Malibu money is no match for Mother Nature

MALIBU, California (Reuters) - Some of Malibu’s wealthy denizens may reign over Hollywood, but Mother Nature has once again shown who’s really in charge of their picturesque seaside retreat.

Since wind-driven wildfires erupted in Malibu’s canyons before dawn on Sunday, hopscotching flames and embers have wrecked havoc on this affluent enclave in the hills and beaches west of Los Angeles for the second time this year.

“It’s been very touch and go for the last 24 hours. It was literally right up to the doorsteps yesterday afternoon,” Malibu resident Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of Dreamworks Animation, told Reuters on Monday.

“I’m in Chicago right now, so I don’t know the latest, but it’s obviously very, very scary for all of us out there.”

Five homes were destroyed on Sunday, including a landmark castle that belonged to philanthropist Lilly Lawrence, who estimated her losses “way up in the double-digit millions.”

Malibu, 25 miles west of Hollywood, is where the uber wealthy go for privacy, either in multi-million-dollar beachfront homes where public access is difficult or in mansions and ranches built up in the canyons overlooking the sea.

The Pacific Ocean and the majestic Santa Monica Mountains conspire for unbeatable views and sun-filled drives up the Pacific Coast Highway.

A-list actors like Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson and Sean Penn have property in the area, as do singers Sting and Olivia Newton-John. Media mogul David Geffen recently invested some of his considerable wealth in the Malibu Beach Inn, turning the landmark lodge into a luxury hotel.

With the outbreak of fire, Geffen opened the inn to two dozen evacuees for free, as well as to 80 firefighters who slept there in shifts.

“Why be empty? I’d rather it go to good use,” managing director Alan Goldschneider said. “They try to throw down money and their credit cards, but we’re not charging a soul. They’re saving our houses.”


In a similar vein, a local supermarket established a special no-charge checkout lane for firefighters and other emergency personnel.

Malibu also is where many of Hollywood’s rich and famous go to find themselves or seek refuge from the rigors of stardom.

Promises, a rehabilitation center frequented recently by bad girls Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, was evacuated on Monday, celebrity site reported.

Even with smoke and flames looming above town on Monday, officials invoked the “good vibrations” that epitomize the laid-back lifestyle of Malibu to reassure its evacuees.

“It’s a horrible day, but it’s also a beautiful day because you get to spend time with your family,” Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich said at a press conference. “So kind of live in the moment. We’re blessed to be alive. We’re blessed to be here.”

As if taking the mayor’s advice, a group of about 20 surfers took to the waves at Malibu Lagoon State Beach during the day. But one said he decided to call it quits when smoke in the air made it too difficult to breathe.

“I’m going back to take care of my house,” said Dan O’Connor, 36, as he strolled up Pacific Coast Highway, a surfboard tucked under his arm and a bandanna over his face.

Additional reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles