Malibu wildfire threatens homes as Santa Anas blow

MALIBU, Calif. -- A 1,200-acre wildfire stoked by fierce Santa Ana winds threatened hundreds of homes Monday in the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

An estimated 250 homes were at risk, said Los Angeles County Fire Department spokeswoman Maria Grycan. Two homes were damaged, along with a car.

"Right now the wind is the most dangerous aspect of this," Grycan said as flames danced around homes, some protected by green lawns, others by fire engines.

The cause was under investigation, but it is believed a downed power line sparked the blaze, Inspector Mike Brown said.

It broke out at midmorning in the Trancas Canyon area near the west end of 27-mile-long Malibu and quickly moved northwest at a speed of more than 3 miles per hour, said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Brian Jordan. It was less than 10 percent contained by 7 p.m. as it continued to jump from ridge to ridge, burning its way up the coast.

A mandatory evacuation was ordered for Encinal Canyon and a voluntary evacuation was urged for Decker Canyon, said sheriff's Lt. Phil Abner.

About 100 people left their homes. They were directed to Malibu High School, where the Red Cross had set up a shelter, and evacuation points at two state beaches.

About 600 firefighters were at the scene, some rushing from as far away as Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Also burning Monday was a 150-acre fire in a rural area near Norco, 45 miles east of Los Angeles. An estimated five homes were damaged, said Joanne Evans, a Riverside County fire spokeswoman.

Jane Adams, 60, walked with her daughter along Pacific Coast Highway on Monday night to retrieve her car from her Malibu home. Adams said she and previous owners of her Malibu house rebuilt it after fires in 1942, 1956 and in the 1970s.

"Malibu people are stupid, they rebuild," said Adams, who has lived in Malibu for 27 years. "We do. We stick it out."

Adams said she and her daughter were walking back to protect the house overnight from embers that could ignite a wooden deck.

"I think we're lucky this time, now the brush will be all burned up. We'll have another 20 years," she said.

Maren Scaccia, 33, said she rushed home as soon as she heard about the fire to check on her 90-year-old grandmother who was visiting from Chicago. She was relieved to find her grandmother safe and the house spared.

"They do a good job, these firemen," Scaccia said.

The dangerous Santa Anas typically blow between September and February. In October and November 1993, the winds fanned fires that charred thousands of acres, killed three and destroyed 1,000 buildings in Malibu, Altadena and Laguna Beach.

The blaze in the Trancas Canyon area was the third since the northeasterly winds hit Southern California late Sunday. A 5-acre blaze in Latigo Canyon and a 10-acre blaze in Corral Canyon, both to the east of Trancas, were contained early Monday.

The two earlier fires caused no damage or injuries. The cause of those fires remained under investigation.

The seasonal winds are formed by dry air rushing from the western interior toward the coast, gaining speed and warmth as they descend from the high desert. They are known as Santa Anas below the mountains and passes of Southern California.

The National Weather Service warned they would last through Tuesday morning, with sustained speeds from 25 mph to 45 mph and gusts to 70 mph.


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