Getty Fire Hits Southern California over the Weekend

The Getty fire broke out shortly before 2 a.m. along the 405 Freeway near the Getty Center and spread to the south and west, rapidly burning 400 acres and sending people fleeing from their homes in the dark.

by Rong-Gong Lin Ii, Hannah Fry, Brittny Mejia and Matthew Ormseth, Los Angeles Times / October 28, 2019
Firefighters work the Getty fire as it burns homes along Tigertail Rd. in the Brentwood Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 2019. Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

(TNS) — A growing brush fire was threatening thousands of homes in Brentwood and other Westside hillside communities, burning several structures and prompting widespread evacuations early Monday.

The Getty fire broke out shortly before 2 a.m. along the 405 Freeway near the Getty Center and spread to the south and west, rapidly burning 400 acres and sending people fleeing from their homes in the dark. About 3,300 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders.

The mandatory evacuation zone was described by fire officials as a box: Mulholland Drive on the north side, the 405 on the east, Sunset Boulevard on the south and Temescal Canyon Road on the west.

“We have homes that we believe are lost,” Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters at a televised news conference shortly after 5 a.m. He urged residents to leave if they’re under mandatory evacuation orders, saying some residents had only 15 minutes to flee. “Get out when we say get out,” he said, urging homeowners to not try to fight the fire with garden hoses.

Los Angeles Fire Capt. Erik Scott said officials were most concerned about Mandeville Canyon, the Brentwood area around Bundy Drive and Mountaingate. Scott said at least two homes have burned.

Several homes also were burning on Tigertail Road, and officials say embers were being cast a mile ahead of the body of the fire amid moderate winds.

Fire officials advised residents outside the mandatory evacuation zone but in the area to prepare to leave. UCLA and other areas east of the 405 are not under an evacuation warning.

“This is a very dynamic situation due to high winds, and information is quickly developing,” the Los Angeles Fire Department said in an advisory. “Stay vigilant.”

The roughly 500 firefighters battling the blaze early Monday braced for a challenging fight as fire weather conditions are expected to worsen through the day.

Winds around 5 a.m. at nearby Franklin Canyon Park east of the Sepulveda Pass were 10 mph, with gusts of up to 17 mph and a relative humidity of 23%, which is relatively dry. However, later in the morning, sustained winds from the northeast to the southwest could increase to 20-30 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph. It is possible gusts could get up to 45 mph before they begin to diminish in the early afternoon, National Weather Service meteorologist Lisa Phillips said.

Even worse, minimum relative humidity could fall into the single digits, perhaps as low as 5%. Temperatures in the area Monday are expected to top out in the upper 70s.

“As we heat up, we’re not going to get any more moisture in the area. … It’s not going to get any more humidity,” Phillips said. “The winds are still going to be strong through the morning hours.”

Mount St. Mary’s University was surrounded by flames early Monday, and a campus spokeswoman said all 450 students have been safely evacuated to the school’s Doheny campus near downtown.

Diana Rodriguez, a second-year business major at the university, was studying for her Principles of Management class when the lights flicked out for about a minute at 1:30 a.m. Five minutes later, she smelled smoke. But she had smelled smoke last week, drifting south from the Tick fire in Santa Clarita. She figured whatever fire was burning now was similarly far away.

Then, around 2:30 a.m., resident assistants banged on the door of Rodriguez’s dorm. Everyone needed to gather their things and evacuate, they said.

Rodriguez grabbed her laptop, phone, camera and chargers, stuffed her backpack with snacks and water, and left her dorm in pajamas. The sky was blood red.

“Really, really red and orange — pretty, but a little freaky too,” she recalled.

Ash floated in the air. Her eyes stung from the smoke.

They put on masks and followed a road down the mountainside. Some students griped about having to evacuate while others were laughing “either because they didn’t know what was happening or as a coping mechanism,” Rodriguez said.

The students were picked up about halfway down the mountainside by ambulances, which ferried some to the school’s Doheny campus and others, like Rodriguez, to an evacuation center in Westwood.

Chad Elbert, 43, FaceTimed his wife from Mulholland and Walt Disney drives, where he had pulled over to get a look at the fire early Monday. The couple live a mile up the road and had woken up to the emergency alerts on their phones before 3 a.m.

They couldn’t smell smoke from where they lived and wondered whether they’d end up being evacuated.

“It’s a risk you take living out here,” Elbert said.

When the couple first bought their home in 2017, the Skirball fire broke out four days later. Although they didn’t evacuate, they were packed and ready to go.

In the predawn darkness Monday, Elbert watched the flames from a safe distance.

“It’s very surreal,” he said. “It’s like a scene out of a movie.”

Evacuation centers have been opened at the Westwood Recreation Center at 1350 S. Sepulveda Blvd. and the Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks Recreation Center at 14201 Huston St.

Helicopters and aircraft were making night drops along the fire line in their fight to protect homes.

The fire was threatening some of Los Angeles’ most affluent neighborhoods. Among those evacuated was Lakers star LeBron James, who said on Twitter: “Had to emergency evacuate my house and I’ve been driving around with my family trying to get rooms. No luck so far!

Authorities drove through neighborhood streets with flashing emergency lights ordering residents to evacuate.

The California Highway Patrol advised motorists to avoid the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass. Portions of Sepulveda Boulevard also were closed.

The cause of the blaze is not known, fire officials said.

A video posted on Twitter by Flavio Chávez at 1:45 a.m. showed flames burning on one side of the freeway.

When Sho Akiyama’s daughter woke him around 3:40 a.m., he could see the sky flushed with orange from his apartment near Sunset and Sepulveda.

He took his family to an evacuation center in Westwood, where he fretted about the fate of the Getty Museum and the treasures it holds.

“I hope they’re trying to protect the Getty,” he said. “I hope they’ve got a lot of water on that.”

Museum officials wrote on Twitter early Monday that the fire is burning north and west of the Getty Center. The museum remains safe, they said, but it will be closed Monday because of the fire.

“Our thoughts are with neighbors and first responders,” the museum wrote.

 

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