With containment lines appearing to hold, the bulk of evacuation orders issued in response to the Getty Fire in the Sepulveda Pass were lifted Wednesday, despite gusting winds and extreme red flag conditions that kept crews on edge and most of the schools closed by the blaze will reopen Thursday.
As of 5 p.m., evacuation orders were lifted for all residents, except for those in an area bounded by the San Diego (405) Freeway and Kenter Avenue, from Sunset Boulevard to an area just south of Mountaingate Drive.
At its height, the evacuation area stretched as far north as Mulholland Drive and as far west as Temescal Canyon Road in Pacific Palisades, affecting up to 10,000 residential and commercial structures.
It was unclear how many structures are in the remaining evacuation zone.
As of 5 p.m., the fire was still estimated at 745 acres, with 27% containment, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The fire has destroyed 12 homes since erupting around 1:30 a.m. Monday, and five other homes were damaged.
City and fire officials had been hesitant to lift the evacuation orders that were in place since Monday, in light of what forecasters dubbed “extreme red flag” fire conditions that are expected to persist until 6 p.m. Thursday.
However, City Councilman Mike Bonin said via Twitter that fire officials decided to lift some orders “after reviewing the latest wind and weather conditions and reviewing the perimeter of the fire.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti had warned Tuesday that the evacuation orders could remain in place for several days due to the red flag conditions, noting that officials did not want to let residents go back home only to be evacuated again if the fire flared up again.
Despite the evacuations being lifted, the National Weather Service continued to warn residents that gusting winds and low humidity will still leave the area ripe for wildfires.
“Strong Santa Ana winds gusting between 40 and 60 mph will continue to impact wind-prone areas of Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Thursday morning, with isolated gusts to 70 mph in the Los Angeles County mountains, including the western portions of the Santa Monica mountains,” according to a Wednesday afternoon statement from the weather service.
“Very dry air is associated with these Santa Ana winds with widespread single digit humidities through Thursday, as low as 1 to 2 percent in some locations.
“These prolonged dangerous fire weather conditions combined with the very dry fuels and presence of existing fires and associated flare-ups adds up to extreme red flag conditions for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. As a result, there is high potential for very rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior with new or existing fires.”
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas noted Tuesday that it would take “one ember, just one ember downwind, to start another brush fire.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District announced that 15 schools closed since Monday were cleaned and inspected and ready to reopen on regular bell schedules. The exception was Kenter Canyon Elementary, district spokeswoman Barbara Jones said. Palisades Charter High School will also remain closed Thursday.
About 760 firefighters remained on the fire lines, working to stretch containment lines.
Despite the attention focused on the Getty Fire, the Los Angeles Fire Department dispatched three strike teams to Ventura County Wednesday morning to help fight the Easy Fire that erupted in Simi Valley, forcing evacuations and threatening the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.
The department also sent crews to help knock down a small brush fire in Calabasas. The Los Angeles County Fire Department sent Firehawk water-dropping helicopters and two strike teams to Simi Valley as part of its mutual aid agreement.
Evacuation centers for people forced out of their homes by the Getty Fire were opened 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.
The Los Angeles Police Department on Wednesday was escorting residents still under evacuation orders back to their homes — for about 10 minutes — to allow them to retrieve medications or pets they may have left behind when they were evacuated. Escorts were being provided from three locations:
— Gelson’s, 15424 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades;
— the U.S. Post Office at 200 S. Barrington Ave.; and
— Paul Revere Middle School, 1450 Allenford Ave.
Red flag parking restrictions that went into effect at 8 p.m. Tuesday to keep narrow, hilly streets clear to allow fire trucks unimpeded passage will be lifted at 8 a.m. Thursday, according to the LAFD.
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.
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.
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.
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.