Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wildfire - USA (California) NOV

AT least 20 homes were destroyed and about 200 threatened as a wind-driven wildfire raged out of control in the celebrity enclave of Malibu.

The fire erupted in parkland above Malibu at around 3.30am (2230 AEDT) officials said and quickly engulfed multi-million dollar homes in the area that is home to dozens of Hollywood celebrities.

By 7.50am (0255 AEDT) around 607 hectares had been scorched as the flames burned unchecked, racing towards the ocean, Los Angeles County Fire Captain Mike Brown said.

At least 20 homes had been destroyed by the flames so far, Captain Brown said, and around 200 more were threatened.

Ten water-dropping helicopters and two fixed-wing air tankers were bombarding the flames, backing up around 300 firefighters struggling to contain the blaze, officials said.

Captain Brown said winds blowing at speeds of up to 80km/h were hampering efforts to bring it under control.

"The fire is being fanned by 30-40 mph winds with gusts up to 50 mph (80km/h),'' Captain Brown said.

"This is posing a grave, grave problem for firefighters on the ground right now.

"When you're dealing with a wind-driven fire, the wind dictates the progression of the flames."

Captain Brown said the fact that no other fires were burning in southern California had allowed extra resources to be diverted to tackling the Malibu blaze.

"This is the only fire that is burning in the region right now so we are able to utilise a lot more resources than we normally could have,'' he said.

Firefighters were banking on a forecast lull in the winds later today to help battle the blaze, reports said.

The wildfire is the second to hit Malibu inside a month following the devastating fire in October that destroyed 1847 hectares, six homes, two businesses and a church.

Malibu, around 30 kilometres west of Los Angeles, is home to celebrities including Sting, Jennifer Aniston, Mel Gibson, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Cher and Richard Gere.

Last month's California wildfires were among the worst in the state's history, leaving eight people dead, destroying 2,000 homes, displacing 640,000 people and causing more than $US1 billion ($A1.15 billion) in damage.

Los Angeles has suffered record-low rainfalls this year, with just 8.15 centimetres of rain between January 1 and June 30 - barely a fifth of the average rainfall and the lowest since records began 130 years ago. - Source

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