`Nothing ruled out’ in Malibu wildfire probe

`Nothing ruled out’ in Malibu wildfire probe

10 January 2007

published by www.presstelegram.com

USA — Investigators were trying to determine what caused a wind-whipped firethat roared through a tony beachfront neighborhood and destroyed five homes,including one belonging to actress Suzanne Somers.

The point of origin of the blaze was believed to be above a park alongPacific Coast Highway, Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief P. MichaelFreeman said Tuesday.

“At this point nothing is being ruled out in terms of the cause,”he said.

Monday’s sunset blaze, driven by Santa Ana winds, was blown downslope fromMalibu Bluffs Park over about 20 acres and across Malibu Road along the beach,destroying five homes and damaging six others, authorities said.

One woman was transported to a hospital after suffering smoke inhalation, butthere were no other injuries. Damages were estimated at $60 million.

Besides the winds, firefighters struggled with the oceanfront homes’ decksand pillars.

“We had firefighters crawling on their bellies, dragging hosesunderneath decks … to save these homes you still see standing,” Freemansaid.

For those that weren’t, Somers and other homeowners returned to sift throughcharred rubble.

“It was a beautiful house, it was a beautiful place to live,” theactress told reporters Tuesday. “We’ll rebuild.” In addition to thecause, officials were concerned about why the fire spread from the park’snatural area into homes.

Celebrity-studded Malibu stretches 21 miles along the seaward side of therugged Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles.

Mayor Ken Kearsley said locals have long objected to state restrictions thatlimit the amount of brush that can be cleared away from homes in many parts ofthe city to 100 feet to preserve vegetation and wildlife. He said a state firecommission recommended 300 feet.

Kearsley wouldn’t say if he thought the restrictions led to the fire’s spread,but he voiced concern that other areas of the city could be in danger.

“It’s absolutely frustrating,” Kearsley said. “As far as thecity is concerned, homeowners are first. It’s our responsibility to protect lifeand property.”

Malibu’s history includes a 1993 inferno that burned hundreds of homes andkilled three people. Since then, the city has taken steps to deal with naturaldisasters, including hiring an emergency coordinator and saving $10 million torebuild any infrastructure destroyed by fire.

The city set up caches of food and supplies in different areas and anemergency operations center.

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