News Flash! Fire rages in Malibu

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The Malibu Canyon fire continues to burn uncontained, although Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman described it at a 4:30 p.m. press conference as “being held in the Carbon Mesa/Carbon Canyon area.” Five homes and two businesses have been destroyed; nine other homes and five businesses were damaged. The fire has burned more than 1,200 acres. There are mandatory evacuations at Serra Retreat, Sweetwater Canyon, Carbon Canyon, Carbon Mesa, Malibu Knolls, Malibu Road, Big Rock, Puerco Canyon Rambla Pacifico, Montenido, Lower Topanga and Tuna Canyon. There is a voluntary evacuation at Corral Canyon. All Malibu public schools and Topanga Elementary School will be closed on Monday. For information on private schools, contact the school An overnight shelter is available at Agoura High School and the Santa Monica Civic Center. An information center is set up at Malibu High School. Another press conference is scheduled for 10 p.m.

(Photos of the fire can be seen at http://www.malibutimes.com/photos/)

By Jonathan Friedman, Melonie Magruder and Laura Tate / The Malibu Times

A multiprong fire that ignited at approximately 4:50 a.m. today 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 more than 1,200 acres. As of 5 p.m., the fire was being “held” at Carbon Mesa and Carbon Canyon areas, said Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman, at a 4:30 p.m. press conference at Bluffs Park today. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported.

“Progress has been made, but I want to emphasize that this is a very dynamic and potentially dangerous situation,” Freeman said.

The fire chief strongly recommended that all residents heed the requests by law enforcement to evacuate. Another press conference is scheduled to take place at 10 p.m.

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.”

According the city of Malibu Web’s site, mandatory evacuations were ordered for Serra Retreat, Sweetwater Canyon, Carbon Canyon, Carbon Mesa, Malibu Knolls area, Malibu Road, Big Rock, Puerco Canyon, Rambla Pacifico and Monte Nido.

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”

Evacuation centers were set up at Zuma Beach and Agoura High School, and Red Cross centers are set up at Agoura High School and the Santa Monica Civic Center.

Power is out in many portions of 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 a private estate 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.

More than 500 firefighters, several super scoopers, helicopters and engines from around Los Angeles County were struggling to contain the fires that are burning on both sides of Malibu Canyon Road and have jumped Pacific Coast Highway, not far from where a fire burned Bluffs Park and destroyed five homes on Jan. 8.

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.

Malibu Canyon Road is closed in both directions between Pacific Coast Highway and the 101 Freeway. Topanga Canyon is closed to through traffic from Mulholland Highway to Pacific Coast Highway. Pacific Coast Highway is closed to traffic between Topanga Canyon and Kanan Dume Road.

People who need temporary shelter for their horses or other large animals can take them to Pierce College at 6201 Winnetka Ave. Woodland Hills, 91371. Small animals can be taken to the Agoura Animal Shelter at 29525 Agoura Road, Agoura Hills. 818 991.6384