Winds that drove an erratic blaze through the hillsides west of the 405 Freeway have finally abated, and evacuation orders that impacted 10,000 homes earlier this week were fully lifted this morning.
Since erupting early Monday, the Getty Fire seared 745 acres, destroyed 10 homes, and damaged 15 more. At the wildfire’s peak, more than 1,000 firefighters, aided by fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, worked in “some of the most challenging terrain in Los Angeles” to protect neighborhoods and corral flames.
They battled 50 mph wind gusts and low humidity, but with conditions improving, the blaze is now 66 percent contained.
Overnight, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department, crews “mopped up” and extinguished remaining hot spots within the fire’s perimeter.
The Getty Fire is the fourth large fire to burn in Los Angeles this month, all fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds. Several others have erupted across the Southland, including the Easy Fire, which broke out Wednesday morning in Ventura County, prompting evacuations in neighboring Simi Valley, Moorpark, and Thousand Oaks.
The Getty Fire started around 1:35 a.m. Monday in the 1800 block of North Sepulveda Drive, amid a wind storm. According to the Los Angeles Fire Department, it was likely ignited when a gust snapped a branch from a Eucalyptus tree and flung it onto live Los Angeles Department of Water and Power lines, causing them to spark.
“This was, simply put... an act of God,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The mayor emphasized that there was no equipment failure and tried to draw a distinction between the Getty Fire ignition and the massive fires in Northern California that have been caused by PG&E.
That a tree branch flew into and short-circuited it power lines was out of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s control, said chief operating officer Marty Adams.
He said that as recently as July, utility crews had cleared brush and trimmed 248 trees around power lines in the crest of the Sepulveda Pass. The tree that sparked the fire was not trimmed because it was outside of the department’s clearance zone. It was “at least 25 feet away horizontally and further up” from power lines, beyond the department’s 18-inch standard, Garcetti said.
Flames quickly moved west, racing down the canyons and licking brush alongside the 405 Freeway, triggering a full closure of the southbound lanes. The Getty Center—which was built to withstand fires and where firefighters were stationed to assist with logistics for helicopter operations—was never threatened.
The fire reached hillsides above the Getty parking structure, but “didn’t come closer than half a mile from the northern edge of the Getty complex,” according to the Getty website.
The museum is scheduled to reopen Saturday.
It was still dark when many residents in the area awoke Monday to the smell of smoke and the sounds of emergency cell phone alerts and police sirens, then fled their homes, from Brentwood to Topanga.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered for a zone with Mulholland Drive on the north, the 405 Freeway on the east, Sunset Boulevard on the south, and Temescal Canyon Road on the west.
Photographers and TV reporters on scene documented the total destruction of several homes on Tigertail Road, including one designed in the 1950s by midcentury modern master Craig Ellwood. Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said firefighters protecting homes Monday morning “were literally overwhelmed.”
“They had to make some tough decisions on which houses they were able to protect,” he said. “It was a very challenging fire.”
Those decisions, he said, hinged in part on where embers landed but also on building construction. Concrete homes, he said, tended to survive.
Because of a rare “extreme” red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service, evacuation orders remained in place even after firefighters started to get a handle on the blaze. The warning was in effect Tuesday night through Thursday for hillside areas in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The Weather Service predicted it could be one of the strongest Santa Ana storms in “recent memory.”
Fire officials feared that with hot spots still smoldering, embers could whip up and ignite homes and brush.
“I’m always worried about Santa Ana wind conditions, especially when we have a fire that isn’t contained,” Terrazas said. “When wind comes and picks up an ember in the wrong place, we can have a fire starting.”
As fires erupted from Santa Paula to Riverside, city of LA crews managed to keep their grip on the Getty Fire.
“We went at it fast and hard,” incident commander and Los Angeles Fire Department assistant chief Corey Rose said Wednesday night. “We put numerous people on the fire line here, and we were able to put this to rest.”