3 Fires Rage Out of Control Over 20,000 Acres Scorched : Santa Anas Fan Flames for 2nd Day

Times Staff Writers

Santa Ana winds got an unexpected early start today, feeding wildfires that burned across vast reaches of Southern California, including two major uncontrolled blazes in Malibu and a huge uncontrolled brush fire in Ventura County.

More than 20,000 acres had been scorched by midday as the stiff winds fanned the flames for the second day. At least 17 structures were destroyed, including six homes and a plant nursery in Malibu.

The most dangerous fire was the Piuma blaze in Malibu, which county firemen expected to burn through at least two inhabited canyons later in the day.


Fire Inspector Pat Bradshaw said the fire, nourished by erratic westerly winds, was pushing toward Corral Canyon and probably would move into Latigo Canyon later in the day. There is a cluster of homes in Malibu Bowl, located in Corral Canyon, and there are a number of homes in Latigo as well.

Homeowners in both canyons were advised to be ready to evacuate their places.

‘Structural Mode’

Firefighters were in their “structural protection mode,” Bradshaw said, meaning that they would let the fire advance but would try to keep it from burning homes and other buildings in its path.

About 1,200 firefighters from all over California were on the lines at the Piuma and Decker fires.

Piuma had burned 3,300 acres by noon, while Decker had consumed 5,800 acres. The Decker fire, which snaked across into Ventura County last night, has already jumped Pacific Coast Highway once at Leo Carrillo State Beach, and firefighters were trying to keep it from leaping it again, this time at Yellow Hill Road.

Firefighters had planned an all-out aerial assault on both Malibu blazes at dawn today, but the Santa Ana winds unexpectedly began blowing up at 4:30 a.m. By mid-morning, winds were gusting to 35 m.p.h.

Bradshaw said no reinforcements are in sight. He noted that one helicopter was pulled off the Malibu blazes to go to another fire this morning.

‘All Fires Begging for Crews’

“We are going to have to fight this fire with the equipment we have right now,” he said. “All the other fires are begging for crews just like we are.”

Helicopters were making water drops on the Piuma fire, the blaze firefighters were concentrating their efforts on today.

It was the Piuma fire that caused some students at Pepperdine University to flee their dormitories Monday night, when flames burned within about 30 yards of some buildings.

The biggest wildfire was burning in Ventura County about five miles northeast of the city of Ventura.

It has scorched at least 10,000 acres, nearly all of it uninhabited grass and brushland. The enormous fire was the result of a merging of two blazes that started Monday--the Ferndale and the Wheeler fires.

Arson Suspected

The sole fire in the City of Los Angeles was quickly put out Monday night but flared up again briefly this morning, only to be extinguished a second time. The 20-acre brush fire swept along the ridge line in Montecito Heights, destroyed two homes in the 500 block of East Fenn Street near the Pasadena Freeway and caused an estimated $162,000 damage. A Fire Department spokesman said arson is suspected.

The Box Canyon fire in Ventura County, near Chatsworth on the Los Angeles County side of the line, was reported 90% to 99% controlled this morning. One structure was destroyed, according to the Simi Valley Fire Department.

The U.S. Forest Service said a 500-acre fire burning near Mt. Gleason, about 15 miles north of La Canada Flintridge, was still burning through uninhabited brushland.

One death has been directly attributed to the fires. The Ventura County coroner’s office today identified the man who died Monday after battling flames near his home in Box Canyon as Johannis Leembruggen, 59, of Canoga Park, who was pronounced dead at Simi Valley Adventist Hospital at 4:25 p.m. Monday, apparently a heart attack victim.

Staff writers Jerry Belcher, Catalina Camia and Herb Sample contributed to this story.