MALIBU, Calif. (October 21, 2007) — A wildfire driven by powerful Santa Ana wind threatened a university and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the Malibu Hills on Sunday, authorities said. Flames destroyed a church and several homes, one of them a landmark castle.
About 500 firefighters worked to protect Pepperdine University and some 200 homes in the upscale Malibu Crest and Serra Retreat neighborhoods, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Sam Padilla.
The blaze had charred at least 1,000 acres — or more than a square mile — and had jumped the Pacific Coast Highway, closing the popular road and setting fire to cars and trees in shopping center parking lots along the route. TV footage also showed several buildings in flames in the area, including clusters of beach-side homes.
Faculty and staff at the 830-acre Pepperdine campus were urged to evacuate, school spokesman Jerry Derloshon said. Students had been instructed to gather their belongings from their dorm rooms and report to the school’s cafeteria and basketball arena. Power was out at the university but both evacuation areas had generators, said student and resident advisor Amanda Lewis, 21.
Helicopters dropped water on flames in the hills above the campus, and palm trees smoldered on the ocean-facing side of the campus.
Flames consumed the landmark Castle Kashan, a stately fortress-like home with turrets and arched windows used for shows including “The Rockford Files,” as about a dozen residents watched from across a street. Chunks of brick fell from the exterior of the burning building overlooking the coast. Erratic wind gusts hampered efforts to drop water from aircraft and pushed flames toward the Hughes Lab technology research campus, about a mile north of Pepperdine.
Flames engulfed Malibu Presbyterian Church, which had been evacuated, said youth pastor Eric Smith. “That’s the really good news, that everyone’s out and safe,” Smith said.
Palm trees bent in half and embers were carried through the air as wind gusted to 60 to 65 mph. Thick smoke obscured the sun.
Susan Nuttall sat in her black Mercedes in a cul-de-sac just off the Pacific Coast Highway, saying she had fled her condo just below the Pepperdine campus.
“We’re all scared to death and we have nowhere to go,” said Nuttall, 51, still wearing a bathrobe and holding her chihuahua. Mitra Rajabi came to get her 80-year-old mother from her home near Pepperdine.
“We’ve been through this before, but it’s never been this bad,” said Rajabi, 39, of Pacific Palisades. “It was like a war zone.”
Jane Seymour owns a home in the area. When asked by Access Hollywood on Sunday if her home was OK, a rep for the “Dancing with the Stars” contestant said “Jane and her family are thus far safe.”
The Puerco Canyon area was evacuated and a voluntary evacuation was in effect in the Corral Canyon area, Topanga Canyon emergency preparedness spokeswoman Lindajo Loftus said.
Wildfires had been widely expected in Southern California during the weekend as hot weather and strong Santa Ana wind marked the height of traditional wildfire season after one of the driest rain years on record.
Malibu, home of about 13,000 people, stretches along 27 miles of Pacific coastline. The area is home to celebrities including Barbara Streisand, Mel Gibson, Ted Danson, David Geffen and Pierce Brosnan.
Last January, a wildfire driven by Santa Ana wind destroyed the home of actress Suzanne Somers and three other multimillion-dollar residences.
The community also is home to about 25 rehabilitation facilities, including Promises Residential Treatment Center, whose guests have included Brittany Spears, Ben Affleck, Charlie Sheen, Diana Ross and Matthew Perry.