California Wildfire Threatens Pepperdine U., Upscale Neighborhoods

By Noaki Schwartz | October 22, 2007

A wildfire driven by powerful Santa Ana winds in California’s Malibu Hills on Sunday threatened a university, destroyed at least one home and forced the evacuation of hundreds more, authorities said.

About 400 firefighters were battling the blaze, attempting to protect Pepperdine University and about 200 homes in the upscale Malibu Crest and Serrah Retreat neighborhoods, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Sam Padilla.

The blaze had consumed at least 500 acres and forced the closure of the Pacific Coast Highway. Faculty and staff at the 830-acre Pepperdine campus were asked to evacuate, school spokesman Jerry Derloshon said. Students had not yet been evacuated, but were being gathered at the campus’ basketball arena.

Television footage showed winds whipping dust and debris around the area. Thick smoke obscured the sun, and erratic wind gusts of 60 to 65 mph bent palm trees nearly in half.

Wildfires were widely expected in Southern California over the weekend as hot weather and heavy Santa Ana winds marked the height of traditional wildfire season after one of the driest rain years on record.

Another wildfire that broke out late Saturday had consumed about 500 acres in northeast Los Angeles County. The blaze burned a shed but no homes were immediately threatened and the fire was burning toward the southwest away from the freeway, authorities said.

Fire officials were focused on protecting Piru, a Ventura County town of 1,200 people about 5 miles to the west and across a small lake from the blaze. A condor preserve was also potentially threatened.

A third blaze burned in an unpopulated canyon area in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley.

The blaze had burned less than 25 acres, and threatened no homes or structures, Los Angeles city fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

The fire was burning north of Los Angeles city limits, but city firefighters were attacking the blaze as county crews concentrated on the other two fires.

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