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Monday, January 08, 2007

2007 Malibu Fire Brings Back Memories of 1993 & 1996

The instant I arrived home tonight, my phone started ringing. Very quickly, memories of the Malibu fires of 1993 and 1996 came back to me. Apparently a fire started in the Malibu bluffs right across the street from Pepperdine University, destroying between 4-10 homes down the hill from the school. Details are still sketchy, but a portion of an article from CNN is included below.

Update: Malibu had another fire today, October 21st 2007 - more on that:

Here are my memories from 1993 & 1996:

Back in 1993, I was a freshman on the campus of Pepperdine University without a car or other transportation. In November, the annual Santa Ana winds showed up and red flag warnings we issued throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties. A fire started on the Calabasas side of the Santa Monica mountain range in Old Topanga and the historic fire started. Of course plants of the chaparral are known to burn every 14 years or so naturally -- many of these areas had not burned since 1930. The results were disastrous -- 100 foot flames and 268 homes destroyed. I ended up spending the evening evacuated into the Firestone Fieldhouse gymnasium at Pepperdine with about 100 students, after all my friends left to brave 4-5 hours of traffic on Pacific Coast Highway. Sleeping on the floor, with a blanket and pillow from my dorm, a layer of smoke filled the gym. We awoke in the morning to see fire completely surrounding the University boundaries in a ring of fire. Fortunately, no structures on campus were burned -- partially due to the fact that Pepperdine University's campus is a natural border and a great place to stage the firefighters. So, it was used as the base. Things returned to normal on campus within a few days, it took a few years for the Malibu community to rebuild.

1996 was a little different story. Again, during some Santa Ana conditions -- a fire started near the 101 Freeway in Calabasas and raced towards Malibu driven by 70mph winds. Within 2 hours, the flames reached the mountains surrounding Pepperdine University. I was a senior at Pepperdine University, and walked into class just as the fire was announced. By the time we walked out 50 minutes later, it was announced that we needed to evacuate. When I arrived back to my dorm room, I could see the flames just creeping over the hill by the horse stables. Within minutes, the stables were engulfed in flames -- fortunately all the livery were evacuated. For the most part, the campus was no where near as protected as it was with the first fire as the fire department had not yet set up and operations center on the campus. This was evident in the stable loss and other areas burning around the campus. In fact, it did burn around the President's home, but no other structures were damaged or destroyed.


MALIBU, California (AP) -- A wildfire fanned by Santa Ana winds destroyed eight seaside mansions and damaged five others Monday as it spread over more than 10 acres in this celebrity enclave, authorities said.

Flames boiled furiously out of the skeletons of million-dollar beach homes as palm trees bent in winds blowing at 21 mph.

More than 300 firefighters battled the blaze at West Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road, said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Ron Haralson.

The blaze erupted about 5 p.m. near West Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road. Residents were being evacuated on the west end of the canyon road, Sheriff's Sgt. John Hocking said. (Watch dramatic footage of helicopters dropping water on the towering flames )
TV news helicopters shot scenes of flames blowing down seaside slopes toward shoreline homes.
Winds appeared to be blowing the fire toward the ocean.

"It's so windy out there, it's kind of scary," said Roberto Cardenas, an employee at Coogies Beach Cafe.

Firefighting help was requested from the city of Los Angeles and neighboring Ventura County, Inspector Sam Padilla said. Two helicopters were on the scene, and two more were summoned.

Malibu has frequently been the scene of devastating fires, with its steep, brushy canyons funneling winds into luxurious neighborhoods where Pacific views draw movie stars and millionaires. In 1993, hundreds of homes were lost and three people were killed. A 1996 fire injured 11 people and destroyed six homes.

"We've been seeing firetrucks screaming by," said Mike Gibson, manager of Diedrich Coffee, just over the hill from the fire.

The fire was less than a mile (1.6 kilometer) from Pepperdine University, but there was no immediate threat, said spokeswoman Molly Drobnick. "It's less than a mile away. There is quite a few flames. It's a pretty big fire."

Red flag warnings had been posted for much of Southern California because of strong north and northeast winds and low humidity.

Santa Ana winds blow when high pressure forms over the Great Basin and cold, dry air rushes out of the north or northeast toward the coast, reaching high speeds through canyons and passes.


Anonymous said...

wow the fire must have been big!