Corral Fire fully contained; 4,901 acres burned, 86 structures destroyed

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Fire Update: 8:15 a.m. Tuesday

The Corral Fire that sparked early Saturday morning and raged through Malibu’s canyons burning nearly 5,000 acres is fully contained as of 6 p.m. Monday, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The origin of the fire is now under investigation through a joint effort by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and Fire departments and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “Human activity” has been determined to be the cause of the fire that started at the top of Corral Canyon.

“This was a criminal act… it’s either arson, malicious mischief or willful disregard” said Ron Schafer, superintendent of the Angeles District of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, at Monday night’s Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board meeting. Schafer serves as the vice chair of that board.

Eighty-six structures were destroyed, including 53 single-family homes and 33 outbuildings. Also destroyed were 37 vehicles and one mobile home. Forty-five structures were damaged, including 33 single-family homes and 12 outbuildings. (See next story for a partial list of homes affected).

Nobody was killed in the fire, the second major blaze to hit Malibu in a little more than a month. Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries, including one with burns to the face.

All mandatory evacuations were lifted Sunday night. All roads are now open as well.

The fire, which sparked at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Saturday disrupted power for more than 1,300 Southern California Edison customers due to the destruction of 50 power poles. Power was restored to all but 100 customers by 5 p.m. that day. Five customers in Corral Canyon are still without power.

Charter Communications cable, telephone and Internet service went out in most areas on Saturday because a primary fiber optic cable was destroyed. Charter spokesperson Craig Watson said yesterday morning that cable has been restored for 95 percent of the customers. The service is still unavailable for some people living in Corral Canyon, Latigo Canyon, Ramirez Canyon and the mobile home park at Paradise Cove because the electronic equipment serving those areas was destroyed. Watson said service should return for everybody today.

City TV is still not functioning. Watson said this is because an emergency installation of fiber optic cable to restore service for most customers was not large enough to also allow the municipal television station to operate.

‘Human activity’ could be cause of fire

An investigation is still underway, but there were reports of a party in the area near Mesa Peak and Mountain Way in Corral Canyon where the fire started.

Corral Canyon resident Scott Palamar, whose home was one of the first to burn down in the fire, said he had heard a car horn being honked repeatedly some time between 2:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. Saturday, and he thought to himself “‘Oh it’s a Friday night… must be some reveler.'” But later, after his neighbor called him at about 3:30 a.m. to tell him there was a fire, he thought maybe whoever honked the horn had been trying to warn people.

Palamar has long been active in trying to get more patrolling of the State Parks area near his home because of illegal late-night partying in caves located on parkland. State Parks Superintendent Schafer said at Monday’s SMMC meeting that rangers were patrolling the area from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., so no ranger was on patrol when the fire began. The last ranger report came at 10 p.m. on Friday, with no suspicious activity noted.

Palamar said in an interview with The Malibu Times Sunday morning that he saw an aerial shot on television of the area where the fire started and he saw the cave he showed to a Times reporter several months ago. He said that is possibly where the fire started, perhaps with someone having a party.

“Somebody was in the cave,” Palamar said. “I’m not sure it was deliberate; though who would be foolish to be having a fire on a windy night like that?

“Is it irony? Or what is it that has me being the victim of what I sought to avoid?” Palamar added.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said Saturday, “Everything is being investigated. We don’t have a cause at this time. We are very interested in ascertaining the cause, as is everyone.”

Complaints echoing Palamars’ of not enough rangers patrolling the local mountain parks to watch for illegal behavior, including campfires or other illegal activity, were brought up at Saturday’s press conference. Freeman said the question about lack of manpower in the area’s public parks was being seriously addressed.

‘A major event in our civic life

Fire crews worked through the weekend battling the fire. By Sunday, the strong Santa Ana winds had died down, enabling firefighters to hold the blaze. More than 1,700 firefighters, 290 engines and 19 water dropping aircraft were on the scene battling the Corral Fire.

“With a loss of this magnitude, the numbers of homes lost and damaged, it is difficult to find any kind of a silver lining,” Mayor Jeff Jennings said at a Saturday afternoon press conference. “It’s a major event in our civic life. The city has its work cut out for it in assisting those who want to rebuild and those who want to get their lives back together as rapidly as possible.

“We certainly dodged a bullet that could have been far, far worse than it is,” said Jennings, after expressing his sympathy to those who lost their homes.

Council member defends home?

Although flames destroyed five of the 35 homes in his neighborhood, City Councilmember Ken Kearsley stayed behind to fight the fires, reported KNX Radio. Kearsley, who has been through 10 Malibu fires, said he felt safe because of the constant water drops by helicopters. Local Realtor and former City Council candidate Beverly Taki called Kearsley a liar during Monday’s council meeting, saying that she drove by his house and saw no fire damage.

The fire season this year, Chief Freeman said, is particularly bad because of no rain and the high winds. “I’m praying for rain,” he said. “I hope you’ll join me in this prayer.”

He added, “This fire definitely is going to have us, policymakers and firefighters, rethink how to prepare for a fire season. The fire season is no longer September through November. It is now January through December.”

This was the third fire in Malibu this year. Jan. 8, 20 acres burned and five homes were lost in the Malibu Road Fire, and on Oct. 21, 4,565 acres burned and six homes and two businesses (the Malibu Presbyterian Church and Malibu Mirror & Glass) were destroyed in the Canyon fire.

Reported by Jonathan Friedman, Laura Tate, Karen York and Arnold York.