November 25, 2007 / 5:47 PM / 12 years ago

California fire partly contained, winds die down

By Dana Ford

MALIBU, Calif., Nov 25 (Reuters) - A wind-whipped wildfire that destroyed 49 homes in the exclusive beachside community of Malibu was partly under control on Sunday as firefighters took advantage of a break in the weather to gain the upper hand.

Officials said the fire, the second in just over a month to strike the seaside enclave hugging the Pacific Ocean, was 40-percent contained as of Sunday morning and no other homes were in imminent danger.

The blaze charred 4,720 acres (1,910 hectares) and forced more than 10,000 people to evacuate the community, popular with many of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Many evacuees were allowed to return home on Sunday as fire crews determined that their homes were no longer in danger.

As of Sunday morning, 51 structures had been destroyed including the 49 homes, many of them multimillion-dollar, ranch-style mansions in the canyons of central Malibu.

Flea, bass player for the rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers, told the Los Angeles Times that his home had been "burned to a crisp."

State officials this week pre-positioned hundreds of firefighters, aircraft and supporting fire gear across Southern California after forecasters predicted optimal fire conditions this weekend, fueled by Santa Ana winds that by early Saturday gusted up to 60 mph (96 kph).

The blaze started on Saturday and spread rapidly, but a quick response by firefighters saved many homes, one fire inspector said.

"If we had not had the pre-deployed firefighters, we could have lost a lot more homes than we did," said Los Angeles County Fire’s Sam Padilla.

Dry, brush-covered mountains descend to the ocean in Malibu, creating a spectacular but precarious place to live. Mansions line the beaches and canyons that snake up into the famously fire-prone hills.

More than 1,700 firefighters, 15 helicopters and 12 fixed-wing aircraft were mobilized. Six firefighters suffered minor injuries and some of them were taken to hospitals for observation, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said.

Fire officials had been bracing after devastating brush fires last month swept the dry hills of Southern California from Santa Barbara south to San Diego.

Across the region in October, at least a dozen people died, more than 1,500 homes were destroyed and 250,000 residents fled during the blazes, the largest evacuation in California’s recent history. (Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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