Winter wildfires burn in Malibu, Calif.
By Peter Prengaman
The Associated Press
MALIBU, Calif. — Residents had only minutes to get out of their homes — or try to get back to them to rescue animals — when a fast-moving but short-lived wildfire raced through an exclusive seaside neighborhood leaving ashes in the footprints of mansions.
Four homes in the multimillion-dollar area and a guest house were destroyed in the blaze Monday and another four were significantly damaged, authorities said. One resident, who was not identified, was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.
Firefighters worked into Tuesday to douse hot spots left after flames, fueled by Santa Ana winds, consumed 20 acres in this celebrity enclave.
"The neighborhood looks like a war zone," County Fire Chief Michael Freeman said. "Anything that was down there that could burn, did burn."
Actress Victoria Principal was among the residents who rushed out to hose down their houses after the fire was reported about 5 p.m. Monday.
"She covered her house with water," said Principal's publicist, Alan Nierob, adding the actress' home was not damaged.
The cause of the fire was under investigation. Arson investigators were at the scene, although fire officials stopped short of calling it suspicious. The blaze was contained by 8 p.m.
"At this time we're not ruling anything out because everything needs to be considered," Freeman said.
Late Monday, residents began returning to their homes, as an ocean breeze filtered the smoky air. A charred black Jaguar sat in front of the skeleton of a former mansion, and burned palm trees littered the street.
Victoria Pinero, co-owner of Little Angels Pet Services, which takes care of dogs and other animals, was housesitting at one of the homes destroyed in the blaze. She said she wasn't home at the time the fire erupted, but rushed back to save the owners' four dogs.
She said she found two dogs, but "we are still looking for the last two dogs. ... We did everything we could," she said, crying. "For these people, the dogs were basically their children."
Fire officials didn't release the names of property owners who lost homes.
The blaze burned near the Malibu Colony, one of the area's original beachfront neighborhoods, dating to the 1930s. The densely built stretch of luxury homes has been a favorite of celebrities over the years.
Famous residents of Malibu include Mel Gibson, Pierce Brosnan, Pamela Anderson, Barbra Streisand, Ted Danson, David Geffen, and Courteney Cox-Arquette.
Art dealer Barry Farbenbloom was at the gym when the fire threatened his home, which he bought from actor Bill Murray 2 1/2 years ago.
He said it's wrong to think everyone who lives in Malibu is a millionaire.
"They are not," he said. "There are a lot of average Joes just making a living."
Malibu has frequently been the scene of devastating fires. In 1993, hundreds of homes were lost and three people were killed. A 1996 fire injured 11 people and destroyed six homes.
"Red flag" fire danger warnings had been posted for much of Southern California because of strong north and northeast winds and low humidity.
Associated Press writers Christina Almeida, Ana Beatriz Cholo and Daisy Nguyen in Los Angeles and Jeremiah Marquez in Malibu contributed to this report.