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How does the La Tuna Fire compare to historic LA blazes?

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It’s the largest brush fire in city history, but not the most destructive

View of house burning
A house burns during the massively destructive Bel Air fire of 1961.
Photos courtesy LA Public Library

As of Tuesday morning, the still-raging La Tuna Fire had burned up more than 7,000 acres and is 70 percent contained. The blaze has claimed five homes, and, as images and video of the fire illustrate, it’s created an apocalyptic-looking wall of flames and smoke above the communities of Burbank, Glendale, and the eastern San Fernando Valley.

Technically, it’s the the biggest brush fire in LA history, as Mayor Eric Garcetti proclaimed Saturday. But it’s far from the most devastating inferno that the city has faced, says Kevin Roderick at LA Observed.

The La Tuna Fire has now surpassed the scope of the 6,090-acre Bel Air Fire of 1961, but that blaze was quite a bit more destructive—it destroyed close to 500 homes, including those belonging to Burt Lancaster and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

And though the the response to the latest fire has been massive, no firefighters have been killed or seriously injured while combatting it. Sadly, that was not the case during another La Tuna Canyon fire in 1955 that claimed the life of firefighter James L. Catlow.

Flames rising from hill
The 1955 La Tuna Canyon Fire claimed the life of firefighter James L. Catlow.

The 1933 Griffith Park brush fire was even deadlier, killing 29 county laborers who switched from clearing brush in the area to fighting the fire when it broke out abruptly in early October.

As Roderick points out, firefighters have likely been able to limit the current fire’s destructive potential due to lessons learned from the devastating fires of the past.

Head over to LA Observed for more on LA’s biggest blazes—and a great informational video produced after the 1961 Bel Air Fire that explains why it’s so difficult to control fires in a city built around mountains with “the fastest burning ground cover in the Western Hemisphere.”