California Wildfires Rage, Threaten Luxury Locations

At least a dozen raging California wildfires, stretching from Santa Barbara to San Diego, forced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency for seven counties overnight. The Santa Ana winds, which were clocked at more than 60 mph, have helped fuel the fires, which have burned at least 35,000 acres.

More than 1,000 firefighters are battling the flames, and so far none of them have been contained.

The wildfires, which number nearly a dozen dotted across the region, have killed one person and injured more than 12, including two critically hurt firefighters.

Fire inspectors suspect a downed power line may have ignited one of the largest fires in Malibu, which has destroyed or threatened some of southern California's most luxurious homes.

It also forced the closure of the Pacific Coast Highway, a major artery.

The windy conditions and heat that have fed the fire are expected to continue through at least Tuesday as evacuees continue seeking havens.

One Family's Harrowing Story

As the fires raged and encroached upon their Malibu home, architect Richard Sol and his wife, Margaret, were forced to evacuate their house Sunday morning.

The couple decided to take two cars; their son Christopher accompanied Margaret, while older son Peter went with his dad.

But their journey to safety was blocked by challenges.

"My car stalled right in the middle of the smoke," Richard said Monday on "Good Morning America," where he appeared with his entire family. "My car had been burned by the fire, by the heat."

Richard, who was unable to use the same escape route as his wife because of the fast moving wildfire, pulled over to the roadside after turning his car around while trying to find another way out.

Then his Jaguar stalled and he was unable to move.

"I could not go forward," he said. "My car could not retain its ignition."

Eventually, Richard and Peter abandoned the car, which was destroyed, and met up with Margaret and Christopher, who had their own brush with death.

"I ran into a wall of black smoke and flames and I had to make a split decision to floor it and go through," Margaret told "GMA. "I had no choice. I couldn't go back. I was committed."

Margaret said she was determined to get her son Christopher to safety.

The opaque smoke blinded her as she drove, but since it was a road she used frequently, she used her memory to help her try and remember where she was pointing the car.

She made it through to safety, but she still faced one hurdle.

"We were cheering when we came through the other side and we didn't realize our car was on fire," Margaret said.

She said she sent 12-year-old Christopher out and to a nearby friend's home while she grabbed some personal belongings and their dog. Christopher said by force of habit he returned to lock the burning car, twice.

Lap of Luxury Burning

Across Malibu, celebrity homes -- multimillion dollar mansions -- are in danger.

The flames even destroyed the landmark Kahsan Castle in Malibu, known for being the hosting place of numerous charity events.

Lily Lawrence, the daughter of a former Iranian oil minister, said by the time she decided to leave firefighters said it was too late. The roads were too treacherous to navigate.

"The fire was all around us," she said. "Even as we were speaking, the fire was engulfing the main house, the main part of the house. So, it was very shocking, very shocking experience. I actually literally could see through the windows. The other windows inside my foyer burning. It seems like a horribly tragic thing, but again, its a house. And I said, 'You know, it's time to move on. We've enjoyed the house.'"

"My parents taught me not to allow my possessions to possess me," Lawrence added. "The house is a house. But we're all well. [There was] no loss of life."

But when she did prepare to gather a few precious things, Lawrence decided on what some may see as an odd choice.

"I immediately grabbed the phone books," she said. She said she wasn't too concerned about jewelry, but wanted her phone books to remember the people important to her.

Lawrence said she plans to rebuild.

Additional Causalities and Evacuations

The blaze also destroyed the Malibu Presbyterian Church, which was the first structure the fire claimed.

Additional buildings have been destroyed, but the details remain unknown by officials as the full extent of losses has not been assessed.

But along with luxury homes, a major university's campus also is threatened. Mandatory evacuations are in effect for Pepperdine University, which sits high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. Students are being housed at the Firestone Fieldhouse.

Mandatory evacuations also are in effect for Malibu Crest and Serra Retreat.

"This fire is not over. It is not over until it's over, and we are a long way from there at this time," said Los Angeles County fire chief Michael Freeman.