Paradise Lost? Malibu Picks Up the Pieces

The celebrity life may not be much to envy as the smoke begins to clear from the wildfires that have ravaged Southern California this week.

As dawn broke Monday, fierce flames forced the evacuation of several hundred residents of the scenic seaside town of Malibu, including many well-known entertainers.

The popular coastal enclave is home to many celebrities, entertainment industry moguls and at least 12 billionaires, some of whom were forced to flee from their homes.

"I don't even want to consider what I would lose," said actress and ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" contestant Jane Seymour.

She told "Access Hollywood" that her husband defied evacuation orders this week. He remained in Malibu to defend their home, which she described as filled with family treasures and memorabilia from her career.

Kelsey Grammar, Sally Field, Olivia Newton John and Mel Gibson were among the celebrities who followed the advice of firefighters and left their homes.

Have you shot video or photos of the California fires? Upload them now at i-CAUGHT.

When the smoke and ash cleared, six residences, a church, a glass business and a faux castle were destroyed.

Actor Sean Penn reportedly lost not one, but two homes perched on land at the top of Carbon Canyon Road, close to actor David Duchovny's house.

According to of AKA Media, Penn lost his first home on the exclusive hillside property in the big 1993 Topanga Malibu fire that destroyed 300 homes.

Hoping to avoid another devastating loss, the French entertainment news service says Penn did not rebuild a house, but instead placed two vintage trailer homes on the land. Both were burned in this week's wildfire.

In January, actress Suzanne Somers' beachfront home burned to the ground despite efforts by firefighters and actor (and neighbor) John Cusack. Somers vowed to rebuild.

Malibu: Hot, Wet and Dangerous?

Since 1970, nine major wildfires have consumed parts of Malibu; that's an average of one devastating conflagration every four years.

Those fires strip the chaparral-covered mountains that rise seemingly out of the sea, but also make them prone to ruinous floods and mudslides.

In the last 10 years, there have been four destructive slides — one almost every other year.

Yet the persistent threat of natural disaster does not appear to dissuade about 13,000 residents — including Gibson, Cher, David Geffen, Terry Semel, Jennifer Aniston, Will Smith, Bill Murray and Sting from building homes along Malibu's shoreline or in the adjacent canyons.

"It is a natural environment and it is unfortunately what we have to deal with at times," said real estate agent Shen Schulz of Pritchett-Rapf in Malibu.

"But it is along the beach, somewhat geographically isolated and yet close to Los Angeles," said Schulz

"There is lots of privacy for celebrities and diversity. We have everything from hippy-trippy Topanga Canyon to the Carbon Beach 'Billionaires Bay' to the world-class Pepperdine University," Schulz said.

While there may be a major downturn in the housing market across the nation, Malibu is a world away from that seismic shift.

Just 27 mostly beach-hugging miles long and relatively narrow, land is at a premium and demand for homes always outstrips supply.

Currently, Schulz is showcasing a 7,500-square-foot home with an ocean view, perched on an acre of land and boasting seven bedrooms and six baths.

Malibu Mystique

Diane Sobel's husband is obsessed with surfing. So six years ago they put down stakes in Malibu.

"My husband loves to surf and because it is a gated community, only residents could have access to this beach. So we had to move here!" Sobel said.

"We have an ocean view and we can walk to the beach."

Sobel and her family didn't need a high-end real estate concern to get them into their new home. They were able to get into a doublewide trailer atop a popular bluff with an ocean view for less than $400,000. One caveat: They don't own the land.

The 51-year-old mother of two teenage boys says celebrities and "regular people" mix easily in Malibu.

British actress Minnie Driver lives in a trailer on one side of her, she says, and actor Matthew McConaughey is renting next door while he films a surfing movie.

The Sobels' home was spared and they did not have to evacuate for this wildfire, but Sobel says her cousin lost everything this week when his home in San Diego County burned to the ground. Fires there have caused at least $1 billion in damage so far.

Given her cousin's fate, Sobel has no doubts about her decision to live where fires, floods and mudslides are part of the landscape.

"It never crosses our minds, " she said.

"What is the difference if you live with that or floods in Louisiana or tornadoes in the Midwest? It is all the same thing."

Malibu's Calm After the Firestorm

Architect Richard Sol and his family were touched by the Malibu fire this time. Literally.

On ABC's "Good Morning America" earlier this week, Sol and his wife, Margaret, described how each of their cars had caught on fire as they were driving away from their condominium, under an evacuation order.

Sol grew up in Malibu and has lived most of the last 54 years there, unscathed by the area's natural disasters, until now.

"I thought I knew it all. It never occurred to me that I could be burnt on a roadway, traveling," he told

Sol was quick to point out that not all of Malibu is impacted by each fire: "It's not bad all the time," he said.

And as to the special appeal of this seaside town?

"We don't have the landscape of Carmel or Monterey — our landscape is sage brush and chaparral. It's gray with flecks of yellow. And we don't have the warm oceans of Hawaii or the Caribbean," said Sol.

"But if you are going to live and work in Los Angeles and you are successful, it is the best part of the county. And you get addicted to the sea."

As the week draws to a close, Malibu seems slower and quieter; the streets, emptier.

School was canceled. The courthouse shut down. Residents attend town hall meetings in the evening offering help to the pastor and congregation of the Presbyterian church consumed by flames.

The city was lucky this time; no one was killed or seriously injured in this fire. They are grateful.

"Malibu will never be more beautiful than the days after the Santa Ana winds stop," Sol said.

"The ocean becomes a lake. You don't seem to have wave action after the Santa Anas. The beaches are clean. The pollution has been driven to the horizon by the winds and they reflect and refract the light so that you get these incredible sunsets. The weather is 78 to 84 degrees. The air is still. It's quiet and it's beautiful."