Wildfire destroys homes above Malibu as Santa Ana wind returns to Southern California | SierraSun.com

Wildfire destroys homes above Malibu as Santa Ana wind returns to Southern California

MALIBU, Calif. (AP) ” A wildfire driven by the dry, seasonal Santa Ana wind destroyed dozens of expensive homes as it raced through the canyons and hills above Malibu on Saturday, forcing hundreds of residents to flee.

No injuries were reported.

The blaze, feeding on brush and trees, began shortly before 3:30 a.m. PST near Malibu Lake on state park land and had charred roughly 2,200 acres by late morning, said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Mike Brown.

Fire officials estimated about 35 homes were destroyed but the exact number wasn’t known. TV images showed flames consuming large homes in the area of expensive real estate. One home believed to be lost was valued at more than $2 million.

The cause of the fire had not been determined. About 500 firefighters were at work on the blaze, aided by 10 water-dropping helicopters, but had not contained any part of it by midmorning. “We’re at the mercy of the winds right now,” Brown said.

An enormous wall of smoke rose up over the hills and canyons. The blaze was blowing downhill toward the Pacific Ocean. It jumped the Pacific Coast Highway, the main thoroughfare along the coast, spreading small spot fires.

Roughly 500 homes in three separate communities were evacuated and residents were told to gather at a local high school.

Meredith Lobel-Angel, 51, and her husband Frank Angel, 54, said they had 15 minutes to leave their split-level home and managed to take little other than some clothes and their laptops.

“I ran out on the deck and I just saw a little fire and smoke up the canyon on the ridge (about a mile away),” Frank Angel said. “By the time we evacuated it was already over the ridge. It spread faster than I’ve ever seen it.”

Carol Stoddard, 48, was told by firefighters that her home was probably gone. The 3,500 square-foot, seven-level home was worth $2 million. Stoddard, a freelance videographer and photographer, captured some of the fire’s destruction as trees beside her home and her collection of 12 uninsured cars burned.

“I stayed there until I couldn’t breathe and the embers were flying everywhere,” she said. “It was dark and I was standing around my house. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t grab enough stuff that was of importance like my passport.”

Officials at Pepperdine University told their students to move to a campus shelter as a precaution. However, the university was largely empty because of the holiday weekend.

“Prior to the Thanksgiving holiday I was told the weather conditions was Santa Ana winds and we all know what that means,” said university spokesman Jerry Derloshon.

Hundreds of firefighters had been placed on watch for the weekend as the Santa Ana wind returned to Southern California. Gusts up to 60 mph were reported in some mountain passes during the night.

Saturday’s blaze was less than a mile from the area of last month’s 4,565-acre Canyon Fire, which destroyed six homes, two businesses and a church. That fire, blamed on downed power lines, also began during the early morning and forced dozens of people to flee.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

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