MALIBU, Calif. (AP) – Residents began making their way back along winding canyon roads yesterday to see whether their homes survived a wind-driven wildfire a day earlier that scorched thousands of acres of hillside and 53 houses.

Dave Mekelburg
Jerri Churchill and her family offer help to their neighbors and anyone else needing it while passing by their home on Lockwood Rd. in Malibu, Calif. yesterday. After being evacuated because of the wildfires, residents began heading home yesterday. (AP PH

Several homes along a road near the source of the blaze had been reduced to blackened wrecks, while many others were virtually unscathed.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” said Frank Churchill, who returned home with his wife and four children to find his white stucco home largely undamaged, while three neighboring homes were leveled. “It doesn’t make sense.”

In all, Saturday’s fast-moving wildfire destroyed 53 homes and 27 outbuildings, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. Thirty-four other homes were damaged, and as many as 14,000 people fled the blaze, which was whipped up by hot, dry Santa Ana winds.

Throughout the day yesterday, the weather worked in firefighters’ favor. 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 Capt. Glen Goulet.

Even controlled fires, ignited late Sunday to clear remaining scrub, burned lazily.

The fire, which scorched 4,720 acres – more than 7 square miles – since early Saturday, was about 70 percent contained, with full containment expected Monday, 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 humans but had not determined whether it was started intentionally, said county Fire Inspector Rick Dominguez.

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