LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Firefighters using earth-moving equipment struggled today to expand containment lines around a wind-driven wildfire that swept through canyons and hillsides in the Sepulveda Pass, destroyed at least eight homes and forced thousands to evacuate before the forecast return of red flag conditions including high winds beginning tonight.
After a relatively short reprieve -- the most recent red flag warning expired at 6 p.m. Monday -- another red flag warning will take effect at 11 p.m. tonight and remain in effect until 6 p.m. Thursday for much of Los Angeles County, with forecasters saying those anticipated winds could be even more severe than those gusting Monday.
“The peak of the event is expected to be Wednesday when damaging wind gusts between 50 and 70 mph will be likely for the wind-prone areas of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with isolated gusts to 80 mph in the mountains,” according to the National Weather Service. “This Santa Ana wind event will likely be the strongest we have seen so far this season. These strong winds combined with a long duration of single-digit humidities and dry fuels will likely bring very critical fire weather conditions, making this an extreme red flag warning event.”
Because of the anticipated winds and fire risks tonight, red flag parking restrictions mandated by the Los Angeles Fire Department will go into effect in the city of Los Angeles at 8 p.m. to keep narrow, hilly streets clear to allow fire trucks unimpeded passage.
“We know we're going to have a major wind event tonight at about 11 p.m. that's going to last until Thursday,” said LAFD Assistant Chief Jamie Moore during an 8 a.m. media briefing at Jackie Robinson Stadium. “We're doing everything we can to wrap our arms around this fire to be able to prevent a potential of those strong gusty Santa Ana winds pushing the fire, rekindling a lot of the fire and blowing embers a mile to two miles down range.”
At the media briefing, Mayor Eric Garcetti said “our job is to protect these people and the homes in the affected area so no one will be allowed back into the mandatory evacuation areas” today.
Garcetti also announced he was signing an emergency declaration to bring more resources to help battle the blaze and he repeated added that the blaze was not caused by an encampment or a homeless person.
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said “we are managing our resources by placing resources in various high-brush locations so we can quickly move them to where they are needed. And if we have another event in a different area we may have to take some of the resources from this fight to battle a new blaze.”
The fire, which forced the closure of the southbound San Diego (405) Freeway for 10 hours, has burned 656 acres and is only 5% contained.
Firefighters used aircraft and dozer teams to strengthen containment lines Monday and reported good progress in slowing the spread of the fire, LAFD spokesman Brain Humphrey said. More dozer teams were deployed early Tuesday before sunrise.
There were no immediate reports of any injuries. Roughly 1,100 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, along with water-dropping aircraft.
Dubbed the Getty Fire, the blaze was reported shortly after 1:30 a.m. Monday by a witness who called the California Highway Patrol and reported seeing flames on a hillside close to the 405 Freeway near Getty Center Drive, along with a possible power line on fire, according to the CHP.
Initially reported at about three or four acres, the blaze quickly fed on dry brush to expand to about 40 acres. By 8 a.m., the flames had chewed through an estimated 500 acres, threatening some of the Southland's richest neighborhoods, including Bel-Air and Brentwood.
The flames burned amid red flag fire conditions, with wind gusts between 35 and 50 mph, the NWS said.
Authorities said eight structures are believed to have been destroyed, and at least six others damaged.
Evacuation orders were issued for roughly 10,000 structures -- both homes and commercial buildings. The evacuation area essentially stretched between the 405 Freeway west to Temescal Canyon Road, between Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive, LAFD spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said.
Authorities drove through neighborhood streets early Monday with flashing lights ordering residents to leave. 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!” He later tweeted that he had found accommodations.
Actor and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also wrote on Twitter that he was evacuated at around 3:30 a.m. Due to the fire, Monday night's Hollywood red-carpet premiere of his latest movie, “Terminator: Dark Fate,” was canceled.
An area south of Sunset to Pacific Coast Highway was briefly ordered evacuated, but those orders were downgraded to an evacuation warning by midday.
Residents in the area between Temescal Canyon Road and Topanga Canyon, from Sunset to Mulholland, were also told to be prepared to evacuate if necessary.
Late Monday afternoon, evacuation orders were lifted for the Mountaingate community just south of Mulholland Drive, but Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said all other evacuees should anticipate being out of their homes for at least two days. He said authorities don't want to lift evacuations prematurely, only to order people back out if winds kick up again overnight or Tuesday afternoon.
The LAFD also ordered students to evacuate from Mount Saint Mary's University at 12001 Chalon Road. Evacuations were also ordered for 200 people in a care facility next door.
Classes were suspended at Mount Saint Mary's Chalon Campus in Brentwood as well as at the Doheny campus, which was not reported threatened by fire. Undergraduate classes will remain canceled Tuesday at both campuses, but graduate classes will resume at the Doheny campus, university officials said.
Evacuation centers were opened at the Westwood Recreation Center at 1350 S. Sepulveda Blvd., near Wilshire Boulevard and the Palisades Recreation Center, 851 Alma Real Drive.
Evacuation centers for animals were established at the West Valley Animal Shelter at 20655 Plummer St., the West L.A. Animal Shelter at 11361 West Pico Blvd. Hansen Dam Recreation Center at 11770 Foothill Blvd. in Lake View Terrace was opened to receive large animals.
The Los Angeles Unified School District closed several campuses in response to the Getty Fire, and district officials said all of those campuses will remain closed Tuesday. They are: Palisades and University high schools, Emerson and Revere middle schools and Brentwood, Brockton, Canyon, Community Magnet, Fairburn, Kenter, Marquez, Palisades, Roscomare, Nora Sterry, Topanga, Warner and Westwood elementary schools.
Also closed were independent charter schools: Palisades Charter High School, Magnolia Science Academy Nos. 4 and 6, and Citizens of the World - Gateway and Ivy Place campuses. More information about when those schools would reopen was expected Tuesday, according to message on the Palisades Charter high web site.
All Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District campuses were closed Monday, but the district announced Monday night that classes would resume Tuesday.
Also closed Monday were UCLA, Santa Monica College and the private John Thomas Dye Elementary School at 11414 Chalon Road in Bel-Air. Classes and campus operations at both UCLA and Santa Monica College will resume Tuesday, both schools announced Monday night.
Dye Elementary will remain closed Tuesday.
The Getty Center museum was not believed to be in danger from the flames. Officials there said Getty Center and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades would be closed Tuesday to ensure fire crews had adequate access to the area to fight the flames.
The San Diego Freeway functioned normally this morning, but exit ramps between the Ventura (101) Freeway in Sherman Oaks to Sunset Boulevard were blocked until further notice.
There was no immediate word on what sparked the blaze, although Garcetti said that while the cause remains under investigation, the fire was not the result of a homeless encampment or any activity by homeless people in the area.
LAFD arson investigators and Department of Water and Power crews inspected a power pole along Sepulveda Boulevard in the general area where the blaze started. Terrazas confirmed that crews have identified the fire's point of origin just off the 405 Freeway near Sepulveda Boulevard.
Investigators were also looking at a broken tree branch with a charred end that was found on the ground along Sepulveda, just south of Skirball on the west side.
Garcetti said arson investigators did find a downed power pole in the area, but they determined it had burned at its base, but the attached lines were intact, “so they have absolutely no evidence on that line that (it) was the cause.”