Corral Fire 90 percent contained; 4,901 acres burned, 86 structures destroyed

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Fire Update: 5:30 p.m. Monday

The Corral Fire that sparked early Saturday morning and raged through Malibu’s canyons burning nearly 5,000 acres is 90 percent contained with no active flames, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Fire officials expect full containment by this evening. Arson investigators suspect “human activity” as the cause of the fire, which started at the top of Corral Canyon.

Eighty-six structures have been destroyed, including 53 single-family homes and 33 outbuildings (the earlier figure of 88 total structures destroyed has been reduced by the Fire Department). Also destroyed were 37 vehicles and one mobile home. Forty-five structures were damaged, including 34 single-family homes and 11 outbuildings. (See next story for a partial list of homes affected).

No lives have been lost in this fire, the second major blaze to hit Malibu in a little more than a month. Six firefighters suffered minor injuries, including one with burns to the face.

The city of Malibu has announced that the Michael Landon Center at Bluffs Park is open until 6 p.m. as a place “for fire victims to rest throughout the day.” Beverages will be provided.

All mandatory evacuations were lifted last 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 as of 10:30 a.m. today. Edison Region Manager Mark Olson said it is expected their service will return before nightfall.

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 this 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 those many of those customers today, and for all of them by tomorrow.

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.. Tonight’s City Council meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. will be webcast on the city’s Web site at www.ci.malibu.ca.us.

‘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 home 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.

The fire, which reportedly sparked at 3:30 a.m. along a dirt road at the top of Corral Canyon, caused a reported 10,000 people to evacuate.

‘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 might have 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.

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 fool to be having a fire on 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.

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.

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 in the Oct. 21 fire, 4,565 acres burned and six homes and two businesses (the Malibu Presbyterian Church and Malibu Mirror & Glass), were destroyed in the Malibu Canyon fire.

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