Wildfires Destroy Dozens of Homes Across Southern California
Oct. 22, 1996
CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) _ Wind-driven wildfires exploded across Southern California, destroying dozens of homes, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate and scorching 18,200 acres of brushland. Marines were called in to help fight the flames.
Fed by oily eucalyptus trees, the worst of the fires had destroyed 60 homes and rampaged across 5,100 acres by early today in the seaside suburb of Carlsbad in northern San Diego County.
``We're writing off the houses that are already on fire and getting to the ones we can save,'' said Fire Battalion Chief Sonny Hilliard. ``We're overwhelmed. Most of the area has already been evacuated.''
One man was hospitalized with burns over 45 percent of his body, and a firefighter was injured when his fire truck collided with another vehicle on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Early this morning, authorities ordered evacuations for San Marcos, a retirement community just east of Carlsbad, and a platoon of Marines was dispatched from Camp Pendleton to help firefighters there, police spokesman Don De Tar said. He didn't know how many people were affected by the new evacuation order.
Firefighters hoped that weaker winds and cooler overnight temperatures would give them an opportunity to make some progress in containing the blaze, said Carlsbad police Lt. Don Metcalf.
In the celebrity enclave of Malibu in Los Angeles County, a wildfire remained out of control today after charring 12,100 acres and destroying two homes.
Actress Shirley MacLaine said she had been through 10 fires and that defending her Malibu home was becoming old hat. ``They ought to change the area code, though, and make it 911,'' she quipped.
In the exclusive Lemon Heights section of Orange County, flames fed by Santa Ana winds up to 71 mph destroyed or damaged 29 homes on Monday. The wind apparently snapped three power lines, sparking the blaze that burned across 2 square miles before being controlled.
The cause of the Malibu and Carlsbad fires was under investigation.
Thousands of children at area schools were evacuated. Flames came within 200 feet of A.E. Wright Middle School, near the origin of the Malibu fire, and damaged a stable at sprawling Pepperdine University. Three campus-owned vehicles were destroyed, along with an air conditioning tower.
``Everybody is trying to leave Malibu. Everybody is scared, they're really scared,'' said Steve Aminian, owner of Coogies cafe.
Although the trendy Pacific Coast city is known for the million-dollar mansions of such celebrities as Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone, the fire mainly threatened Pepperdine, beach-front bungalows and mountainside homes.
Wherever the flames burned, residents worked frantically to pack belongings and save their property. Some doused rooftops with garden hoses and water lugged from swimming pools.
Lemon Heights residents threw shovelfuls of dirt at flames burning along a street as water-dropping helicopters made sorties on hot spots among the shells of burned-out homes.
Many others who weren't chased from their homes lined streets to stare in awe as dancing flames devoured homes on distant hillsides under a sky darkened by the thick smoke.
On the top of one canyon in Carlsbad, observers panicked when a smaller fire seemed to erupt toward them.
``It looks like lava,'' one woman screamed as she piled her children in a car and took off.
The Santa Ana winds are triggered each fall by high pressure over the Great Basin pushing air toward the West Coast where it becomes heated as it crosses Southern California's mountain passes.
The Southern California fires came five years and a day after a raging wildfire in the Oakland hills killed 24 people, injured 148 and destroyed 3,000 houses and apartments.