California fires still out of control

Thousands of homes were still at risk from wildfires raging through tinder-dry Californian countryside today.

Thousands of homes were still at risk from wildfires raging through tinder-dry Californian countryside today.

The out of control flames have already engulfed huge swathes in the south of the state, claiming one life, destroying several homes and a church, and forcing an entire community to evacuate.

The fire is expected to burn for another two to three days.

Among celebrities reported as having to flee in the Malibu area were film director James Cameron and Olivia Newton-John.

Many others have homes there including Mel Gibson, Barbara Streisand, Richard Gere, Pierce Brosnan, and David Geffen.

Firefighters admitted last night that the fires had overwhelmed them.

“You do not expect something to stretch our resources to this magnitude,” Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Sam Padilla said. “To try and staff something this big, you cannot predict it.”

The Malibu fire was among about a dozen blazes that burned more than 35,000 acres from north of Santa Barbara to San Diego.

Last night Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in seven Southern California counties.

One person died in the fire near San Diego, which burned more than 14,000 acres, or about 22 square miles, south-east of San Diego, just north of the Mexican border town of Tecate.

Four firefighters and at least 10 other people needed hospital treatment.

Another blaze devoured more than 5,000 acres in northern San Diego County and forced the evacuation of the 36,000-strong community of Ramona.

In Malibu, about 700 firefighters worked to protect hundreds of homes in several wealthy communities in the hills.

About 1,500 people were evacuated and the blaze destroyed a church and several homes, one of them the landmark Castle Kashan, a stately fortress-like home with turrets and arched windows.

The castle is owned by Lilly Lawrence, daughter of a former Iranian oil minister. She said she was able to gather a few things before the fire engulfed her home, including some jewellery and memorabilia that included Elvis Presley’s Army fatigues.

Winds carried embers across the Pacific Coast Highway, closing the road and setting fire to cars and trees in a shopping centre.

“This fire is zero per cent contained, which means we’re at the mercy of the wind,” acting Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich said.

In all, five homes and two commercial buildings had been confirmed lost throughout the Malibu area.

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