through Malibu, Calif., on Sunday.
Reed Saxon, Associated Press

MALIBU, Calif. — On a normal day, the rich and famous pull into the Malibu Colony Plaza under blue skies to buy their groceries.

But on Sunday, the shiny BMWs and Cadillacs were absent, replaced by the burned-out shell of an unidentifiable car, flames on the landscaped lawns and embers sparking fires in palm trees.

The fire was among nearly a dozen blazes stretching from north of Los Angeles to San Diego as hot weather and the strong winds, arriving from the desert, marked the traditional height of the wildfire season.

One person was killed and eight others, including four firefighters, were injured and taken to hospitals in connection with the San Diego fire, said Roxanne Provaznik, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry.

Meanwhile, in Malibu, hundreds of firefighters worked to protect scores of homes in several upscale communities nestled in the hills, officials said. Hundreds of people fled the fires, officials said.

The blaze, which started in Malibu Canyon, destroyed a church and several homes, one of them a landmark castle. No residents or firefighters were injured, Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said.

The winds carried embers across the Pacific Coast Highway, closing the popular road and setting fire to cars and trees in the parking lot of the Malibu Colony Plaza, where a supermarket, drug store and other shops were damaged.

A few homes and commercial buildings were lost throughout the Malibu area, Freeman said, and several were damaged.

The fire is expected to burn for another two to three days, he said. Until the blaze is extinguished, "there will literally be thousands of homes that will be threatened at one time or another," he said.

Fire crews early Sunday found downed power lines, which may have started the fire, Capt. Mike Brown said.

TV footage showed several buildings in flames in the area, including clusters of beach-side homes.

Flames also consumed the landmark Castle Kashan, a stately fortress-like home with turrets and arched windows, as about a dozen residents watched from across a street. Chunks of brick fell from the exterior of the burning building overlooking the coast.

Erratic wind gusts hampered efforts to drop water from aircraft and pushed flames toward HRL Laboratories, a research and engineering facility jointly owned by Boeing Co. and General Motors Corp. about a mile north of Pepperdine University. One outbuilding caught fire, Boeing spokeswoman Diana Ball said.

Flames engulfed Malibu Presbyterian Church, which had been evacuated, said youth pastor Eric Smith. "That's the really good news, that everyone's out and safe," Smith said.

Faculty and staff at the 830-acre Pepperdine campus had been urged to evacuate in the morning, and students were instructed to gather in the school's cafeteria and basketball arena.

But by early afternoon, the campus was "secure," Freeman said. Flames were no longer visible in the hills around the school, and power to the campus had been restored, Pepperdine spokesman Jerry Derloshon said.

To the north, fire officials worked to protect Piru, a Ventura County town of 1,200 people across a small lake from a blaze. A condor preserve was also potentially threatened.

Wildfires had been widely expected in Southern California during the weekend as the Santa Ana winds made their arrival from the desert.

Malibu, home to about 13,000 people, including many celebrities, stretches along 27 miles of Pacific coastline. Last January, a wildfire driven by Santa Ana winds destroyed the home of actress Suzanne Somers and three other multimillion-dollar residences.

Sunday's Malibu fire and the fatal fire near San Diego were just two of the blazes keeping firefighters busy Sunday in Southern California.

Firefighters focused on protecting Piru, a town of 1,200 across a small lake from a blaze in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles. A condor preserve was also potentially threatened.

In northeastern Los Angeles County near Agua Dulce, about 250 firefighters handled a blaze that destroyed two structures and injured one person. Some homes and ranches were threatened, and evacuations were ordered. TV footage showed flames moving down a hill toward homes.

Three fires burned in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, officials said, destroying at least one home and leading authorities to recommend evacuations for hundreds of homeowners.