Malibu fire expected to be extinguished by Friday

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Malibu fire update 11:32 a.m. Tuesday

By Jonathan Friedman and Laura Tate / The Malibu Times

The Malibu fire, which has scorched up 4,400 acres, is now limited mostly to random hot spots and fire embers, but officials are not prepared to call the fire controlled.

“There is not a whole lot of fire to be seen,” said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Edward Osorio. “But we cannot say it is controlled because with the Santa Ana winds coming later today those ambers could flare up, and we could be back to the same problem.”

Osorio said the fire moved yesterday moved from the Carbon Mesa area to Piuma Road, and then jumped over the road to Saddle Peak, where fighters were able to hold it.

Hot spots continue to burn on the ridges of Las Flores Canyon, but are not moving down the canyon or the valley side. Helicopters will be dropping fire retardant on the top of the canyon’s ridges to make sure embers and hot spots do not flare up with the expected winds this afternoon.

The temperature in Malibu as of noon is 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and winds are gusting between 18 and 24 mph. The humidity is 7 percent.

Fire Captain Kurt Schaefer, public information officer for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said containment of the fire as of 7 a.m. was 15 percent. The Santa Ana winds were predicted to end today, but officials say they will continue through to Wednesday afternoon. Schaefer said they still expect to have the fire extinguished by Friday.

“We have a better feeling about this fire,” Schaefer said, “but we’ll have an even better feeling once the Santa Ana winds go away.

“The threat is still out there.”

Fire personnel in the area have been reduced from 1,700 to 900.

President Bush as declared a federal state of emergency for Southern California to ease federal disaster aid to the area.

Another Malibu home in the Rambla Pacifico area was destroyed, in addition to five others.

Community meetings will take place in Malibu Tuesday 7 p.m. at Malibu High School, located at 30215 Morning View Drive, and at the Agoura/Calabasas Community Center on Wednesday, 7 p.m., located at 27040 Malibu Hills Rd, Calabasas.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took a tour of Malibu Presbyterian Church 10 a.m. Monday morning and declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles County and six other counties in Southern California.

The number of firefighting personnel has reached its maximum in the state. Firefighters from Nevada, Oregon, Arizona and Northern California are being sent to help battle the fires throughout Southern California.

“The wind is our No. 1 enemy,” the governor said.

Six homes, and the Malibu Presbyterian Church have been destroyed. Malibu Glass and Mirror has destroyed, but owners say they will open their business elsewhere. Nine other homes and five commercial properties have been damaged.

Path of destruction

The fire that ignited at approximately 4:55 a.m. Sunday raged through Malibu Canyon and down to Pacific Coast Highway, destroying the famous Castle Kashan and the Malibu Presbyterian Church, as well as four more Malibu homes. Five businesses at the Malibu Colony Shopping Plaza were reported damaged, and the Malibu Glass Company was destroyed.

Reportedly sparked by power lines downed by 80 mph winds, the fire known as the “Canyon Fire” has scorched up to 4,400 acres as of Tuesday morning, and is now 15 percent contained. Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said at a 4:30 p.m. press conference on Sunday that the fire was “being held” at Carbon Mesa and Carbon Canyon areas. “Progress has been made, but I want to emphasize that this is a very dynamic and potentially dangerous situation,” Freeman said.

No deaths have been reported. The lone injury was for a firefighter who had to be treated for dehydration. Two Pepperdine University employees were treated for smoke inhalation at the Malibu Urgent Care Center.

The firefight has included 247 engines, 14 hand crews, two dozers, four water tenders, two fixed wing aircraft and 14 helicopters and at one point up to 1,700 firefighters. The fire suppression as of Sunday evening has cost $1.2 million.

The fire chief strongly recommended that all residents heed the requests by law enforcement to evacuate.

Approximately 1,500 people from 500 homes have evacuated.

Earlier in the afternoon, those who had not left Malibu remained to contemplate the damage.

Mike Figueroa, a caretaker for a home on Carbon Beach said, “Wow, I’ve seen fires, but not this close up. It’s not so much frightening as it is hectic and chaotic.”

Topanga Canyon resident Paul Williamson, who was visiting a friend in Malibu, said he had been riding his bike around the city all day. “It’s very intense,” he said. “I’m a little nervous about it going to Topanga. There’s always nervousness, especially since the fire appears to be swirling around with no direction.”

The city’s streets, roads and highway in the afternoon were eerily empty, with only Sheriff’s patrol cars, fire department engines and media roaming the city.

A group of Pepperdine students had “sort of snuck out” of the university and were found sitting on top of a car watching the fire. They had been spent the better part of the morning driving along Pacific Coast Highway.

“There were burning cars,” said freshman Richard Shaw. “It looked like a war zone.”

He continued, “I’m from New York and this is the wildest thing I’ve ever seen. The only thing we [New York City] have are structure fires. This is mind-boggling”

Power is out in many portions of Malibu, including City Hall. The city’s Emergency Operation Center has been set up at Pepperdine University.

“It’s unpredictable,” said Councilmember Andy Stern, “And when you hear Chief Freeman say it’s ‘zero contained,’ that’s frightening.”

There were reports that the Malibu Coast Animal Hospital at Legacy Park on Pacific Coast Highway had burned down, but Dr. Dean Graulich, in a radio interview, said that it was an old unused clinic that had been destroyed. All animals at the operative hospital were evacuated at approximately 6 a.m. and were taken to his home where, Graulich said, “the dogs were running around” completely happy.”

The fire completely consumed “Castle Kashan” owned by Lilly Lawrence. Dr. Thomas Hodges built the 15,200-square-foot castle, which sits atop a bluff off Malibu Crest Road near the Malibu Presbyterian Church.

Lawrence, the daughter of a former Prime Minister of Oil of Iran, has opened her home to various charitable events throughout the years and the castle was filled with irreplaceable artifacts, including a chandelier reportedly valued at $1 million, an extensive collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia, as well as memorabilia from the Dalai Lama and Princess Diana.

The castle, which was on the market for $17 million, sits just above the Malibu Civic Center.

Malibu Township Council President Jefferson Wagner, who is a licensed pyrotechnic and special effects person and was on the scene at Carbon Canyon, said this afternoon that he has been “chipping in” and spot checking for further flames.

“This is evidence of why the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy parks plan needs to be reviewed,” Wagner said, “And truly most people will believe that after seeing how this thing can jump around and cause damage.”

(Some Malibu residents have hotly contested the SMMC parks plan, as it proposes overnight camping in several areas of Malibu, including Ramirez Canyon and Charmlee Wilderness parks, which opponents to the plan say is dangerous because of fire risk.)

Confusion reigned at Pepperdine University when a rumor was sparked that faculty was evacuated but not the students. A spokesperson from the university said the rumor was untrue and said all students and faculty members are safe. They were given facemasks because of the heavy smoke. Jerry Dersholon, public relations director for Pepperdine University, said all students were allowed to return to their dorms or homes around 3 p.m. He said there would be no classes on campus Monday.

Several Malibu residents were quoted on Channel 4 News saying that they “smelled fire” before the 5 a.m. outbreak, but were told by local fire stations there was “nothing to worry about,” according to one woman interviewed on camera. She said she is not permitted to return to her home, as one pocket of fire is burning directly behind her apartment building.

Photos of the fire can be seen at https://malibutimes.com/gallery/. Readers may submit photos at this site. If you have any news tips please email malibunews@malibutimes.com

Reporters Melonie Magruder and Meredith Rodriguez contributed to this story.