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 early 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 P. Michael Freeman.
By midafternoon the fire was estimated at 4,500 acres, or about 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 the 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.
“Lost homes can be rebuilt, but lost lives can`t,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Malibu. “We`re grateful there were no deaths.”
Helicopters lowered hoses into swimming pools and the nearby Pacific 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.