Several thousand firefighters battled to suppress the flames, which created a 5,000ft plume of smoke visible across much of southern California, as they headed towards the Pacific coast, driven by 40mph winds.
Within several hours of starting, the fire had raced across the dry, brush-covered hills and canyons of the Santa Monica mountains until it was within two miles of Malibu. The nearby John Paul Getty Museum, which contains ancient and modern art treasures, was evacuated, with Pepperdine University and schools and homes.
Firefighters, assisted by hose-wielding residents, had been laying down water and chemical suppressants in the hope of blocking the fire's progress towards Malibu, where Jack Nicholson, Barbra Streisand, Tom Selleck and Larry Hagman have homes.
The huge fire was one of several that flared up in southern California less than a week after 14 big brush fires swept through the region, causing more than dollars 500m (pounds 340m) of damage, and burning down several hundred luxury homes in Laguna Beach, a wealthy seaside and artists' town 50 miles south of Los Angeles.
There were also large blazes yesterday near San Diego and at Banning, in San Bernadino near Los Angeles.
At least one person died yesterday. Several more were injured, including Duncan Gibbins, 41, a British film director, reportedly while attempting to save a cat. He suffered burns on 80 per cent of his body.
The fires, fuelled by wind and an abundance of tinder-dry scrub, reached 2,000F - causing buildings in its path to explode.
Outside Malibu, long queues of traffic formed along the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs through the town, as residents who had been working in Los Angeles desperately tried to get home, or to find evacuated children.Reuse content