California wildfire sweeps down on Malibu, destroying 30 homes

  • Article by: Robert Jablon
  • Associated Press
  • November 24, 2007 - 9:07 PM

MALIBU, CALIF. - A fast-moving wildfire pushed by Santa Ana winds raced through the canyons and over the mountains of this wealthy enclave for the second time in little more than a month Saturday, destroying dozens of homes and forcing as many as 14,000 residents to flee.

The fire erupted in the wee hours after the long-predicted Santa Anas finally returned, and it quickly grew before the winds died down. Forty-nine homes were destroyed and another 27 damaged, said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman.

By midafternoon, the fire was estimated at 7 square miles, with 25 percent containment.

"Waking up at 4 in the morning with the smell of smoke in your nose and the wind beating at the windows is something that we learn to live with here, but it always comes as something of a shock," said Mayor Jeff Jennings.

All the homes that were destroyed were in the fire's initial morning surge before 50-mph winds slowed and firefighters gained a foothold.

By Saturday evening, about half of the evacuees were allowed to return to their homes, authorities said. The fire had subsided considerably and was expected to be more than half contained today, Freeman said.

Fifteen helicopters and 15 airplanes, including a retardant-dropping DC-10 jumbo jet, attacked from the air while 1,700 firefighters battled flames on the ground. Six firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Helicopters lowered hoses into pools and the nearby Pacific Ocean to refill their tanks for water-dropping runs, and SuperScooper amphibious airplanes skimmed the ocean to reload.

Hundreds of firefighters and equipment from throughout the state had been positioned in Southern California for most of the week because of the predicted winds, which had been expected to blow most of the week but didn't arrive until late Friday.

Officials remained wary despite the decrease in wind speeds.

The mayor said the fire "could have been far, far worse than it was" but still urged residents to "listen to your radios, go outside and see which way the wind is blowing. Stay alert. Stay vigilant."

Freeman said 10,000 to 14,000 people fled the fire. Investigators were trying to determine the cause, he said.

Another fire near Ramona in San Diego County was fully contained at less than a square mile. A firefighter suffered a minor cut when an air tanker dropped retardant on his fire engine, breaking its windshield.

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