An eerie calm settled over the Getty Fire burn area in the Sepulveda Pass Tuesday as fire crews continued building containment lines ahead of what are expected to be the most powerful Santa Ana winds of the year, raising fears of the blaze re-igniting or smoldering embers sparking new infernos potentially miles away.
“It does take one ember, just one ember downwind, to start another brush fire,” Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas warned during an afternoon briefing attended by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mayor Eric Garcetti and a host of other officials.
As of 7 p.m., the Getty Fire was officially listed at 656 acres, with containment at 15%, up from 5% Monday night. Officials confirmed that 12 homes had been destroyed by the flames, and five others were damaged. One firefighter sustained a minor injury.
Garcetti noted that while there were no open flames visible in the burn area Tuesday afternoon, “we have the most significant wind event in Los Angeles of the year that will be starting this evening.”
Those anticipated winds prompted the National Weather Service to issue what it described as an unprecedented “extreme red flag warning” for much of Los Angeles County, noting that some mountain areas could be blasted with gusts of up to 80 mph.
“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 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.”
The red flag warning covering the bulk of the county will take effect at 11 p.m. and remain in force until 6 p.m. Thursday. Garcetti and Terrazas said they expect the winds to peak at 3 a.m. Wednesday, but the heightened danger will continue through Thursday.
Newsom toured part of the burn area with Garcetti and other officials Tuesday afternoon. He hailed the collective work of the two dozen fire agencies that have combined to fight the Getty Fire, and he even hailed the support and cooperation the state has been receiving from the Trump administration, despite the near-constant political battles between California and the federal government.
Newsom said the crisis response is a time “when people aren’t focused on their differences, they’re focused on supporting one another.”
The Getty Fire 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 San Diego (405) Freeway near Getty Center Drive, along with a possible power line on fire, according to the CHP.
The fire raced to the west and southwest, burning its way in the direction of Pacific Palisades and marching through some of the Southland’s priciest real estate.
At the fire’s height, evacuation orders were issued affecting 10,000 structures, both residential and commercial, in an area between the San Diego Freeway and Temescal Canyon Road, from Sunset Boulevard north to Mulholland Drive. Evacuation orders were lifted Monday night for the Mountaingate community south of Mulholland.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the LAFD reported that 7,091 residences were still in the evacuation zone.
Garcetti said despite Tuesday’s relative calm in the fire area, evacuees should plan to be away from their houses for at least another day, likely longer, due to the dangerous winds. He said authorities don’t want to lift evacuations prematurely, only to order people back out when winds accelerate.
Evacuation centers remain open 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 Los Angeles Animal Shelter at 11361 Pico Blvd. Hansen Dam Recreation Center at 11770 Foothill Blvd. in Lake View Terrace was opened to receive large animals.
Because of the anticipated winds and fire risks, red flag parking restrictions mandated by the Los Angeles Fire Department went into effect 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,” LAFD Assistant Chief Jamie Moore said Tuesday morning.
“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.”
Authorities confirmed Tuesday afternoon the Getty Fire was caused by gusting winds that severed a tree branch and blew it into a Department of Water and Power electrical line, causing sparks that fell onto the brush below.
“This was, simply put, … an act of God,” Garcetti said.
Terrazas said Monday that crews had identified the fire’s point of origin just off the San Diego Freeway near Sepulveda Boulevard. He insisted Tuesday that the cause of the was strictly “accidental.”
“There is no evidence of a homeless encampment,” Terrazas said. “There is no evidence of arson. It is an accidental start.”
Marty Adams, general manager of the Department of Water & Power, told reporters the agency had just completed a brush-clearing operation in the area in July, trimming 248 trees “in excess of what the state requires.” He noted that the branch in question came from a tree “outside of our clearance zone” but was carried by the wind into the power line.
Adams said the power line itself remained intact and is still delivering electricity to the area.
Nearly 1,200 firefighters were assigned to the Getty Fire, with crews using bulldozers to create fire breaks and extend containment lines.
Roughly two dozen campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District were closed Monday and Tuesday due to the fire and smoke.
Affected schools were 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 they reopened 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 resumed Tuesday, but Dye Elementary remained closed.
Classes were suspended Monday 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 remained canceled Tuesday at both campuses, but graduate classes resumed at the Doheny campus, university officials said.
The Getty Center museum was not believed to be in immediate danger from the flames. Officials there said Getty Center and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades would be closed through Friday to ensure fire crews had adequate access to the area to fight the flames.
The San Diego Freeway, a southbound stretch of which was closed for much of the day Monday, was open through the Sepulveda Pass, but exit ramps between the Ventura (101) Freeway in Sherman Oaks to Sunset Boulevard were blocked.
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