Here we go... another blasted fire destroying homes and landmarks, leaving thousands homeless
MALIBU - Flames fueled by ferocious Santa Ana winds roared Sunday across Southern California, straining firefighting resources as homes and landmarks burned and brushfires raced toward mansions along the fabled Malibu shoreline.
With winds roaring with hurricane force through mountain passes, fires broke out in several locations, including bucolic Agua Dulce in north Los Angeles County where at least two stately ranch homes went up in flames. Hundreds of people were evacuated.
Five homes in Malibu were lost - including a landmark castle known simply as "The Castle," that had recently been sold for $17 million. Malibu Presbyterian Church was destroyed, as was a glass shop in a Malibu strip mall.
It was the firestorm nightmare officials had warned of for months after the driest winter on record and a summer of sweltering temperatures.
"This is the conflagration that we knew was going to come at some point," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at news conference Sunday evening. "We were cruising for a bruising.
"We're very, very lucky as we stand here tonight that the damage is as limited as it has been."
There was no containment late Sunday of either the Malibu or Agua Dulce fire, and officials said they expect the blazes will continue at least through today, threatening thousands of other homes.
"It will be hotter and drier and stronger winds," said Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Mike Brown. "We were staging resources for the
possibility of something like this all over the county.
"Extreme conditions cause fires like this. There's nothing you can do about that, you just do what you can do."
At least 1,200 acres had burned in Malibu, and nearly 2,000 more in Agua Dulce with mandatory evacuation orders in effect.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman warned Malibu residents to brace for more destruction, with the winds expected to get even stronger after dark. At that point, he said, most of the water-dropping helicopters would be shut down, and ground crews would work to protect the perimeter of the blaze.
"This is a very dynamic, potentially very dangerous fire," he said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a statement said the state was working with federal and local officials to mobilize the necessary resources to fight all of these fires.
His office said at least 400 fire engines were on scene, with 10 air tankers from the CalFire strike team engaged or on standby. More than 1,150 personnel suited up for duty and rushed to the blaze.
High winds snapped power lines before dawn along Malibu Canyon Road, apparently igniting the blaze that quickly charged through the canyon toward the coast, turning Malibu Presbyterian Church to smoldering ruins.
"It's crazy. When I got here there were flames everywhere - it was really scary," said Sammy Duran, working at a gas station on Pacific Coast Highway.
Nearby, the Castle Kashan, a turreted landmark on a bluff with magnificent ocean views, was destroyed. Within the walls of the castle, built in the 1970s and owned by Iranian princess, socialite Lilly Lawrence, were priceless collections - gifts and letters from presidents and royalty among them.
The frenzied gusts hurled embers hundreds of yards. Some landed in palm trees that "exploded" in flames that heavily damaged the Malibu Canyon shopping center, said Engineer Jim Muth from the Manhattan Beach Fire Department, one of dozens of municipal forces called in to help.
"When the palm trees go, there's a lot of spread of embers," Muth said.
Lisa Clunis, 17, was among dozens of volunteers who hauled horse trailers to Malibu and helped residents in hidden canyons evacuate their horses and other livestock.
The volunteer crew was summoned at 6 a.m. by county sheriff's deputies. Its first task was the evacuation of 60 horses from Sycamore Farms to another Malibu equestrian center, far from the fire's reach.
At Pepperdine University, located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, about 2,000 students hurried from their dormitories to the cafeteria at the center of campus. Pepperdine, with fire-retardant landscaping and concrete buildings, was built to withstand the legendary fires that sweep every few years through Malibu, campus minister Thomas Fitzpatrick said.
The school let students return to their dorms by mid-afternoon on Sunday but advised them to stay home from class on Monday. The school is currently evaluating when it will reopen for instruction.
The Santa Anas came as no surprise, said Bill Hoffer, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, but they turned what would otherwise be merely sneeze-inducing into a nightmarish-looking haze that smudged out the whole sky. In his 20 years with the NWS in Southern California, he could not recall such strong winds.
I pray for many families who have to evacuate and who have lost their homes and possessions
I have family there and I know one is on standby... I hope the fire doesn't go their way but the santa ana winds have been really strong... :unsure:
More here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/10/22/wcalifornia122.xml