More than a half-dozen wildfires driven by powerful Santa Ana winds spread across Southern California on Sunday, killing one person in southeastern San Diego County while destroying several homes and a church in this tony, coastal community.
No details were immediately available about the death in San Diego County, but four firefighters and four other people were injured and taken to local hospitals, said Roxanne Provaznik, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Forestry.
Flames destroyed a church and several homes, one of them a landmark
The blaze had consumed at least 1,000 acres and forced the closure of the Pacific Coast Highway, authorities said.
The evacuees included faculty and staff at Pepperdine University, a school spokesman said.
Students had been instructed to gather their belongings from their dorm rooms and report to the school's cafeteria and basketball arena.
Power is out at the university but both evacuation areas have generators, student and resident advisor Amanda Lewis, 21, said.
Helicopters dropped water on the flames dotting the hills above the campus.
Palm trees smoldered on the campus glade that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
The erratic wind gusts could be seen pushing flames toward the Hughes Lab technology research campus about a mile north of the Pepperdine campus.
The fire engulfed Malibu Presbyterian Church, which had been evacuated, said youth pastor Eric Smith.
"That's the really good news, that everyone's out and safe," Smith said.
About a dozen residents gathered across the street from the landmark Castle Kashan, a stately fortress-like turreted structure that was consumed by flames.
Chunks of brick fell from the burning building.
TV news broadcasts showed clusters of burning beach-side homes.
Susan Nuttall, 51, who sat in her black Mercedes in a cul-de-sac just off the Pacific Coast Highway wearing a pink bathrobe and holding her white chihuahua, said she had fled from her condo just below the Pepperdine Campus.
"We're all scared to death and we have nowhere to go," Nuttall said.
Mitra Rajabi, 39, of Pacific Palisades came to get her 80-year-old mother from her home near Pepperdine.
"We've been through this before, but it's never been this bad," she said. "It was like a war zone."
Gusts of 60 to 65 mph carried embers through the air and bent palm trees nearly in half.
Thick, dark smoke filled the air and the sun appeared a flaming red.
About 500 firefighters were battling the blaze, attempting to protect Pepperdine and about 200 homes in the Malibu Crest and Serra Retreat neighborhoods, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Sam Padilla.
The Puerco Canyon area had been evacuated, with a voluntary evacuation in effect in the Corral Canyon area, Topanga Canyon emergency preparedness spokeswoman Lindajo Loftus said.
Aerial shots showed smoke and flames weaving through the nearby
Santa Monica mountains, which rise nearly 3,000 feet above the coast.
Homes are scattered throughout the hills along winding roads.
Los Angeles fire Inspector Rick Dominguez told KABC news that water-dropping planes were having trouble hitting the fire because strong winds were blowing the water before it could reach the ground.
Meanwhile, an out-of-control wildfire whipped up by 50-mph winds consumed about 500 acres early Sunday amid dry conditions in northeast Los Angeles County, authorities said.
The fire broke out late Saturday in the hills west of the Golden State Freeway in the Angeles National Forest, said Fire Inspector Jason Hurd.
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.
"There could be homes threatened by the end of the day Sunday if the fire continues to push to the south and southwest," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Stanton Florea told KNX radio.
L.A. County firefighters were assisting the Forest Service in battling the blaze, Hurd said.
A third blaze burned in an unpopulated canyon area in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley.
Los Angeles city fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey said the blaze, fanned by "howling" winds, had burned less than 25 acres, and threatened no homes or structures.
Downed power lines were found in the area, but officials didn't know if they had caused the blaze, 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.
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