The Skirball Fire, a fast-moving brush fire raced across 475 acres in the Sepulveda Pass and Bel Air Wednesday, destroying four homes and damaging 11 others, forcing mandatory evacuations and prompting a morning rush-hour closure of the San Diego (405) Freeway.
The Skirball Fire was reported at 4:52 a.m. on the east side of the freeway near Mulholland Drive, said Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department. By 3 p.m. the fire was estimated to have burned 475 acres and was 5 percent contained, though no injuries were reported, according to Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Charles Butler.
The fire was kept to the east side of the freeway and with winds easing, the forward movement of the fire was halted, but firefighters were in a desperate race to contain the blaze before expected evening gusts, Butler said.
“When the winds come up they’re going to come out of the northeast and they will want to push that fire across the 405 Freeway,” Butler said. “That’s why it’s critically important that we get some containment on this tonight.”
About 700 homes and an apartment building were evacuated. One elementary school was also evacuated, Butler said.
Some evacuations could be lifted in the evening, depending on winds and firefighters’ progress, he said.
Aircraft crews, engine companies and hand crews were at work battling the fire, with more than 300 firefighters deployed, he said.
Six fixed-wing aircraft and a number of helicopters were deployed to the scene, Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti said at a morning news briefing.
Fifty-two fire engines were deployed, according to LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas, who noted that red flag conditions are expected to remain in effect through the rest of the week, with gusting Santa Ana winds presenting a continuing danger of rapidly spreading blazes.
Other agencies assisting including the U.S. Forest Service, Los Angeles County Fire Department and Cal Fire.
The Getty Center and the nearby Skirball Center, both on the west side of the freeway, and did not appear to be threatened. Both were closed for the day and were to remain closed on Thursday. Santa Monica College and all schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district were closed.
Fifty-two Los Angeles Unified School District schools and another 40 charter schools were closed citywide in response to the Skirball Fire and other blazes in the area, a district official said.
Shortly after 6 a.m., mandatory evacuations were ordered for Moraga Drive, Linda Flora Drive, and Casiano Road, down to Bellagio Road, according to the LAFD. The evacuation order was later expanded, covering a large area bounded by Mulholland Drive to the north, Sunset Boulevard to the south, the 405 to the west and Roscomare Road on the east.
The exception to the evacuation order was the Bel Air Crest housing development, which was not threatened, Garcetti said.
About 100 officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were sent to the neighborhood to handle evacuation orders, said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
Citywide, about 600 officers were assigned to coordinate security and various “firefighting events,” Beck said. The ongoing Creek Fire in the Sylmar area has scorched about 14,000 acres.
“These are days that break your heart; but these are also days that show the resilience of our city,” Garcetti said.
The fire was burning in the same general area as the devastating Bel Air Fire of 1961. That blaze destroyed about 500 homes and led to various policy changes, including a prohibition on wood-shingle roofs and the strict requirement to remove brush from around properties.
Terrazas urged people to monitor news broadcasts and social media, including www.LAFD.org.
Evacuation centers have been established at Delano Recreation Center, 15100 Erwin St., Van Nuys; Balboa RC, 17015 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys; Sherman Oaks RC, 14201 Huston St., Sherman Oaks; and Westwood RC, 1350 Sepulveda Blvd., Westwood.
In the early stages of the fire, both directions of the San Diego (405) Freeway were closed between the Ventura (101) and Santa Monica (10) freeways — one of the nation’s most heavily traveled roadways. The result was overloaded local streets and severe congestion in the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles that prompted many Angelenos to stay home.
About 9 a.m., the southbound freeway was reopened, but some onramps and offramps remained closed in the area, as was a section of Mulholland Drive, the CHP reported.
All but two northbound lanes were reopened about 1 p.m., and the full freeway was open by mid-afternoon.
Garcetti declared a local state of emergency in response to the fire, requesting state and federal assistance. He signed an emergency declaration Tuesday due to the Creek Fire near Sylmar. Gov. Jerry Brown also declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County Tuesday in response to the various fires burning in the area.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District closed all of its schools for the day.
Getty Center officials also announced that the museum would be closed for the day.