Major fire burns near pricey LA homes, famous art museum

Thousands of spot fires burn from wind-driven embers in Healdsburg, Calif., on Sunday as a result of the Kincade Fire, which has burned 55,000 acres. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI

Oct. 29 (UPI) — Over a thousand firefighters were working to contain a fast-moving wildfire that threatens thousands of homes in California as well as a major cultural landmark, fire authorities said Monday.

The Getty Fire was at 5 percent containment and had spread over 618 acres by Monday night, but had “not grown at all” since earlier in the day, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in a news conference.

“[The fire] remains where it is in place with amazing muscle and work coming from our fire crews who are out there right now,” he said.

Crews are calling it the Getty Fire because it is threatening the city’s famous Getty Center museum, which overlooks the western part of downtown Los Angeles. The cultural center opened in 1997 and is equipped with multiple systems designed to protect it from fire, including more fire-resistant weeds on the grounds surrounding the center.

The fast-moving brush fire had started at around 1:30 a.m., prompting authorities to issue mandatory evacuations to 3,000 homes and shut down parts of the 405 freeway, a main commuter artery that stretches from north of Los Angeles into Orange County. It comprises the northern section of the San Diego Freeway. Some of the city’s most exclusive and wealthy neighborhoods are in the fire zone.

By Monday night, the 405 freeway from the 101 freeway to Sunset Blvd. was reopened and a small section of the evacuation order had been lifted, but Garcetti said most residents need to be prepared for at least two nights out of their homes.

“For the great majority of folks, we are not repopulating tonight,” he said.

A total of 10,000 structures were within the mandatory evacuation zone, with eight having been destroyed and six damaged, the L.A. Fire Department said.

Around 1,100 firefighters were fighting the blaze and were “making good progress,” L.A. Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said, and he expects them to make even better progress Tuesday until the evening when the winds were forecast to pick up again.

He said crews conducted 18 rescue missions since the fire began.

“All of these individuals were elderly and all of them are doing well,” he said.

Monday morning, Garcetti urged homeowners to not fight the fire with garden hoses and to leave immediately.

“The only thing you cannot replace is you and your family,” Garcetti told reporters, saying some residents had just 15 minutes to flee.

“Many have asked about the art — it is protected by state-of-the-art technology,” the Getty Center said, adding that the museum is to the south and east of the blaze. “The safest place for the art and library collections is inside.”

The Getty Fire is one of several burning across the state.

The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County has burned 74,324 acres so far and is still burning as narrow roads and steep terrain make access to the fire difficult, Cal Fire said. Sonoma County is famous California wine country located just north of San Francisco. The Soda Rock and Field Stone wineries were totally destroyed by fire.

The flames have destroyed 123 structures and put over 90,000 others, including 80,000 residences, at risk. The blaze was just 15 percent contained Monday evening, which was a 10 percent increase from Sunday night, giving fire officials some hope.

“We’re on the cusp of cautious optimism,” Cal Fire Division Chief Jonathan Cox said in an evening press conference in Santa Rosa. “We’re still contending with that ping-pong effect of the wind. As containment goes up, our confidence grows, but we are not out of the woods yet.”

The fire has led authorities to issue new evacuation orders in Lake County on top of the 180,000 residents already told to leave their homes, though some evacuation orders were lifted earlier in the day.

More than 4,370 firefighters were working to contain the blaze with the use of 468 engines and 10 helicopters, Cal Fire said.

Pacific Gas & Electric said it is planning more blackouts Tuesday and Wednesday, over what it called “severe wind events.” The scheduled blackouts follow others that have affected millions of California residents so far this month. The strategy is aimed at mitigating the risk of equipment failure and wildfire.

“Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s emergency operations center, operations and meteorology teams, have been monitoring a new potentially widespread, strong and dry wind event Tuesday morning through mid-day Wednesday,” the utility said in a statement Sunday.

“[The blackouts are] expected to impact portions of 32 counties in the Northern and Southern Sierra, North Bay, Bay Area and Santa Cruz mountains, North Coast and Kern County.”

PG&E said it has given a half-million customers a 48-hour notice of the impending blackouts.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency over the weekend as a number of wildfires burned across the state.

Newsom toured the command center in Santa Rosa on Monday evening and commended the firefighters on their efforts.

“I recognize and everybody recognizes this cannot be the new normal,” he said. “We cannot absorb this year after year.”

PG&E said the next round of blackouts — part of what it calls a Public Safety Power Shutoff — could occur as early as Tuesday morning. The counties affected are Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba.

The utility said Sunday more than 1 million customers have been affected by both planned and unplanned blackouts in recent days.

“The sole purpose of [the plan] is to significantly reduce catastrophic wildfire risk,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E senior vice resident of electric operations.


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