Live updates: Getty fire off 405 Freeway destroys several homes; thousands flee – Los Angeles Times
A wind-driven brush fire was threatening thousands of homes in Brentwood and other hillside communities on the west side of Los Angeles, burning homes and prompting widespread evacuations on Monday.
The Getty fire broke out shortly after 1:30 a.m. along the 405 Freeway near the Getty Center and spread to the south and west toward neighborhoods, rapidly burning more than 500 acres and sending people fleeing from their homes in the dark. About 10,000 structures have been placed under mandatory evacuation orders.
The 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.
Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said despite firefighters’ efforts, at least five homes, including some on Tigertail Road, have been damaged in the blaze. That number likely will climb in the coming hours.
Mayor Eric Garcetti urged residents to leave if they are under mandatory evacuation orders, saying some have had only 15 minutes to flee as the flames approached.
“Get out when we say get out,” he said, urging homeowners to not try to fight the fire with garden hoses. “The only thing you cannot replace is you and your family.”
The roughly 600 firefighters battling the blaze early Monday braced for a challenging fight as fire weather conditions are expected to worsen through the day. Pre-dawn, embers were being cast a mile ahead of the body of the fire amid moderate winds. Thick smoke was visible across the Los Angeles Basin.
Fire officials advised residents outside the mandatory evacuation zone but in the fire area to prepare to leave.
“It’s a dangerous season right now,” Terrazas said. “We have not had any significant rainfall for a period of time. That’s why we’re very concerned about these weather conditions.”
Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Mark Curry stood on a cliff-edge patio bench in Brentwood Monday morning with panoramic views of the charred remains of some of the most expensive real estate in Los Angeles.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” he said. “We’re going to be here a long time.”
He said saving older homes with wooden cantilevered patios built over dense brush has proven to be a challenge for firefighters.
“Homes with concrete slabs, we can save those,” he said.
The blaze did some of its most serious damage along Tigertail Road, where elaborate outdoor Halloween displays of skeletons and pumpkin goblins stood like eerie sentinels as firefighters battled fires at homes in the affluent Westside enclave that were cloaked in smoke.
It was still dark on Tigertail Road when firefighters used hoses to douse hot spots smoldering near homes, sending rivers of water running down the street. A resident stood in his driveway in his bare feet, as his wife spoke to the police about where to evacuate.
Firetrucks lined the street, smoke choked the air and ash rained down as residents hurried to pack valuables into their cars. A woman pointed at a charred home on the street.
“That’s my neighbor’s house,” she said.
A few miles away, firefighters remained stationed on Cloud Lane just off Kenter Avenue, keeping close watch as the fire burned down a hillside toward other homes. Hand crews used chain saws, pickaxes and shovels to create a containment line they hoped would slow the fire’s spread.
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Around 5 a.m., winds 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. As the day wears on, sustained winds from the northeast to the southwest could increase to 20-30 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph. It’s possible gusts could get up to 45 mph before they lessen 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,” Phillips said. “The winds are still going to be strong through the morning hours.”
The fire was threatening some of Los Angeles’ most affluent neighborhoods. Among those evacuated was former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and 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 in the dark with flashing lights ordering residents to leave.
Ray Vafa, 59, stood on his driveway along Kenter Avenue in the dark, where the mandatory evacuation had left the neighborhood empty. Across the street, smiling pumpkin and ghost decorations were still sitting on a front lawn. Strong winds tore through ghosts strung up in trees.
“I’m just waiting it out,” he said. His wife and their poodle, Charlie Brown, had left earlier in the morning after they received the alerts. Vafa wasn’t too worried when the first notification arrived. After all, it had been raining he night before, he said.
“The second alert — it really alerted us,” he said.
In the 20 years they’ve lived in their home, they’ve never been under a mandatory evacuation order.
Farther down the street, a man who declined to give his name watched firetrucks lining Sunset Boulevard. The Brentwood resident was on the phone, trying to figure out whether he should leave. He has two cars and wouldn’t be able to drive them both.
“I have to figure out what I’m going to do with my Ferrari,” the 47-year-old man said.
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.
Shortly after the fire broke out, helicopters and aircraft began making night drops along the fire line in a fight to protect homes. They were joined by fixed-wing aircraft just after sunrise. The cause of the blaze is not yet known, fire officials said, but Garcetti said it was not caused by homeless camp fires.
Rhonda Taylor got back to her Palisades home around 1 a.m. Monday and was getting ready for bed when she saw images of a fire on TV. Taylor assumed it was burning somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, and even if it was closer, she reasoned, the blaze that broke out in the Palisades last week hadn’t prompted an evacuation of her neighborhood.
She fell asleep, but awoke around 3 a.m. to her phone ringing. Her throat was parched and her head hurt. She answered an L.A. County phone alert, telling her she needed to leave.
Although she already had what she calls her “apocalypse bag” in the car, Taylor was so nervous she grabbed extra toiletries, toothbrushes, clothes and water. She put her Pomeranian, Bu, in his carrier, grabbed a 36-by-24-inch painting of her two children and swaddled it in pillowcases and loaded up her car.
As she drove to an evacuation center in Westwood, through smoke so thick it was like a deep fog descending on her neighborhood, Taylor cried, thinking of all the things she hadn’t had the time or the space in her car to gather up in the night.
Taylor said she’s grown weary of the lingering fear of fire, the possibility that she will need to get up at a moment’s notice and leave her home behind, the worry that sets in when her gas tank hits half-full.
Taylor loves her house and the views it commands of the ocean. But she wonders if it is worth living, as she puts it, “on the edge of fear.”
The speed of the fire — whipped by strong Santa Ana winds — took many by surprise as they rushed to evacuate. As the flames licked closer, some were reminded of the Skirball fire, which tore through the region in 2017.
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, 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.”
Roberta Shintani and her son, Kevin, were woken at 3 a.m. by their roommate, who told them the police had said they needed to go. Two years ago, when flames lashed the hillsides above the 405, Roberta and Kevin had prepared to evacuate but ultimately weren’t required to. Not this time.
Roberta gathered clothes and her laptop, Kevin grabbed his guitar and, with their two dachshund mixes, Mowglie and Baloo, they made their way to an evacuation center in Westwood. The streets were choked with cars. Debris whipped through the air.
The sky, which was glowing orange when they woke up, “went from bright to extremely bright in a very short amount of time,” Kevin said.
Evacuation centers have been opened at the Westwood Recreation Center at 1350 S. Sepulveda Blvd., the Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks Recreation Center at 14201 Huston St., the Stoner Recreation Center at 1835 Stoner Ave. and the Palisades Recreation Center at 851 Alma Real Drive.
The fire has caused a traffic nightmare on the 405 Freeway, one of the Southland’s main arteries. Shortly before 9 a.m., the California Highway Patrol announced the southbound lanes of the freeway were closed from the 101 Freeway to Sunset Boulevard.
Some residents, like Sho Akiyama, were concerned about the fire’s proximity to 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 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.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that the state has secured a fire management assistance grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help ensure the availability of resources to fight the Getty fire. The blaze erupted as firefighters were battling other large fires across the state, including the Tick fire in Santa Clarita and the Kincade fire in Sonoma County.
The Kincade fire exploded overnight from 54,000 acres to more than 66,200 acres and is just 5% contained as firefighters head into the blaze’s fifth day. At least 96 structures have been destroyed, including 40 homes. No deaths have been reported.
The battle against the fire came as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. made the unprecedented decision to black out 940,000 residences and businesses, affecting millions of people from Bakersfield to Eureka, in an effort to prevent its electric lines from sparking new fires in hurricane-force gusts.
“California is grateful for the ongoing support as we battle fires up and down the state in extremely severe weather conditions,” Newsom said. “I thank our heroic emergency responders and volunteers for their tireless, life-saving work to safeguard communities across the state.”
Times staff writers Alejandra Reyes-Velarde and Ruben Vives contributed to this report.