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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Aired October 21, 2007 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Perhaps you're just now joining us. We want to update you on what is taking place in southern California. Just look at the screen here, four different views of a massive fire taking place. And this is in Malibu, threatening many homes and businesses. In fact, already we understand three homes have been destroyed by fire, one church and three businesses.
And what you're not seeing in these pictures, which is believe me when I tell you, a lot of cars have been caught fire -- have caught fire as well because of the burning embers that are simply floating through the sky, sometime traveling a mile or even two because of the Santa Ana winds, which is a huge problem. It's fueling much of the blaze here -- a blaze that may have initially started by some power lines that went down.
But because it's been so dangerously dry there, it simply may have sparked a fire and then the Santa Ana winds somewhere between 60 and 80 mile-per-hour wind gusts, which seemed to shift pretty spontaneously are carrying these flames. And this is the result, what you're looking at right here.
And on the lower right quadrant of the screen here, you're seeing what appears to be a castle. Well, it was a castle. It is called Castle Kashan. And it's the only castle in Malibu. It's actually home to a philanthropist there, Lilly Lawrence, who also opened up her home for a number of events. It was kind of a popular location for weddings and other special occasions as well.
This is earlier today, maybe two hours ago when it was completely engulfed. Well, we'll have some more recent pictures for you which we'll show the fire out. But not much left of that castle either.
And here's a wider view now of the smoke that is traveling through the air and all kinds of L.A. fire department apparatus in the air there. You're seeing that right there. They've got choppers in the air, which scoop the water from the Pacific Ocean and any other waterway and drop the water. And then there you see some aircraft as well, helping to survey as well as helping in the firefighter efforts there.
Vince Gonzales with CNN is there in Malibu on the ground. You're seeing it all for yourself. You're wearing the yellow fire retardant kind of shirt there because these flying embers are serious. It's dangerous to you. It's dangerous to the firefighters on the ground. And as we're seeing, it's also very dangerous to the properties. Vince?
VINCE GONZALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. I mean this is bone dry, this area here. It hasn't burned in some time. Those little bits of wood and sticks and grass get picked up, get a hot ember among them and get thrown. They can definitely -- we've seen cars down near the water that were set on fire and burned, most likely by embers, homes. You have to be careful.
And also one good thing to report, we have a lot of fire crews just pouring into this area. This area back here is the old Malibu city hall. That's become a staging area. Just recently we saw about five or six trucks in the last five minutes leave this area heading somewhere where they're needed. But they just keep pouring trucks and firefighters in here to get them to where ever those embers might start small fires.
And that is just down the hill from the castle you were talking about. I'm not sure if we can see it through the smoke. But that castle is just up the ridge there from the staging area. It has definitely been an area of concern. And that is far from the main body of the fire.
But the only thing we can figure is that an ember hit something in that compound and started it on fire. There were some other homes back in that area that were also in danger. We're not sure yet what's happened to them. The church that burned is also in that general area. And right next door is Pepperdine University, where they asked the students to get out of the dorms. There are still people in some of the buildings taking shelter. But they are just on the other side of the ridge from the main body of the fire.
And right now we've actually got, in just the last five minutes, what is comparatively just a light breeze here. We haven't gotten the heavy gusts we were having earlier. And that's a good sign. We've seen water dropping helicopters coming from the ocean, heading over to areas wherever thick black smoke starts to pop up meaning something is burning. They're hitting it hard with water as soon as that happens.
And the crews are just moving back and forth up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, which is closed to regular traffic. So they can drive whereever they need to drive, as fast as they need to drive, to get to these homes and these cars that are burning, these clumps of trees and dry brush.
It's been a big fear in these mountains for a long time that we would get a small fire that would hit an area that hadn't burned in quite some time, where you have nothing but dry, dead tinder waiting for a spark. They're hoping this doesn't turn into that. If the winds die as the forecast predicts, they could get a handle on this.
They now have several helicopters out here. The winds let up a little more, they can return the big air tankers to the air, let them get in there and really hit the fire hard. And perhaps they can prevent that from happening. But right now, it's just getting on the spot fires as quick as you can with ground crews, so that a bigger blaze doesn't develop out ahead of them. WHITFIELD: Wow, pretty amazing. And Vince, I'm apologizing in advance by putting you on the spot but are we talking about, you know, a three to five-mile radius there in the Malibu area that seems to be bearing the brunt of the concentration of this fire?
GONZALES: I would say so. I mean this is kind of the north of the central part of Malibu, north of the area people think of when they think of Malibu, where all the stars homes are.
It's Pepperdine University, there are some homes, a shopping center, a lot of horse farms, a lot of open land. There is some park areas.
So you're not talking about the heavily congested part of Malibu that burned in the early '90s. The fear is that if that fire makes the turn, if the winds pick up and we get gusts like the ones that we're getting right now that blows a lot of dust and a lot of embers and starts heading it more southwest, then the fire could get into that area.
They're really trying hard to stage fire crews everywhere in front of this blaze to hit those spots as quick as they can. So we don't get any loss of life, certainly, or any homes destroyed. There already have been some. There are more kind of up in the canyons and not in the main part of Malibu yet.
WHITIFLED: Right. And for those folks who may not be convinced how big a deal this, you know by just seeing the damage right here, whether it's a house, a structure right there on the beach of Malibu like we're seeing there or in the Malibu hills, well take note.
That famous highway, Pacific Coast Highway that you remember also from a lot of movies, the kind of beautiful view, you know, of the Pacific and the coastline. Well, it, too, is closed as a result.
Just too dangerous to get around there because of those flying embers. Not just because they are starting fires there in these structures, but we saw a lot of vehicles, too, that have caught fire as well. Vince, thanks so much. We're going to check back with you in a moment.
Right now Josh Levs is in the NEWSROOM doing a lot of digging as well, trying to get a pretty good handle of what we have here. This is incredible, Josh.
JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a really powerful, very powerful fire. And you know, what I have for you right now is something new. We have our first iReports from the scene.
As you know, Fred, these days our viewers are also reporters for us via the iReport system. Let me tell you about what we've got here. They're starting to come in.
This first one was actually taken by a boy, Talin Lewis. His mom approved him sending this in. We spoke with her. Apparently, this was just a few miles from their home. They're saying that they could smell the smoke from inside their house and obviously they were hoping it did not get any closer, somewhere around five miles from their house.
Now you might wonder, why did they not evacuate at that point? What they're saying is the same thing occurred about six months ago. You know in that area, dry brush we are often reporting on California wildfires. So obviously, it's not a brand new experience. Still, be very careful.
Let me tell about the other picture that you're seeing here. Malibu Pier. This comes from Greg Paul. He sent us this photograph from his cell phone. He is saying that from where he was, the fire and smoke was only about three miles away. And actually while he was on with us, his phone ended up disconnecting. But these are people who are close enough to get the pictures, but not close enough as they understand it and according to authorities are saying, to put themselves in danger.
I'm going to hyper emphasize, do not approach a fire to send us pictures. That is crazy and we will not take it. However, some people before they evacuate or wherever they are no matter where they are, do have the experience of seeing the fire. You're putting us where you are as this experience goes on. We're having to take those, it's very easy to do. Go to CNN.com. You can get the updated details from there and you can also share photos, videos, whatever it is that you do have.
And Fred, we're going to keep putting those in through the day because we want to help people get that first hand experience of what the people in this portion of southern California right now are going through. Fred?
WHITFIELD: Yes and it really is tough to digest, isn't it, because Malibu kind of epitomizes, you know, beauty right there on the beach.
And so seldom do we see that it's kind of facing danger like this. And it's definitely very real. That is the case right now. Pepperdine University is evacuating students who are living in the dormitory. However, they still have a shelter program there on campus that they have in place right now, which means a number of students and even faculty who are not necessarily living on campus are staying on campus. They've got food rations. They have maps. They feel like they are prepared for the worst. But this is the program that they have in place. At the same time, they say, that they are very much in touch with the L.A. county fire department so they're not taking unnecessary risks.
But right now, you're looking at live pictures of a structure that has just burned to the ground there right on the beach. And this just might be an example of what happens from those embers that fly about a mile or two from the concentrated 50-acre area where the fire is and it simply just spontaneously, just out of nowhere, selected a structure right here on the beach where firefighters simply, you know, couldn't get it, get there in time in order to save that structure.
But this is the case all over the Malibu area. We're going to have much more from the NEWSROOM right after this.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back. You're looking at live pictures right now of the aerial view of the damage that is being encountered there in Malibu as a result of fire. And now look at this. This is Castle Kashan. And it is actually someone's residence, decimated by fire.
Somehow these burning embers just simply made their way to the structure because in a wider view of this castle, you can see that there is no surrounding fire. This fire just kind of spontaneously selected this home. It is the only castle there in Malibu. It is the home of Lilly Lawrence, who is described as a world renowned beauty and Malibu philanthropist and oftentimes there were lots of events that would take place at that residence. And now it is decimated by fire, as are a number of other homes.
At least two other homes and one church and three businesses all total losses there in Malibu as a result of these fires that were simply being fueled by these Santa Ana winds. This is the structure of the church that I mentioned that has been destroyed by this fire. Firefighters trying their best to tackle it.
But this fire just simply was too advanced. And that is what is happening. It is a real undertaking for the firefighters because of the Santa Ana winds kicking up 60 to 80 mile-per-hour wind gusts. These winds seem to shift. And s0 just when the firefighters think they got in front of a potential fire, the wind shifts and the next thing you know, they're kind of behind it. It's been a real nasty cat and mouse game.
But the L.A. fire department is incredible. And they are doing one heck of a job trying to contain what is being described as about a 50-acre blaze. But it is growing there in Malibu. They've got eight choppers in the air and what they call super scoopers as well. You see right now as they drop this fire retardant and in some cases, they're just simply scooping the water from the Pacific Ocean and then dropping the water in these hot spots.
And on the ground, they've got the fire lines going. They're trying to protect as many homes as they can. In some cases they're kind of, you know, dousing, wetting down the area, wetting down some of the residences.
But as you know from recent experience, what a really dangerous situation this is for firefighters on the ground and in the air. Vince Gonzales is there in Malibu. And behind you, Vince, we were able to see a little portion of that castle that I referred to at the top. The remnants of but, shoot, now it looks like the smoke moved in again. Now you can't see it and that's what it's been like there for you.
GONZALES: It's really tough. We couldn't even see it earlier when you were asking about the castle. I didn't realize how close we were to it because before we couldn't see any of these hills. In the last half an hour to 45 minutes, the winds have let up a little bit. The smoke has cleared out. And now we've been able to get a clear shot of the castle.
But we didn't even realize for quite some time how close we were to it because we couldn't see it from this vantage point. And right now, it's hard to tell. It looks like it's not burning. But every now and then, we do see a little column of black smoke come up in that area. It's unclear whether it's brush around the house or the castle or the castle itself.
I'm sure there are firefighters staged there trying to protect that home and others in the area. We've got some all up and down the hills here.
If we pan over here, just to the base of the hills near Pepperdine. You can see fire engines up in the little canyon roads around businesses. That was a green house which looks like part of it is still on fire that was fully engulfed earlier. And they seem to be just letting that burn out. I can't really tell from here but there were little hot spots all in there that had firefighters busy about an hour or so ago.
But it looks like they have really got a jump on it. We can actually now get a clear shot of Pepperdine University, which before was totally obscured by the smoke and by these spot fires. We are told now there is the possibility they may let some of the students return to their dormitories. They're watching the situation, trying to see, talking to fire officials.
But the winds keep shifting a little bit. They do pick up. And the fear is those embers you spoke of, all it takes is one to get into an area that hasn't burned.
This area of trees down here near the Pacific Coast Highway, there were spot fires all in there earlier. And every now and then, in fact, over those buildings there which I believe are student apartments, you can see a water dropping helicopter coming up. They've been hitting little areas of black smoke in there all morning. When a palm tree suddenly gets an ember, they go up right away, just immediately. They will burn because they are so dry in this area.
Little bunches of bushes, one ember is all it takes and they're perfect tinder for the fire. So we've seen water dropping helicopter patrolling in this area all morning long, just looking for black smoke to come up, looking for a hot spot, waiting to hear from the guys on the ground that they need that water drop.
And thankfully because the wind has let up, they've been able to do that. They've been able to get these aircrews in the air to get them an eye in the sky for the guys on the ground and also carrying fire retardant or water, being able to move in and quickly put out what could turn into a big blaze if the wind should shift.
So they've been on these spot fires all day long. And what we're told is that they're really trying to get staged all over Malibu. They've got crews out in every shopping center parking lot up and down every street, just trying to make sure that if the fire moves down one of the little canyon communities, they are there to get a hold of it. And it looks like this helicopter is heading off towards the south.
Now that area is closer to where the Malibu is that people think of when they think of Hollywood. That is the area where all the stars' homes are. That's right, and that's kind of what we were in earlier.
That is the smoke that really is the forefront of the fire. It's now moved a little bit south of us. But we can't tell right now whether that means it's also throwing up embers down there. When we were coming here, as we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, it was calm. We were thinking, where are these winds? And then we rounded the point and the winds hit you.
So if that's far enough south, they may not be getting quite the harsh winds that we were earlier. Here is another water dropping helicopter, an even bigger one that just dropped some water on a hot spot in that little area of trees and brush near Pepperdine we were talking about.
Again, they're just up in the sky patrolling, looking for any place where they can lend a hand to the crews on the ground. And the crews on the ground are shifting back and forth moving everywhere when they get communications that it's time to -- and here is another one.
As I said, the wind has definitely let up. And we've definitely got a lot of air crews in the air. And if the winds do lessen, as they're predicted to do, they're going to have a window this afternoon where they can really try to get a handle on this fire.
The problem is at dusk tonight, traditionally the Santa Anas kick up right at dusk. It could be a long night for firefighters if they don't get a handle on it at some point today.
But right now, conditions look like they're starting to turn favorable. When we got here earlier this morning, it was just a black wall cloud of smoke. You could hardly stand because of the wind. I had goggles on, as you were saying earlier, all morning long because we kept getting ash and dirt in our eyes.
Now it's a little better. Now it looks like they're finally getting all the resources they need out here. We haven't seen the fixed wing aircraft yet. But hopefully the winds let up just a little more and we'll start to see those planes with the really big loads of fire retardant. And that should hopefully let them get a handle on this fire during this precious window they're going to have.
WHITFIELD: Wow, well let's hope so. I mean, the conditions are inconceivable right now. And for you on the ground and what we've seen that you've been through, I can't imagine being, you know, a pilot on any of those choppers going through that dark smoke with these winds kicking up knowing how really dangerous it is and then to think of what you just mentioned, you know, come dusk. That the Santa Ana winds actually could kick up even further, really making for a really dangerous situation. Much more dangerous than what we've got right here.
GONZALES: That's why they call them the devil winds. I mean, they're hot, they're dry, they come off the desert. And they don't let up. You get a little bit of a break at midday. As you can see, this helicopter -- I don't know if you can tell, he is really banking hard up here, if we can try to get a shot of him.
He is fighting these winds to circle a hot spot. He just dropped some water on it. Again, the winds will come back, they will kick up at the end of the day. It's really just a small window that firefighters are going to have to try to get a handle on this blaze. And if these winds hit a little bit of fire, that's all it takes. They'll throw up a lot of embers. And as you just said from those pictures along the beach, they can burn homes miles away. You could be well outside the fire zone and think that you don't need to prepare to evacuate, suddenly can you find a home in your neighborhood on fire.
WHITFIELD: This is so Catch 22 on so many levels. Vince Gonzales, thanks so much. We're going to check back with you in a moment. We're going to take a short break right now though. Much more in the NEWSROOM, right after this.
WHITFIELD: Just look at that smoke. And you can hear the wind as well, 60 to 80 mile-per-hour wind gusts in some parts there in Malibu, California. This is what you're looking at here. This is the kind of damage that is taking place as a result of these wildfires. I say wildfires plural because while it started out as one, these embers have just floated their way to various locations and have produced many fires now.
Hillary Andrews is in the Weather Center. You can give us a little bit more about how these Santa Ana winds are working. And oh boy, this is pretty frightening, Hillary, to hear our Vince there in Malibu say that come dusk, traditionally the Santa Ana winds get even worse. That's a terrible situation.
HILLARY ANDREWS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, we will see this event continuing right through Tuesday and the peak of the winds is usually right around dawn. So that's when we saw the 108 mile-per- hour wind gusts. That's where we're still fighting another fire. And that's right around Lake Piru and there is a condor facility there, exactly, rescue there.
Newhall Pass, 78 miles-per-hour. That's the wind gusts. Van Nuys, a lot of folks live there, 35 mile-per-hour wind gusts. That is in the middle of the San Fernando Valley. Now Laguna Peak is one of the highest peaks in Ventura County, just north of L.A., 86 miles-per- hour. And, of course, Simi Valley, 46 miles-per-hour. That is where the Ronald Reagan Library is. Santa Ana winds peak just after dawn. That's why we're seeing the up to 100 mile-per-hour wind gusts. We do see a lull in those winds, in the late afternoon and the early evening. And that's hopefully when the firefighters can contain some of these fires. And as I said, isolated gusts over 100 miles-per-hour in the high wind warning continues in L.A. county, all the way through Orange County right through 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday.
But the high pressure system is actually going to become more dominant and the stronger the high pressure system, the stronger the winds being filtered through the canyon.
And that's going to mean even stronger Santa Ana winds Monday morning and also Tuesday morning. So just be expecting almost zero visibility in some of the areas because don't forget the Zaca fire not that long ago. We're still seeing a lot of dust in the air being blown around.
We have ash in the air, a lot of smoke. And a lot of power lines down and you're going to see some of the tractor-trailers toppling over.
Another result of the Santa Ana winds, very warm temperatures, 90 degrees. That's going to be a record if we hilt that in Los Angeles on your Monday. So it's going to be hot and very, very dry out there, Fredricka. And unfortunately danger continues right through Tuesday.
WHITFIELD: That is hot. So if you're a firefighter with all your apparatus on and it's windy and you've got the smoke and the body temperature and the fire --
ANDREWS: No break.
WHITIFLED: You know, raising the temperature. Boy, it's a miserable, miserable condition. Hillary, thank you.
Chris Sedens is a reporter with KFWB News Radio 980 A.M. We spoke with him about an hour ago. And at the time, he was at the Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road, which is kind of the area where is the center point of this blaze. He's back us with now. Chris, has anything changed? Or have you even moved locations because of the fire?
CHRIS SEDENS, KFWB NEWS RADIO: No Fredricka, still in the same location. I've been filing reports for our local radio station here, KFWB News 980. Still in the same location. Did take a walk out, though, to look around and talk with a couple other media people.
I think the chances of actually moving from this area could be kind of difficult right now. I'm at PCH and Malibu Canyon Road. The fire, I believe, from all the reports I've heard, ignited somewhere just south of here off PCH. And as I mentioned in our last report, as I was driving here, you could see the fire right up the PCH just before Malibu Canyon Road.
And of course the smoke could be seen for miles. And driving through the thick black smoke to get to the location where I am right now, very, very scary.
I'm guessing maybe 100 yards where it was simply just black. Visibility was nil. You could see the flames at the side of the highway to the right side which would be the east side of the highway. And it was just a matter of time that I guess before that those flames moved over to the other side of the highway, which on the west side of the highway would be some multimillion dollar homes. And, of course, the beach on the Pacific Ocean. But a very scary situation driving here, no doubt about that.
WHITFIELD: Wow. Scary indeed. Malibu, home to some celebrities like Dick Van Dyke, Mel Gibson, Olivia Newton John and so many others.
SEDENS: Pepperdine University as well, I hear.
WHITFIELD: Yes, that's right. Pepperdine - and you know, it's interesting because Pepperdine has carried out an evacuation for the students that were living on campus. Yet, they still have in place kind of a shelter program which means some of their faculty and even some of the students remain there on campus. They've got food rations. They have masks. They're in touch with L.A. fire department as well.
And right now we're looking at a live picture of the air assault apparatus being used in this fire fighting effort. But still, I mean, Chris, it would seem really nerve-racking for anybody right now in that area, including yourself, because of the unpredictable winds. Do you at any moment feel a little nervous about where you are?
SEDENS: Yeah. And Fredricka, I just spoke a moment ago with a woman, she's walking around this area with her dog. She lives nearby here. She's been forced to evacuate. And basically she is walking around right now trying to find out from firefighters where she can go.
WHITFIELD: Say that again? Trying to find what? I think there was a little blink in your cell phone.
SEDENS: Yeah, she is trying to find firefighters to basically find out where she and her dog can go. So she is just kind of walking around that area here at Malibu Canyon Road. A bit befuddled, I guess.
SEDENS: Many residents have been forced to evacuate now. And getting back to Pepperdine, I've been told that about 1,000 students are in their cafeteria and one of the gymnasiums waiting to be moved off campus. And the evacuation has been set up at Zuma Beach.
But in talking with the mayor pro tem, she said that there are concerns, that's Pamela Conley Ulich, there's concerns that this fire might be heading towards Zuma Beach. So with the Santa Ana winds right now, that is the big problem in that these winds kick up. They're swirling. They're gusting. And it's really hard to say which way this fire is going to turn. WHITFIELD: That's right. And, you know, earlier when you and I were speaking, we saw a live shot where there were two -- what appeared to be houses right there on the beach in Malibu. They were on fire. We still haven't heard any confirmation about exactly what was taking place or if they were indeed homes or if they were businesses. Nonetheless, they were structures. But that really does kind of underscore the unpredictable nature of this fire and that really anything can happen depending on where the winds take these embers.
SEDENS: That's right. And there's also two major structures that burned down now. We're being told the Hodge Castle, a local landmark here is engulfed in flames. That is 10,000 square feet named after a local doctor that built it in the 1970s, a Dr. Thomas Hodges. He took something like two or three years to build it. It's now burned down. As has the Malibu Presbyterian Church.
WHITFIELD: And we're showing the pictures right now of it now. Just prior to this picture, we were seeing one of the Malibu beach structures on fire. But go ahead about the castle that we're now looking at.
SEDENS: The castle is apparently burnt down as well. It's engulfed in flames. As I mentioned, named after a doctor who built it back in the 1970s, a Dr. Thomas Hodges. Apparently he took some two or three years to build the castle.
Where I'm parked right now, which is on Malibu Canyon Road right at PCH, the smoke is very, very thick here right now. We're not being told by the way that this fire is upwards of 1,000 acres. A little while ago, we were reporting 500, then 700. Now up over 1,000 acres and where I am right near the beach, you can see these massive water dropping helicopters fly in. They fly in, it appears they're flying over the Pacific Ocean, loading up with water and then flying back to drop the loads on the hot spots here in Malibu.
WHITFIELD: OK. So when you say 1,000 acres now, earlier it was reported there were kind of two separate big fires, a 500-acre fire over most encompassing the national forest there in L.A. and then this 50 acre fire in Malibu. Are we now saying that this 1,000 acres kind of envelopes both of them? I mean, the combined acreage damage from these fires?
SEDENS: Fredricka, I'm not sure on that situation. I do know that when I came in this morning, when I was called in that there were three fires burning in three different areas. To be honest, if one is linked up with another one, I really don't know from my location.
WHITFIELD: Yeah. Well tell me about -- you mentioned the smoke that you're already experiencing in your area. So how about you personally? Having a difficult time breathing? It is irritating your eyes? Give me an idea of what you're experiencing yourself?
SEDENS: Both right now. I'm trying to in my mobile unit here, I'm trying to turn on the air-conditioning when I can, although I guess it's probably taking in the smoke and just regurgitating it. The smoke is affecting my throat and it's kind of is hard on the eyes as well. No doubt about it. It is pretty thick. Right now it looks like it died down a little bit in the area. But again with these gusting winds, that can change in a heartbeat. But no doubt about it, the smoke is really tough on the eyes and on the throat. I don't have a mask. Some people are walking around. They have the surgical masks on. If I can get my hands on one of those, I'll be a lucky guy.
WHITFIELD: You might have to just get inventive whether it becomes your shirt or another item of clothing you may have or cloth, or something, napkin in your car.
Our reporter Vince Gonzales was talking earlier about the threat of these winds kicking up even further because at dusk traditionally the Santa Ana winds become even more intense. So knowing that, do you give yourself kind of a, you know, personal deadline on when you may want to leave the area yourself even though you're reporting around the clock there. You may want to give yourself kind of a cutoff point just because of the threat of danger?
SEDENS: Well Fredricka, I haven't given myself any kind of a cutoff point. Actually, I've been so busy filing reports that I haven't had the chance to think about when or where I might move. One bad piece of news though is speaking with the mayor pro tem here, she says that she has been told that these Santa Ana winds are supposed to be kicking up until at least Tuesday.
SEDENS: Which is not good news at all. Which means this fire, which has grown already considerably since it started early this morning, this fire could continue to grow and come Tuesday, they could still be battling it.
WHITFIELD: That's right. Go ahead.
SEDENS: And again they're battling it from the ground. They're battling it from the air. I've been told they're also looking to bring in fixed main planes to help water dropping efforts here.
WHITFIELD: Yeah. We have seen an image of at least one fixed wing aircraft. We weren't able to see whether it was dropping any retardant or water. But for the most part, you know, it did look like it was doing a little recon as well. Chris Sedens, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.
SEDENS: You bet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chris, stay close. I have to transfer you.
WHITFIELD: We're going to continue to watch the developments there out of Malibu, California. You're looking at the pictures right there, which shows this fire burning out of control. The Santa Ana winds kicking up, fueling the fire and also spreading it, too because it's kicking up the embers allowing them to travel some, you know, one to two miles to land on yet the next victim to be engulfed by flames. We'll have much more from the NEWSROOM right after this.
WHITFIELD: All right. Take a look at this, the devastation in Malibu, which we understand now about 700 acres in flame right now, or at least some have been touched by fire.
The Santa Ana winds also called devil winds because they intensify come dusk. Right now, wind gusts are between 60 and 80 miles per hour, pretty nasty conditions. And these winds are helping to fan the flames and sent these embers in various locations sparking blazes.
We understand that three homes, one church and three businesses are total losses here in Malibu alone. And initial reports indicate that this fire may have started from power lines that came down near the Pacific Coast Highway. And by the way, the PCH is now closed in that area.
Other structures and businesses that are being impacted here, Pepperdine University being one of them. Not far from the fires that are under way. There have been evacuations that have been carried out in the dormitories there at Pepperdine University. But they also have what is called a shelter program in place for some students and faculty. They remained on campus there. They've got all kinds of supplies from masks to food, et cetera. And they're in connection with the Los Angeles fire department as well, to make sure that they are not staring at the face of danger.
Meantime, really some harrowing efforts that are under way because the L.A. fire department is trying to tackle this fire from the ground and also from the air. They've got choppers in the air as well as at least one fixed wing aircraft that we saw earlier and perhaps there are others that are being launched.
Look at the smoke right there of the Malibu Hills that are completely engulfed in the flames. You're seeing right there some of the fire retardant that is being dropped from that chopper and on the ground and there is that fixed wing aircraft that we got a peek of earlier there on the right hand side of your screen.
Our Vince Gonzales is there on the ground in Malibu. And you've seen a lot from your vantage point. And that includes the kind of smoke that has rolled in. You have felt the wind that has kicked in as well. Earlier you had to wear a set of goggles. And now you're able to wear your sunglasses. So something tells me the wind has kind of settled a little bit.
GONZALES: It definitely has. Again, the only reason I'm wearing the sunglasses is there is still some wind that kicks up some ash - just trying to protect my eyes a little bit. Normally I wouldn't, but it still is gusting quite a bit out here.
In fact, if we go in over here, there is some brush over here where there have been some little spot fires starting. And you can see that brush blowing I think quite a bit. There is smoke that is blowing across the fields, across the road.
We definitely had winds gusting up to 60 to 80 miles-an-hour out here. This morning, you couldn't even see over there where those trees are, where those apartments are because the smoke cloud went all the way to the ocean. The winds are pushing the smoke straight out of the canyon, almost level.
We didn't see what you normally do with a fire, which is a big smoke cloud going up in the air. It was just smoke being pushed horizontally out over the Pacific Ocean. That has let up some.
In fact, just a few minutes ago, we saw two air tankers moving over the mountains towards the main body of the fire. And that's good news. That means the winds have let up enough. They decided it is safe for those aircrews to get up into the sky with the fire retardant and attack the main body of the fire.
Now Pepperdine University, as you mentioned, there are still people there who are in various buildings that are considered safe during a wild land fire. But they pulled the students out of the dorms. We heard that they're conferring with fire officials trying to determine if it's safe to let some of the students go back to their dorms. But what we're seeing still is a lot of little spot fires. You can see the white smoke down in here. That is the remains of those spot fires when the crews get to them.
Normally the first sign you get is a column of black smoke. And that tells you that a dry palm tree or some piece of brush has started on fire. And the crews staged all down in here have been working very hard to knock those out. And what we're left with is this gray smoke that kind of just blankets the area. But again, nothing like it was earlier.
The next problem is kind of south of where we are. We have the mountains here, the fire is up in those canyons out there and it's coming down, throwing those embers ahead of it. That's where you saw the home that burned on the beach. There is also an evacuation center at Zuma Beach. And we heard that officials were concerned briefly because embers were flying down near the Zuma Beach area, where the evacuation center was. And they were concerned just maybe it might start fires there and it was not a safe place to get people to evacuate to.
And that has really been the problem with this fire. You could be in an area where you don't need to worry, perhaps about, evacuating or you think that. You haven't packed the car or you haven't gotten the pets ready and then suddenly a home in your neighborhood is on fire because those embers can be thrown a mile or two ahead of the main body of the fire.
And it's not even just the Santa Anas once a fire gets big enough. Once a fire gets a good head on it, it can actually create its own weather. It can send the winds up to much higher speeds, throwing those embers out and fueling itself.
And it starts to become just self perpetuating. And that's the big fear. So that's what fire crews are trying to do, prevent this fire from growing in size so that it becomes something they can't get a handle on.
And right now as the winds die down and hopefully as the forecast says they continue to die down through the afternoon, they'll be able to get control of the fire or at least get some fire lines built so when the Santa Anas come back at dusk, which they usually do, they won't have more homes burn tonight, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Wow. And Vince, correct me if I'm wrong, I would think the folks in Malibu who live right there on the beach would think that there is no way they would be wrapped up in any kind of wildfire because they're not near that, you know, brush, dense, you know, forested kind of area there in the Malibu hills. I mean I'm feeling for everybody who lost property here. But I'm feeling too for the folks on the beach because this has to completely blind side them.
GONZALES: You know what, though? I think people here know fire is a fact of life. I think it was just earlier this year, Suzanne Somers home which was either right on the beach or right near the beach burned when an ember hit her house in a fire.
In the early '90s, the Malibu fire, homes burned right on the water because there was no way to stop the fire. The only thing that stopped it was hitting the Pacific Ocean.
So if you talk to people here, and I've talked to people who lost their homes years ago. And you say, why do you rebuild here knowing that these canyons are perfect for major wildfires? And they say, well, it's beautiful. I love it here. It's a fact of life. So if you live here, you have to know fire is a fact of life. You have to have a plan. You have to be ready because there is a very good chance you could lose everything if a good fire gets going and moves through the dry brush. I think people here just learn to live with it.
WHITFIELD: I hope the insurance plans that most of these people have in that area, you know, that's going to protect them against something like this because this really is very devastating. Vince Gonzales, thank you so much. We'll check back with you in a moment. We're going to take a short break right now in the NEWSROOM. Must more of this devastating fire covering some 700 acres now in Malibu, California, when we come right back.
WHITFIELD: This is what's being seen and heard all across Malibu. Burned out cars, burned out homes, three of them at least, one church and one burned out business. Sorry, three burned out businesses there and lots of cars as well.
All these fires are being fueled by these Santa Ana winds kicking up hurricane-force like wind gusts. It's really an extraordinary set of circumstances taking place there in southern California.
Our Josh Levs has been monitoring the developments as well from the newsroom. We know that Pepperdine University, while it had an evacuation that had been carried out, involving the dormitories there on campus. We also understand a lot of students and faculty members are in protected areas of the campus with rations. They've got water, as well and they even have masks.
And look at this. This is a live picture of what could be that church that I mentioned or at least one of the other three businesses that's have burned out there in Malibu. Josh Levs in the newsroom. I understand you're get something iReport pictures as well from some of the students on the Pepperdine campus, right?
LEVS: That's right, Fred. We're starting to get our iReports. They're really easy to turn in at CNN.com. And I want to let you know about the latest one we have.
This is from a student at Pepperdine University. But I also want to caution parents, he did not take these pictures on the campus. So when you see these photos, don't think it's that close to the campus itself.
This man's name is Kevin Park. He's a student at Pepperdine University. What he did, as we understand, was earlier before everyone was sent in to one building, he went across the street up a hill and was able to see that. Which means obviously the fire was not all that far from the campus, which is why dorms were evacuated.
What authorities at the school did was they went dorm to dorm. They went up to every single room and they made sure it was empty. And they told all the students, also all the faculty to gather in these two buildings. We're told by authorities that some aerial shots showed that certain buildings on Pepperdine campus could have been in trouble.
Also remember, a big part of the story today, Fred, is the embers. So even if you're two or three miles from the fire itself, this really powerful winds can carry the embers, can hit any building. They have already destroyed at least one or two buildings that we've seen today.
So clearly they wanted everyone to be protected in these safe buildings. And that's why everyone was taken there.
But Kevin Park did manage to get out for long enough earlier on to take some of the photos that we're showing you now. He e-mailed them to us. We're going into the e-mail system, showing you these. Look at these fireballs.
You can get a sense of the drama of what is going on there. Obviously southern California is often hit by wildfires. It's not a brand new experience. But what we are seeing today is just a really bad combination of elements making it particularly bad. It's spreading very, very quickly. I was just looking at the Web site for the Los Angeles County fire department. It is now more than 1,000 acres. It has now covered more than 1,000 acres and Fred, it says zero percent containment.
And as their own weather folks are telling us, we still have the wind that keeps on coming 60 to 70 miles-per-hour, sending those embers in all directions which is why everyone in that entire area needs to be super careful about where it is, even if it's a few miles away. Don't think you're automatically safe.
Listen to what authorities are saying. You may need to evacuate. Those of you who do have photos, do not put yourself in harm's way ever to do so. But if you did see something, if you want to send us pictures or video, it is really easy. CNN.com home page, just click on iReport. We'll make it easy for you. And Fred, we'll keep showing you these throughout the day.
WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much, Josh. We're going to check back with you in a moment.
And here are some live pictures now of how this fire simply scaling the Malibu hillside there, pretty indiscriminate damage taking place. More than 1,000 acres now burned including many structures.
And one of those structures that was just completely gutted, Castle Kashan, the only castle there will in Malibu. Earlier we were asking, we don't even know if people were inside that castle. Well now we are learning that at least Daniel Collins was inside that castle. In fact, he had some pretty heart stopping moments there, had to be rescued. He is on the line with us now. Daniel, give me an idea of exactly what happened. At what point did you all realize this castle is on fire?
DANIEL COLLINS, CASTLE KASHAN (on phone): Well, it was about 7:15 this morning. And all of a sudden I hear a fire truck in the driveway. I go outside and they said you're still here? So --
WHITFIELD: You and who else?
COLLINS: Lilly Lawrence was upstairs. She was coming downstairs. They said it was too late to leave. So we both stayed at my place and watched the fire burning all around it.
WHITFIELD: You're kidding.
COLLINS: So lots of fire trucks. And we -- the flames were licking at the windows.
WHITIFIELD: Oh, my gosh. You must have been just so frightened.
COLLINS: It was pretty intense. And we were probably in this house for an hour or so watching this and finally they got us out of there. And by the time we left, the castle was just engulfed in flames.
WHITFIELD: Now when you say this house, you're talking about the house being part of the castle property there?
WHITIFLED: That's what you mean. OK, so you and Lilly Lawrence, who is the homeowner there, who is pretty well known in the Malibu area as a philanthropist.
This is a structure, not just your home -- home to you, Ms. Lawrence, and a number of other staff members as well, right? But this is a place that other people in the area would know about because weddings and other special events would take place here?
COLLINS: Right. It's a very famous landmark in Malibu.
WHITFIELD: OK. And so here you are inside this house there on this property. The flames are licking the windows. Are you are thinking at this point, wait a minute, you know, does anyone know we're here? Are we going to get out of here? What was going through your mind?
COLLINS: The firemen were very helpful. They kept in touch with us the whole time. And, you know, there were so many of them that we did feel pretty safe. But at the same time, it was very scary.
WHITFIELD: Yes, very scary indeed. And at what point did you learn that not even the fire fighting effort there could possibly save this structure? It was just too far along. The fire just too fast moving.
COLLINS: Right before we left the property. They told us that the castle couldn't be saved.
WHITFIELD: Really? And how is Ms. Lawrence doing? I mean, this was her home. And yours, too. I mean you all had to be pretty broken up about this. Tell me what that was like.
COLLINS: Yes, we only had a couple moments to gather some things. We never got back into the castle. So we just escaped with a few things and a few clothes and two cats. And now we're at a friend's house nearby. I mean, we're relatively safe, although there is smoke and wind all around.
WHITIFIELD: And thankfully you have your lives. That's the most important.
COLLINS: Yes, for sure.
WHITFIELD: But tell me about this castle. Tell me about this home. What was it like?
COLLINS: Oh, it's incredibly beautiful. It was filled with priceless antiques and a view of the mountains in the back and a view of the ocean in the front. And it's just a wonderful place to be.
WHITFIELD: And so how is Ms. Lawrence doing?
COLLINS: She is fine. She's hanging in there. You know, we're at a friend's house, we're resting right now.
WHITFIELD: Pretty hard for all of you to grasp what has happened in such a short amount of time, I'm sure.
COLLINS: It is.
WHITFIELD: And so Daniel, tell me about you know - I remember our meteorologist Chad Myers on Friday talking about the warning of these Santa Ana winds that could present a problem this weekend. But did anybody think that that meant potentially fire, that this was -- or these conditions were ideal for a big fire like this?
COLLINS: Well, you know, they do warn of that, but you don't really expect it to happen. And when I woke up this morning, you couldn't even see outside the window there was so much smoke, quite a way to wake up.
WHITFIELD: Yeah, and when you saw that smoke right away, were you all thinking uh oh, we better have a plan of action or did you feel like --
WHITFIELD: So tell me about that.
COLLINS: Well I had only been up for two minutes when the firefighters came, so I felt a relief right away.
WHITFIELD: And I know you all are very thankful that these firefighters know enough about the terrain, know enough about the area there to come to you to let you know that --
WHITFIELD: You guys are in a dangerous spot right now. So how long have you, Daniel, lived there at the castle and along the way, have you always thought about the threat there to the Malibu hills that, you know, because of the dry tinder area, that this is something that you all just kind of live with? This potential?
COLLINS: I've just been there a few months as a guest. But you know, it's been such a dry year with the drought. So it's always on your mind a little bit.
WHITFIELD: Uh-huh. And so when you all were rescued by the firefighters, making your way down, you know, the hill, were you seeing other people who were having evacuated or other people rescued, what were you seeing about any of your neighbors far and wide?
COLLINS: We really can't see the neighbors from where we are. When we got out and we went down the hill, we found some of our neighbors down the road and everyone seemed to be safe.
WHITFIELD: And what were they thinking and feeling or even telling you?
COLLINS: We were all just in shock watching it still burn.
WHITFIELD: And Daniel, I know it's early and it's all just sinking in, but what do you and what do, you know, Ms. Lilly Lawrence do now? COLLINS: Well, we're not sure yet. Lilly is more concerned really about our neighbors and our friends and the other people. But it's all just starting to sink in.
WHITFIELD: We wish you all the best and we're glad that you and Ms. Lawrence are safe after an incredible experience there in the Castle Kashan there. Now it seemingly is burned to the ground. Daniel Collins, thanks so much for your time and we wish you all the best.
COLLINS: OK, thank you.
WHITFIELD: Recapping now, the Malibu fire, at least 1,000 acres, several homes and businesses, a church and one castle, the one we just talked about, all have burned.
And a university is threatened as well as wind-driven wildfires continue to close in on Malibu, California. Hundreds of homes have been evacuated including a lot of celebrity home. The Malibu Presbyterian Church and the Castle Kashan that we talked about, a fortress like landmark, have all been consumed by flames.
And students at Pepperdine University were ordered to leave their dorm rooms and move to buildings further from the flames. We hope to get an update from some of the students there at Pepperdine later on.
More news on the fire in 30 minutes and again, of course, the 4:00 Eastern hour. Join us in the NEWSROOM for a full comprehensive few of this fire and other news as well. "YOUR MONEY" begins right now.
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