Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thousands flee wildfire near Malibu, California

Disaster News Network: Several dozen homes were destroyed and thousands of residents were evacuated Saturday as a wildfire fanned by dry Santa Ana winds raced through the hills near Malibu, officials reported. Fire officials said about 35 homes had burned in the so-called Corral fire. The blaze, which began about 3:30 a.m. at the top of Corral Canyon, had burned some 4,500 acres by mid-afternoon. It was moving toward Malibu and had jumped the Pacific Coast Highway. Officials said at least 200 homes were threatened.

Six injuries to firefighters, all minor, were reported. Some 1,700 firefighters from California and other states were battling the blaze. Aircraft, including air tankers and a DC-10 tanker, were being used to fight the fire from the air. Electricity was out to 1,300 homes and was not expected to be restored until sometime Sunday, according to a spokesman for Southern California Edison.

Firefighters throughout Southern California were placed on alert this weekend with the forecast calling for strong Santa Ana winds and low humidity – the same conditions that prompted massive wildfires throughout the region last month. Those fires left more than a dozen people dead, destroyed some 1,700 homes and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

The fire was driven by gusts up to 50 mph, causing the fire to explode and spread rapidly. The winds were expected to die down later Saturday, giving firefighters a chance to gain ground on the blaze.

The cause of the fire was not determined. Arson investigators were on the scene. A red flag warning was issued until 6 p.m. Sunday for Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Evacuation centers were set up at Agoura and Channel Islands high schools. At Pepperdine University, students were initially sheltered at the Tyler Campus Center but were later allowed to return to their campus homes. All events scheduled for Saturday were cancelled.

The Canyon fire, which struck Malibu last month, burned 4,521 acres and damaged or destroyed 22 structures. The cost of battling that blaze was put at $5.8 million. It was one of nearly two dozen fires which burned across Southern California.

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