By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I rode back home, puzzled by the wind that was blowing straight out to sea, while the fire moved upwind and to the east, toward my apartment, which is up against the mansioned cliffs on the other side of Carbon Beach. Someone was pouring foam over a house along PCH. I’d always wondered who lived in that huge house, and it turned out to be Jeffrey Katzenberg, the K in DreamWorks SKG.
I got back to the apartment and saw Joe from downstairs hosing the huge stand of bougainvillea that goes up the side of the hill behind our building. Our neighbor Chris was on his roof with a serious hose, wetting down his roof and some of ours. He yelled over, “Surf is cranking!!!!” and he grinned, because he knew he and I weren’t going anywhere.
My wife, Anna, and our roommate, Mara, were a little jumpy, so I told them there probably wasn’t anything to worry about. But I had seen these fires and winds before, and I knew things could change very quickly; it was impossible to know what was going to happen. Anna is from Moscow and has been in California only since June. Being Russian, she has weathered severe social, political and economic upheavals, but natural disasters were something new. I got her to ride with me on one of the new cruiser bikes we’d bought on Thursday so she could witness what was happening, but she didn’t like all the cops and smoke and wanted to go back. I told her I’d follow her back after checking out the CVS store.
But when I got back to the house, I found a very emotional wife. While I was gone, she’d started packing the van with all our stuff. We live up a flight of 50 stairs that are a pain to move up and down, and she had moved a lot, including our mattress. All of our clothes, and just about everything but the TV set, were somehow in the van, and she was screaming and crying and semihysterical.
Guilt got me motivated, and I began moving stuff — on the one hand, worried that the fire was going to wreck our apartment, but on the other hand, grumpy, thinking that it was all a false alarm and I’d have to move all that stuff back up the stairs and reconnect the TV and everything else.
Anna wanted to leave, but I knew that if we headed out, we wouldn’t be able to get back in. I started cleaning the house and, when the power returned, even vacuumed. Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned. I vacuumed. I figured I could at least give the house a cleaning enema before I brought everything back in.
Anna wasn’t speaking to me, and eventually I gave up trying to calm her down. Then she disappeared, and my roommate said she’d caught a ride into Santa Monica. That was sketchy, but maybe it was better not to have her around right now.
In the afternoon, I rode my bike back to Cross Creek with a Hawaiian guy named Darren Hao. We stopped at Colony House Liquor, which was open and serving a lot of very thirsty and hot firefighters. They were giving free ice creams and water to the firefighters, who were from Brea and Huntington and Newport and as far away as Arizona and Fresno. At Cross Creek, the smoke had cleared enough for us to see that the Castle was gone. The right turret was no longer there and all that was standing was a chimney.
On the way back, we saw that fire equipment had been moved onto the road about a half mile from my apartment. There was a lot of media and cops and firefighters. The fire was just up the street from my home. But within an hour, it was all over — the firefighters put out the flames that had been licking the ridges behind our apartment. Soon everything was back to almost normal.
As the sun was setting, the offshores were still blowing, and I drove down the street to see if I could get through. No one stopped me, so I parked along PCH and saw that Malibu was firing, so to speak: The surf was well overhead, and the wind had groomed it to magazinelike perfection.
There were three guys in the water, and the one getting out was Andy Lyon, a member of Malibu’s surf/realtor mafia and one of First Point’s best surfers. “The wind is wrong,” Andy said. “And my girlfriend is freaking out, so I’d better get home. Go get some.”
It was weird to see surf that good without the usual pack of 50 people all bashing into each other. I put on trunks and a rash guard and walked down a lonely beach. I hit the water at the top, and it was cold with the wind. I made it to the lineup, where just three guys huddled against the wind, which was now blowing from the northeast: good for homeowners and firefighters, bad for surfers.