One Person Dead in California Wildfires

One Person Dead in California Wildfires

21 October 2007

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California, USA — One person was killed and four firefighters were seriouslyinjured near San Diego as wind-whipped wildfires feeding on the driest brush inyears erupted across Southern California today. Several homes and landmarkbuildings here were destroyed and seriously damaged.

A structure burns below the Malibu Knolls in Malibu, Calif.
Photo: Reed Saxon/Associated Press

A distinctive hilltop house known as the Castle Kashan was badly damaged by fire.
Photo: Dan Steinberg/Associated Press

Firefighters at a partially burned home on Malibu Colony Beach.
Photo: Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Firefighters battled a house fire in the Malibu hills northwest of Los Angeles.
Photo: Dan Steinberg/Associated Press

Two large fires in San Diego County had burned 5,500 acres by mid-afternoon.

In one in Portrero, an out-of-control fire surged over four firefighters andfour civilians, killing one resident and injuring the firefighters, said RoxanneProvaznik, the spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and FireProtection.

Smaller fires also burned near Castaic and in Ventura County.

Nearly a thousand firefighters fought to bring the fire in Malibu — whichhad burned 1,200 acres by early afternoon — under control. Helicoptersclattered overhead and engines screamed up and down a closed stretch of thePacific Coast Highway as smoke and flame billowed from the hillsides and canyonsacross from multi-million dollar beachfront homes of the rich and famous.

Three homes were destroyed, nine were damaged and several other buildings —including two landmarks — were burned as firefighters battled flames fanned bywinds of 50 to 60 miles per hour and much higher in passes and canyons. Thecause of the fire, which began just before 5 a.m., was undetermined, though fireofficials were looking into the possibility that downed power lines played arole.

Some 200 homes were evacuated, with several people sent to Zuma Beach,better-known as a surfing haven. In fact, some people kept right on riding thewaves and sun-bathing as the fire raged several miles away in this city of13,000 people about 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

“We’ve got everything on our side except for Mother Nature,” saidAssemblywoman Julia Brownley, who represents the area and noted weatherforecasts that called for intensifying temperatures and no let up in the windfor a couple of days.

The fires confirmed the worst fears of state and local officials who havewarned for months that the driest year on record in Los Angeles has made brushespecially susceptible to fires. Coupled with seasonal Santa Ana winds and hotspells, they braced for a round of particularly disastrous fires.

For a time, the fire here threatened PepperdineUniversity on the Pacific Coast Highway, but the campus was not evacuatedand eventually winds blew the fire away from it.

But for residents the fire prompted the all-too-familiar rhythms of fireseason, the wind at night, followed by the smell of smoke and the wail of sirens.

Mike Weinstock stood outside his beachfront house watching firefighters putout a small fire in a shopping center across the street, as well as the wall ofsmoke billowing from the main fire a few miles down Pacific Coast Highway.

The house three doors down had burned overnight and Mr. Weinstock had gone tohis roof with a garden hose to protect his property.

“I’ve lived here 20 years and I am not going anywhere,” he said. Thethreat of fire is simply part of life here, he said, with several fires, some ofthem much larger and destructive, having swept parts of Malibu over the years.

This fire, though, most likely will be remembered as the one that destroyedtwo landmarks, the Malibu Presbyterian Church and a large home known asHodges’ Castle that overlooked the civic center and played host to communityfunctions.

Built in the style of a Scottish castle in 1978 that locals considered eitherfabulous or an abomination, it was owned by Lilly Lawrence, a philanthropist anddaughter of a former Iranian oil minister. She often opened its doors forcommunity fundraisers and had recently put it on the market for $17 million.

“They were very important community buildings with great people behind them,”said Pamela Conley Uhlich, the mayor pro tem of Malibu.

At Zuma, four groups of evacuees checked into the Malibu Country Innoverlooking the beach, including Larry May, 59, a physician, who lives on MalibuRoad where several homes burned in a January fire.

“When you live in an area where there are natural disasters,” he said,“you get used to it.”

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