Hollywood stars were among thousands of people forced to flee as wind-driven wildfires tore through the celebrity enclave of Malibu on Saturday, gutting nearly 50 multi-million dollar homes and threatening hundreds more, officials and reports said.
Fires erupted at around 3:30am, officials said, spreading rapidly through tinder-dry brush as winds packing gusts of up to 80kph fanned the inferno, the second to hit Malibu in a month.
By 5pm, around 1,880 hectares had been scorched and 51 buildings, including 49 homes, had been destroyed. A further 27 structures had been damaged, Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
A drop in winds allowed firefighters to make inroads into the blaze, which was now 25 percent contained, officials said.
Los Angeles County fire chief Michael Freeman said late on Saturday that firefighters expected to reach 50 percent containment yesterday provided weather conditions remained favorable.
"A lot will be dependent on the weather conditions tonight, which, based on the predictions, is pretty good," he said.
He expected fire crews to be deployed for "five days at least."
Around 1,700 firefighters were deployed to tackle the fires on Saturday, backed up by 23 aircraft including water-dropping helicopters and a DC-10 that was pummeling the infernos with flame retardant.
As darkness fell, most of the fixed wing aircraft were grounded, but many ground crews remained in place, Freeman said. Six firefighters suffered minor injuries during the fires, officials said.
Freeman extended sympathy for homeowners who had seen their property destroyed but expressed relief that the drop in winds later on Saturday had allowed firefighters to begin containing the fire.
"We've got to be very thankful that the winds died down ... We certainly dodged a bullet," he said. "It could have been far, far worse than it was.
"Our hearts go out to the people who lost their homes. But a home is just material stuff and no lives were lost, and you can put a home back together again, and that's what we look to do," he said.
The cause of the fire, which began in the Corral Canyon area of Malibu, was not known, he said.
Last month a devastating fire destroyed 1,847 hectares of land, six homes, two businesses and a church in Malibu.
The blaze was one of a series of state-wide infernos that left eight dead, burned down 2,000 homes, displaced 640,000 people and caused more than US$1 billion in damage.
Malibu, around 30km west of Los Angeles, is home to celebrities such as Sting, Jennifer Aniston, Mel Gibson, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Cher and Richard Gere.
Local media reports said actors Matthew McConaughey and Minnie Driver were among those forced to evacuate while the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bass guitarist Flea's home was destroyed by the flames.
A text message from the rock star said his US$10.5 million mansion had "burnt to a crisp," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Actress and songwriter Linda Thompson, who has lived in Malibu for 27 years, said her home had escaped major damage but reported that a neighbor's house had been razed by the flames.
"Unfortunately, my elderly neighbor right next door -- her house burned to the ground," Thompson told television reporters.
Los Angeles Fire captain Mike Brown said strong winds had hampered early efforts to bring the flames under control.