The Bel-Air fire that has destroyed homes and forced major evacuations is burning near the vineyard estate of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
About 1:30 p.m., a Los Angeles County firefighter drove by Murdoch’s property and noticed a portion of his vineyards on fire with gray smoke filling the air. He quickly radioed in to other firefighters who within minutes showed up and pried open the gate. Six firefighters rushed in to assess whether to fight the flames, burning on a slope, from below or above.
They decided it wasn’t possible to do so from the bottom. By 2 p.m., three helicopter water drops had been made on the portion of the vineyard that was on fire. Still, smoke rose in the air.
Murdoch released a statement Wednesday saying television footage showed there may be damage to some buildings in the upper vineyard area, but the house and the winery appear to be intact.
“The situation at Moraga Bel Air is very fluid at the moment,” he said in the statement. “We are monitoring the situation as closely as we can and are grateful to the efforts of all the first responders. Some of our neighbors have suffered heavy losses and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time.”
The 16-acre Moraga Vineyards estate has a Hollywood legend connection.
The property was once owned by Victor Fleming, director of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind.” Fleming built the home in 1939, the same year that both films were produced. Fleming kept horses and boarded a few, including those of his friend Clark Gable. In 1959, Thomas V. Jones and his wife, Ruth, purchased the property. Jones spent many years staring at the gorse-choked hillsides that rose steeply up from the house before setting down vines in 1978.
“It was simply stunning,” Murdoch told the Wall Street Journal. “The winery and vineyard, and the wine were a great bonus. I very quickly fell in love.”