Evacuees allowed to return and canyon roads reopen to residents; Corral Fire 70 percent contained; 4,720 acres burned, 53 homes lost

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Fire Update: 8:20 p.m. Sunday

All mandatory evacuations were lifted at 8 p.m. The canyon roads previously closed are now open for residents. Those living in the area should be prepared to show identification to be able to access the roads. Pacific Coast Highway is open throughout Malibu.

The Corral Fire that sparked early Saturday morning and raged through Malibu’s canyons burning nearly 5,000 acres is 70 percent contained with “some control burned fires” as of 8 p.m. on Sunday, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Fire officials expect full containment by Monday evening, one day earlier than was previously expected. Arson investigators suspect “human activity” as the cause of the fire, which started at the top of Corral Canyon.

The number of structures reported destroyed and damaged in the fire has gone up since earlier today because the Fire Department’s damage assessment crew was able to access areas it hadn’t been able to enter previously. Eighty structures have been destroyed, including 53 single-family homes and 27 outbuildings. Also destroyed were 14 vehicles, including 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.

Fire crews worked through Saturday night battling flames, and the Santa Ana winds have died down, enabling firefighters to hold the blaze. More than 1,700 firefighters, 290 engines and 19 water dropping aircraft have been 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 and power outages to more than 1,300 Southern California Edison customers. Charter Communications cable, telephone and Internet service is out in most areas. Charter Vice President Fred Lutz wrote in a press release that restoration work cannot begin until Edison crews first restore their damaged power lines and poles.

“While not yet confirmed, we understand that Charter may be able to complete their work by Sunday evening,” wrote Lutz.

‘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.