Neighbors of the home where a deadly house fire took place in Malibu on Sunday morning say the tragedy was bound to happen.
For three years, homeowners on Mansie Lane say they’ve made repeated attempts to close down a short-term rental property at 2145 Rambla Pacifico, in the unincorporated area of Malibu just outside city limits. The residents—including the owners of One Gun Ranch—say the raucous parties, smoking, drinking and trash at the property were out of control and no government agency came to their rescue.
Early Sunday morning, Jan. 17, nearby residents were alerted to prepare for evacuation when a fire at the home spread to nearby brush. Fire crews, including a water dropping helicopter, quickly responded and were able to put out the blaze with only four acres burned. However, one person died in the burning home and two others were taken to a hospital. The LA County Coroner’s Department confirmed the fatality but said the victim was still listed as a John Doe by the time The Malibu Times went to print Tuesday evening, Jan. 19.
Janet Graham, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years, described the incident as starting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday night.
“We could hear really loud karaoke music,” Graham recalled. “We’ve been dealing with this for a few years now. This house has been rented out to large groups and they make so much noise we can’t sleep.” Graham said parties there typically go on into the wee hours. She and her neighbors claimed they have called the sheriff’s department numerous times (the department did not reply to interview requests by Tuesday evening).
“Our main concern is a fire because these people—their behavior—they’re drunk, loud—the owner rents it out to a lot of people,” Graham said. According to neighbor Richard Feinstein, the sheriff’s department showed up at midnight to quiet the party. Then, at 3:30 a.m., Graham’s daughter noticed the rental was on fire.
“It was ablaze—really on fire. It was windy. It carried the embers across my roof. It was terrifying,” Graham described.
The STR home appears destroyed, based on what is visible from the street. Graham has losses at her property as well, including a melted main water pipe, a wall, landscaping and fencing destroyed.
“There’s a lot of damage to the trees and hillside going down Mansie Lane,” Graham said. “It’s all charred. But the fire department is so stellar. I cannot believe those guys. They saved my house.”
According to Feinstein who lost his home in the 1993 Topanga fire, the STR is rented out by property owner Erin Hughes. Though it was impossible to confirm whether Hughes is the current owner, she is listed as owner on various public aggregator sites and in California Coastal Commission documents. The rental is advertised on at least two STR sites (Booking.com and Airbnb), with property managers mentioned including “Raisa,” “Robert” and “Nelly.”
“Whenever there’s been parties, there there’s trash, gin bottles, wine bottles strewn on the side of the road. It’s been awful—garbage cans tipped over. Neighbors have called police hearing workers at the property yelling at each other thinking someone was going to get killed. It’s a horrible operation,” Graham complained, adding that when she once confronted a renter he told her the owner gave him permission to “do whatever we want.”
The Airbnb listing specifies that the host “doesn’t allow partying or smoking,” though the ground around the short-term rental was littered with beer bottles and cigarette packs on the Monday following the fire. One comment on the listing on Booking.com described a “urine smell,” while another alluded to a “weird situation going on” on the property. However, negative reviews on the website were accompanied by comments from the property owner refuting the complaints.
“I’m sorry that somebody died, but this has been coming on for years,” Feinstein said.
“We’ve been fighting that place, which is an illegal STR ... The place is filled with people on drugs or alcohol, screaming, playing loud music, not caring for the neighborhood, parking cars on Rambla Pacifico, blocking traffic and it’s been a disaster waiting to happen,” he continued. “We’ve called the sheriff, the city and the county and nobody has helped us and allowed this fake hotel to exist.”
Though the Zillow listing for the home states it has four bedrooms, listings state is has six and accommodates up to 16 guests.
The home is out of Malibu jurisdiction, located just beyond city limits. According to county rules, any STR accommodating more than five persons must have a hotel or motel license and be zoned for this activity.
“There’s no way she should be allowed to do this,” Graham said.
[Editor's note, Jan. 21:] Since this story was published, a law librarian confirmed the current property owner to be Erin Hughes.