U.S. News
Headlines 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

California fires kill one, close part of Pacific Coast Highway

A series of wildfires Sunday in Southern California led to evacuations in some areas, and killed at least one person and injured 17 others in San Diego County, according to officials.

Four firefighters and 13 civilians were hurt in the southeastern part of San Diego County, said Roxanne Provaznik, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Sand Diego County blaze, straddling Highway 94, scorched 14,000 acres by nightfall, fire officials said. At that time, it was just five percent contained.

Provaznik said the firefighters were hurt when flames engulfed their fire engine.

A second fire in San Diego County near Witch Creek had burned 5,000 acres by Sunday night and was considered zero percent contained, she said.

Farther north, at least seven fires burned near Malibu, the beach community that is home to dozens of celebrities.

Fires shut down the Malibu section of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said five single family home and two commercial buildings -- a glass company and Malibu Presbyterian Church -- were destroyed in Malibu.

Nine single family homes and five commercial buildings had been damaged, he said of the blaze that consumed 1,200 acres.

The department said about 200 homes in the Malibu area were evacuated.

Helicopters that were dumping water on the fires were to be grounded at dusk, said Freeman. He said firefighters were in a "good position" to fight the blaze with engine companies after dark.

Freeman said the Malibu area fire began around 4:50 a.m. (7:50 a.m. ET) Sunday. As of 5 p.m. (8 p.m. ET) the Malibu fire was not under control, he said.

The cause is still under investigation but several downed power lines were found in the area, he said.

Freeman's "best projection" is that the fire will last at least two days.

"Thousands of homes are going to be threatened at one time or another based on the movement of the fire," said Freeman.

Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Conley Ulich said earlier Sunday, "We are at the mercy of the wind."

Hot weather and Santa Ana winds marked the height of traditional wildfire season this weekend, after one of the driest years on record.

Noting there have not been any reported injuries in Malibu, Freeman urged residents not to return to their homes to retrieve anything.

"We're all scared to death and we have nowhere to go," Susan Nuttall, 51, told The Associated Press as she sat in her black Mercedes in a cul-de-sac after fleeing her condominium near the Pepperdine campus. She was wearing a bathrobe and holding her Chihuahua.

Flames consumed Malibu's landmark Castle Kashan, a fortress-like hilltop home with turrets and arched windows.

Chunks of brick fell from the exterior of the burning structure overlooking the coast. The house was not directly in the fire's path, but powerful winds carried embers to the building, fire inspector Rick Dominguez said. Castle Kashan is owned by Lilly Lawrence, a Malibu philanthropist.

Daniel Collins, who has been staying at Castle Kashan for a few months, said he woke to thick smoke and "flames licking the windows."

"It was pretty intense," he told CNN. "And we were probably in this house for an hour or so watching this and finally they got us out of there. By the time we left, the castle was engulfed in flames."

Collins said he felt safe because there were many firefighters. Once he was helped from the castle, Collins rushed to see if his neighbors were safe and they were, he said.

Meanwhile, students at Pepperdine's Malibu campus were told to gather at Firestone Field House, while faculty and staff were gathering at Tyler Campus Center, campus police told CNN.

Later the university said students, faculty and staff who relocated to those facilities had been allowed to return to their dorms and on-campus residences.

The fire department as of 2 p.m. (5 p.m. ET) listed the following areas as being under mandatory evacuation orders: Montenedo, Malibu Road, Malibu Colony, Pepperdine, Malibu Crest, Serra Retreat and Big Rock.

The residential area Malibu Crest and vacation area Sierra Retreat also were evacuated Sunday, Padilla said.

Evacuation centers were set up at Zuma Beach and authorities had aerial teams serving as lookouts, and helicopters and fire engines to areas as they became threatened, Dominguez said.

Residents of the threatened areas include Dick Van Dyke, Mel Gibson, and Olivia Newton John.

Meanwhile, another wind-driven wildfire has burned hundreds of acres of woodland in the Townsend Peak area of California's Angeles National Forest, in the northern section of Los Angeles County, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesman Stanton Florea.

Authorities said that fire, near Castaic, had consumed 1,500 acres as of 2 p.m. (5 p.m. ET) Sunday.

The fire, which started just before 10 p.m. Saturday (1 a.m. Sunday ET) Saturday, threatens a condor habitat and destroyed an out-building, Florea said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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