Fire destroys Malibu Road homes

Residents and owners of four destroyed homes and several other damaged ones in Monday’s fire search for lost pets, assess losses. One person was hospitalized and treated for smoke inhalation.

By Ryan O’Quinn / Special to The Malibu Times

Four homes were destroyed and five others were damaged as a fire quickly raced from Pacific Coast Highway at the top of Bluffs Park to homes along Malibu Road on Monday afternoon, according to fire officials.

At around 5 p.m. on Monday, a small brush fire that started near the Michael Landon Center on the bluffs spread to the hillside below in a matter of minutes. The combination of high winds, warm temperatures and low humidity made a recipe for disaster where at least 20 acres were engulfed in flames as the evening progressed.

Firefighters responded quickly to the scene, as 911 calls came in.

“We were dispatched at 5:01 p.m.,” Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said. “The first units arrived on scene at 5:04.”


As the sun set and the fire spread, a large plume of smoke and leaping flames of 50 to 100 feet could be seen along the coast as far south as Playa Del Rey. A small crowd gathered near Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon as fire engines arrived on the scene from both directions on the highway and canyon. In a short time, 300 firefighters were dispatched from Los Angeles County, the city of Los Angeles and Ventura County.

The homes of residents Al Ehringer and Christina Carmel, Suzanne Somers, Rob MacLeod George Roland were destroyed in the fire. Resident Ashley Lewis was hospitalized and treated for smoke inhalation.

Ehringer and Carmel were in Australia at the time of the fire and did not know their home had been destroyed until they returned to Los Angeles late Tuesday afternoon. The couple has four dogs, one a small white chow named Angel that is still missing. Carmel spoke to The Malibu Times by phone on Tuesday and said Ehringer’s son had picked them up from the airport in tears, informing them of the loss. Upon her return to Malibu, she immediately went to look for her missing dog. Two dog sitters for Carmel and Ehringer said the other dogs were doing well, including a chocolate lab that was photographed barely escaping the fire from a pool or hot tub (see page A1).

Malibu Road resident Ann Walker, whose home is two houses over from the Ehringer home, said she was lucky to escape any damage-the home next to hers was damaged on one side. Walker said she was home, sick in bed, Monday afternoon and happened to look out the window overlooking the ocean on her way to the kitchen. She said she saw a huge plume of smoke pouring out over the ocean. She ran out the front of her house and in seconds she said she saw flames coming down the hill toward Malibu Road.

“I packed up,” Walker said, while her husband hosed down a palm tree that caught on fire.

“[The] winds were bad,” she said. “It happened so fast.”

Although Walker had prepared to leave, she said she couldn’t evacuate because fire trucks had blocked the road. However, she said firefighters were very helpful and gracious, making sure that she and others were OK, and at one point assured her that her home was safe.

Malibu Road resident Mindy Heydon said the flames were like a “dragon’s tongue” coming over the hill. “It was a matter of minutes,” and “you could hear the sirens and the coyotes howling.”

Malibu road resident Sid Dinow said he was unaware there was a fire down the street until he received a phone call.

“I started to watch the football game and one of my daughters called and [asked] ‘How bad is it?'” Dinow said. “I said, ‘How bad is what?’ So I went outside and the fire was down the street on that hillside that separates Malibu Road from PCH.”

Dinow echoed the sentiment that the result could have been much worse and praised the Fire Department’s efforts.

“The fire department was unbelievable,” Dinow said. “It could have been a disaster for everybody. The houses caught on fire and it happened so fast. Once they got there, it seemed like they were able to protect almost everything.” Dinow said he was not told to evacuate, but he was concerned throughout the evening. Dinow said his family went to sleep with assurance from the Fire Department that the fire was under control.

High winds, dry weather a recipe for disaster

Earlier on Monday, winds of 15 to 25 mph swirled along the coast. Gusts of up to 40 mph made it difficult for shoppers to walk to and from their automobiles at Malibu Country Mart and Malibu Colony Plaza. The National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning for Monday.

“Because we were in red flag weather conditions we had resources pre-deployed to the Malibu area in the form of engines, patrols, water tenders, things like that,” Haralson said. “There were various types of resources in the Malibu area in the event that we did get a fire. Unfortunately, we did get a fire and it was very helpful to have resources already in that area ready to strike.”

According to reports, fire crews responded quickly; however, because of the narrow lots and the number of homes situated close together, the fire jumped from home to home rather swiftly.

“With a wind-driven fire like that and the intensity of that fire there is always the potential that the damage could be tremendous,” Haralson said.

Despite reports to the contrary, Haralson said flying helicopters at night is very common for the county Fire Department.

“Based on the assessment by the incident commander and the pilots, and the conditions at that time, if it is safe to fly and drop water, we will do that.” Haralson said. “There are other nighttime hazards that we have to be aware of as far as wires and things like that, but for us to fly at night is very common.”

Ed Lozano of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, speaking to a local television station, said that while there was a loss of homes, the wind conditions could have made the damage worse.

“With a good, aggressive, coordinated effort, we were able to keep the loss [to a few structures],” Lozano said. “With a quick-moving fire and the homes packed together so closely there on the beach, we made a very aggressive attack and were able to stop it.”

By 6 p.m., traffic was being diverted through the campus at Pepperdine University. There were no immediate reports of injuries and one resident was treated for smoke inhalation. A shelter for evacuees was opened at Malibu High School.

Later in the evening, a traffic Sig-Alert was issued for Pacific Coast Highway and traffic was blocked at Las Flores Canyon and Pacific Coast Highway and at Kanan Road and the highway.

Fire helicopters landed on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University and took turns loading reclaimed water that is stored in special ponds on campus.

As of press time, fire officials, as well as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are investigating the cause of the fire.

Editor Laura Tate contributed to this story.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

Related Articles

- Advertisement - spot_img


Latest Articles

%d bloggers like this: