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Montecito fire: What about the celebrities? *

November 14, 2008 |  7:05 am

Oprah Winfrey -- Hermès

* Post updated at 9:35 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.

Most news organizations have focused coverage of the Montecito fire on homes lost and where the flames are heading. But others had other priorities. Here's the lead from the fire story from Thaindian.com:

Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe, and Oprah Winfreys houses in the hills of the wealthy Southern California coastal town of Montecito face the danger of being gutted by a wind-driven bush fire, which has already destroyed several homes. Representatives for Lowe and Winfrey confirmed that the celebrities” homes had not been destroyed, and that neither was staying in the area Thursday night.

A few facts that put Montecito in perspective:

In 2006, Forbes magazine declared the Montecito ZIP Code the seventh-highest-priced in the U.S., and the median price of a home is $2.9 million. L.A. Times real estate writer Ann Brenoff recently described the coastal town this way:

This is a place where less is more. Forget garish Beverly Hills mansions and Bel-Air palaces that scream "look at me." Santa Barbara County's Montecito is understated elegance, English gardens and the quiet genteelness that comes from having nothing to prove. It is, however, only for the chosen few.... This is where the rich and famous come to be ignored. Many celebrities have found refuge here, including Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Lowe, Kirk Douglas and Jeff Bridges. They tend to live behind gates but are often seen around town. Jonathan Winters is a regular at Tom's, the local coffee shop. These celebs -- and the captains of industry who are their neighbors -- could hardly have staked out a prettier spot. But what distinguishes it from some other places populated by the super rich is its lack of glitz and ostentatiousness.

Two years ago, The Times reported how hard it was for firefighters to live anywhere close to Montecito: "The fire near Gaviota jumped U.S. 101 and raced toward Buellton, blocking Eric Klemowicz's path to work. Duty bound, he drove east to the San Joaquin Valley, south to Castaic, west to Ventura and north to Santa Barbara County. Four hours later, the Montecito firefighter finally arrived at work. That was two years ago. But the area's high housing costs long ago pushed Klemowicz 90 miles north into the next county, near Pismo Beach.... Few places face a more acute housing problem than the Montecito Fire Protection District."

* Updated: Times Hot Property columnist Ann Brenoff reports a dramatic scene from the home of actor Christopher Lloyd:

The caretaker for actor Christopher Lloyd's house "fled for his life" in a firestorm last night, said Lisa Loiacono of Sotheby's International Realty. Loiacono manages the property for Lloyd, who is filming on location in Vancouver, Canada, and was not in Montecito. Loiacono said the property's 8 acres were all "torched," and the house "at least partially burned, if not totally." Loiacono was unable to enter the area this morning.

The house, Lloyd's main residence, had been listed for sale in the spring of 2007 at $11.3 million but was recently withdrawn from the market while he made upgrades. He owns a second, smaller, home in Montecito that is still on the market for $3.6 million.

The property believed lost is one of Montecito's more unusual homes. The 5,500-square-foot main house has one bedroom, and there is a separate guesthouse. The house was built in 1972 from adobe bricks made on site. And the living room and bedroom share an outdoor area with a large patio and stone-lined reflecting pool.

Lloyd personally cared for many of the rare and exotic plants on the grounds. It is also believed that the Mountain Drive home of Eva Loggins, Kenny Loggins' ex-wife, was destroyed by the fire.

Description of Lloyd's smaller home in The Times: "The new listing has two bedrooms and two bathrooms in 2,514 square feet and is within walking distance of Montecito's lower village.The gated house has an Asian influence, with bamboo floors and a raised bamboo pergola overlooking the pool and spa. There is also a waterfall that cascades into the pool. The home has three fireplaces and a study off the living room with built-in shelving. There are high ceilings throughout."

Update 2: Here's more from The Times' Louis Sahagun in Montecito:

Buildings located on Christopher Lloyd's property sustained major fire damage, with ruins continuing to smolder Friday afternoon. The property looks out over a panoramic view of a canyon studded with luxury homes, the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands.

Lloyd is said to personally care for many of the rare and exotic plants on the grounds, some of which perished in the fire. Among the debris was the metallic nameplate for Orphium frutescens, a South African shrublet that grows pink flowers and is commonly known as the sea rose, and Erythrina latissima, a slow-growing South African tree, commonly known as the broad-leaved coral tree, that has scarlet flowers and leathery green leaves. Besides the nameplate, all that remained were ash and a stump covered in blackened leaves.

-- Shelby Grad

Photo: Associated Press

Click here for more photos from the fire area.