450-Acre Skirball Fire Burns Homes in Bel-Air Area, Prompts Evacuations Affecting 46,000 People

A brush fire that erupted near the Getty Center early Wednesday morning burned at least four homes, prompted mandator...

Posted: Dec 7, 2017 5:25 PM
Updated: Dec 7, 2017 5:25 PM

A brush fire that erupted near the Getty Center early Wednesday morning burned at least four homes, prompted mandatory evacuation orders in some of Los Angeles' most affluent neighborhoods, and temporarily shut down a major portion of the busy 405 Freeway.

The Skirball Fire started near the 405 Freeway and Mulholland Drive just before 5 a.m., Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said.

By 10 p.m., the fire was estimated to have burned 450 acres, about 25 acres less than the figure provided by officials during an afternoon update. Containment remained at 5 percent.

No civilians or firefighters have been injured, but four homes have been destroyed and 11 damaged.

The fire's forward progress has been stopped, but a number of flareups have popped up in the Bel-Air Crest area as strong, gusty winds started to pick up again on Wednesday evening, according to Peter Sanders, LAFD's public information director.

"The goal of the operation this evening is the same as it was earlier today, to keep the fire in the box that it's been in since this afternoon. We're attempting to prevent the fire from jumping west of the 405 and preventing it from going east as well," he said at a 10 p.m. news conference. "So far we've been successful and that's going to be our mission all night."

Sanders noted that a good portion of the flames were burning in steep, inaccessible terrain that hasn't burned in decades or longer.

The fire was fanned by winds coming from the northeast in the morning, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said at earlier in the day.

"These are days that break your heart, but these are also days that show the resilience of our city," he said.

The mayor Wednesday afternoon declared a local state of emergency in response to the Skirball Fire.

About 46,000 people are affected by evacuations, LAFD Deputy Chief Chuck ButlerButler, the incident commander, said at an afternoon news briefing.

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for residents within the following boundaries: South of Mulholland Drive, east of the 405 Freeway, north of Sunset Boulevard and west of Roscomare Road. A precautionary evacuation area is west of the 405 Freeway and residents in that area should be ready to go, LAPD said.

Mandatory evacuations will remain in effect throughout the night, as winds are expected to pick up overnight and into Thursday morning, according to Sanders. Officials will provide an update Thursday morning as to when evacuated residents might be able to return to their homes, he added.

Officials were still concerned about areas west of the 405, and though it it not part of the mandatory evacuation, LAPD Deputy Chief Dennis Kato urged those residents to prepare have their things packed and ready to go at a moment's notice.

"Be ready, because the fire could be very quickly moving in to that area," he said.

Six fixed-wing state aircraft are spreading retardant in a horseshoe shape around the blaze, and multiple helicopters are responding, Garcetti said.

LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said the city is prioritizing where to put firefighters as the department faces a week of critical fire weather due to fierce Santa Ana winds and low humidity.

"We're in the middle of a weeklong red flag condition. We're not done," Terrazas said. "My firefighters have been working since Sunday. Our people are getting tired."

Aerial video from Sky5 showed the fire burning on the east side of the freeway; the Getty Center is located west of the 405 Freeway.

A SigAlert was expanded at 6:45 a.m., shutting down the freeway in both directions from the 10 Freeway to the 101 Freeway, the CHP stated. Southbound lanes reopened by 9 a.m. As of 9:30 a.m., off-ramps along the northbound 405 Freeway are closed at the 10 Freeway to Mulholland Drive, and southbound 405 off-ramps are closed from Mulholland to Sunset Boulevard, a CHP spokesman said.

Shortly after 1 p.m., traffic began flowing on northbound 405 Freeway lanes again.

Traffic was also congested on Roscomare Road and surrounding residential streets, LAPD said, asking drivers to avoid the area.

Winds in the area were blowing at 15 to 25 mph, according to the Fire Department.

"We don't have a good feel on which direction this fire is heading," Stewart said.

The fire is burning in a similar area to the 1961 Bel-Air Fire -- the last major fire in that area -- which destroyed more than 500 homes and was brought to a halt with favorable wind conditions, Terrazas said. That fire prompted many changes in city policy to prevent the spread of fires.

In the case of Skirball Fire, favorable weather will also be crucial to stopping the blaze, Terrazas said.

The following schools and districts will also be closed Wednesday:

The Conejo Valley Unified School District is closing all schools.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is closing all schools.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is closing Roscomare Road Elementary School, Community Magnet Charter School and Kenter Canyon Elementary School and multiple other schools. A full list is here.

Brentwood School

Curtis School

St. Martin of Tours Elementary School

The American Jewish University

Windward School

UCLA has also announced that it has canceled classes for Thursday.

Evacuation centers have been set up at the following locations:

Delano Recreation Center, 15100 Erwin

Balboa Recreation Center, 17015 Burbank

Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Recreation Center, 14201 Huston

Westwood Recreation Center, 1350 Sepulveda Blvd.

Cheviot Hills Recreation Center, 2551 Motor Ave.

The city's website on the Skirball Fire is being regularly updated. It is at: emergency.lacity.org/skirball-fire.

The Getty Center will be closed Wednesday due to the wild fires burning in Southern California.

The Skirball Cultural Center announced it would also be closed on Wednesday. Anyone with tickets will be reimbursed, according to messages on its Twitter feed.

The fire began as crews are spread across Southern California fighting several brush fires, including the Thomas Fire, the Creek Fire and the Rye Fire.

Forecasters are calling for another afternoon of gusty winds, which will help fuel the fires on Wednesday.

The fire's cause hasn't been determined.

"With winds like these, it can be anything," Garcetti said.

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