Evacuated residents of a wealthy part of California were returning today to see whether their homes survived a wildfire.
In all, Saturday’s fast-moving blaze destroyed 53 homes and 27 outbuildings in Malibu, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said.
Thirty-four other homes were damaged, and as many as 14,000 people fled the fire, which was whipped up by hot, dry Santa Ana winds.
Throughout the day yesterday, the weather worked in firefighters’ favour as they battled the blaze.
A cool breeze in from the Pacific Ocean kept temperatures low and moisture levels high.
“The weather is perfect for us,” said Los Angeles County Fire Captain Glen Goulet.
Even controlled fires, ignited last night to clear remaining scrub, burned lazily.
The fire, which scorched 4,720 acres – more than seven square miles – since early Saturday, was about 70% contained, with full containment expected today, said Ron Haralson, Los Angeles County fire inspector.
Investigators determined that the fire, which broke out along a dirt road off a paved highway, was caused by people but had not determined whether it was started intentionally, said county Fire Inspector Rick Dominguez.
Sheriff’s deputies and dogs headed into the area, which residents said is a popular spot for outdoor partying by young people.
Several locals were convinced the fire was started by late-night revellers who may have lighted a campfire.
When the winds began whipping up again overnight on Saturday, the seaside enclave was still recovering from a fire last month that destroyed six homes, two businesses and a church.
“This time I lost,” said a soot-covered Glen Sunyich, who watched the stucco-and tile-house he built in 1990 burn to the ground. “It means that I didn’t build it well enough.”
Another resident who lost his home was Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, property records showed.
The musician, whose real name is Michael Balzary, had bought another home in Malibu last year, but the one destroyed was for sale for $4.8m (€3.2m), the Los Angeles Times reported.
David Swain, 77, an electrical engineer, went through the remnants of his home of 31 years, which had stood on a hillside with sweeping views of the Pacific.
The only possessions that survived were the clothes he was wearing and his pets - two dogs and a ferret – that he took with him when he evacuated early on Saturday.
While other residents appeared shell-shocked as they picked through their charred homes, Mr Swain remained upbeat.
“You can focus on what you lost, or you can focus on what you are going to do,” said Mr Swain, who was already making plans to rebuild. “It’s a beginning.”
Hundreds of firefighters and equipment from throughout the state had been positioned in Southern California for most of the week because of the predicted Santa Ana winds.
Malibu, with homes tucked into deep and narrow canyons along 27 miles of coast at the southern foot of the Santa Monica Mountains, is prone to Santa Ana-driven wildfires.
Among them was a 1993 blaze that destroyed 388 structures, including 268 homes, and killed three people.
Saturday’s fire was west of the areas of Malibu that burned in October.