Millions in Malibu Real Estate Goes Up in Smoke

Fires ripped through a star-studded stretch of Malibu this week, destroying multimillion-dollar homes and bringing national attention to one of America's most bewildering communities -- a small city that is home to 12 billionaires and where celebrities mingle comfortably with regular folks.

Five homes were lost in the fires, including one owned by actress Suzanne Somers, the sexy spokeswoman for Thigh Master and star of the 1970s television sitcom, "Three's Company."

Six other homes were damaged in the three-hour blaze, which is still under investigation.

Real estate agents from Sotheby's International watched the expensive properties go up in flames from their office window.

Sotheby's lists beachfront homes -- rather celebrity fortresses -- ranging from $4 million for a modest estate with five bedrooms and a four-car garage, to a $40 million compound with eight bathrooms, a guard house, and a tennis pavilion.

"I could see the flames from my office last night," said Danielle Hobb, a receptionist for Sotheby's, who said that many of the older beach houses had been torn down to make way for even bigger estates on California's coastal paradise.

With billionaires rubbing elbows with commoners, Malibu and the word "exclusive" have long been paired.

But, says Mayor Ken Kearsley, a 46-year resident, the community is mostly made up of teachers, engineers and lawyers. "Celebrities are not cocktail conversation here."

"I'm as plain as an old sock," said Kearsley, 69. "I haven't been to a movie since 1966, and I wouldn't know a celebrity if I ran into one. We don't define people by their celebrity, and we have an unwritten rule in Malibu that if you see a celebrity, you don't go up and bother them."

Real estate values have soared in Malibu. Kearsley bought his home in 1966 for $38,000, and it is now worth millions.

"God's not making any more Malibus. We just sit here, and the values go up. My children read the obits and see if I've died so they can make some money," he said.

Still, even some non-Hollywood types are well-heeled. The fires also destroyed the home of noted restaurateur Al Eringer, who founded the nearby landmark Saddle Peak Lodge, which serves up kangaroo and other wild-game delicacies specially grown for high-end palates.

No injuries were reported in the fires, as most of the residents use their oceanfront palaces as second homes. Both Somers and Eringer were away.

The fire spread like Hollywood gossip, starting along the Pacific Coast Highway, just down the road from where Cher owns a luxury, palm-encircled Mediterranean hideaway overlooking the ocean.

Nearby, sits the Malibu Colony Plaza -- a trendy strip of shops, restaurants and coffeehouses that has been featured on the HBO show "Entourage." A popular spot for celebrity sighting, it was featured in a scene where the "boys" grocery shop and house-hunt in this celebrity enclave.

The Santa Ana winds fanned the flames, sending the fire down the hill to a two-mile band of Malibu Road where Adam Sandler, Barry Manilow, John Cusack, Tony Danza, Victoria Principal and Mira Sorvino live. Former homeowners include Bill Murray and Shirley MacLaine.

Musical A-list stars like Bono, Jennifer Lopez and Pete Townshend have taken summer rentals in the neighborhood, where monthly rents can be as high as $60,000 a month, according to Bill Rhodes, president of the Malibu Road Association. In Malibu Colony that number could be $100,000.

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