Nov 15, 2008

Entertainment - Stars watch horrified as luxury Calif. homes burn

Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A wildfire raging through the celebrity enclave of Montecito on Friday hit too close to home for many stars, who if they were not escaping the flames kept close tabs on its progress from afar.

"Back to the Future" actor Christopher Lloyd reportedly lost his Montecito home in the fire. The small Southern California community, in hills with sweeping ocean views, is also home to talk show host Oprah Winfrey, director Steven Spielberg, comedian Steve Martin and actor Rob Lowe.

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres once owned a multimillion dollar home in the area, but sold it to Google executive Eric Schmidt.

For Winfrey, who was in Chicago working on her show as she monitored the fire's spread near her 42-acre estate, a chief concern was her dogs.

"We already had a plan for getting the dogs out and going to the Four Seasons (hotel) because they take dogs," she said on her talk show on Friday.

"When it's in your neighborhood, when it's your friends, when it's your house you feel differently about it. You see it differently," she said.

Nestled at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Montecito is only about 90 miles from Los Angeles and entertainers happily call the quiet and peaceful community of 10,000 residents home.

But that quiet was shattered by the wildfire, which started on Thursday evening and destroyed more than 100 homes over 2,000 acres overnight.

Winfrey described how the fast-moving fire caught residents off-guard. "Some of my friends left their homes with only their dogs last night as I was calling," she said.

Lowe told Winfrey that as he and his son had to make a quick getaway from their Montecito home, which appears to have been spared, and saw flames engulf the nearby mountain.

"We got in the car and pulled out of the driveway and the entire mountain behind us was (in) flames 200 feet high, shooting into the air," the "Brothers & Sisters" actor told Winfrey by telephone. "It was like Armageddon."

The caretaker for Lloyd fled for his life in the fire but the actor was not at home, a realtor who manages the property told the Los Angeles Times.

The eight acres surrounding the Lloyd house were torched and the house, valued at around $11 million, was partially burned.

Timm Delaney, a Montecito real estate agent, said the community's perfect weather and location between the ocean and the mountains makes it an ideal home.

"It's an exclusive, sophisticated small coastal town," Delaney said. "It's kind of an ideal place for the rich and famous to live."

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Jill Serjeant)

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