Thursday, October 23, 2008

ALERT - 150-Acre Brush fire near Getty Center Museum shuts down 405 freeway


The 405 is temporarily closed as firefighters battle the blaze. Some residents leave the area as Bundy and Mandeville canyons are under a voluntary-evacuation order.

A fire was burning in the Sepulveda Pass this morning, temporarily prompting the closure of the 405 Freeway as hundreds of firefighters defended the Getty Center and neighborhoods in the hills of Brentwood.

By 6:30 a.m., the northbound 405 Freeway was reopened, except for the offramps between the 10 and the 101 freeways and the transition from the southbound 405 to the west 110 Freeway. The southbound 405 was in the process of being reopened, said Officer Francisco Villalobos of the California Highway Patrol.

According to the Los Angeles Fire Department, the blaze broke out near the 405 Freeway and Getty Center Drive after midnight, fueled by brush and Santa Ana winds. Firefighters put up defense lines around the Getty Center. More than 500 firefighters were battling the blaze, and in a rare move officials decided to do night flights of water-dropping helicopters. Ten choppers were in the air. A bigger air assault is planned after sunrise.

LAFD spokesman Brian Humphries said officials were making good progress on the fire but that they were still concerned it could get out of hand this morning, when more erratic winds are forecast. The fire was fanned by southwest winds of up to 20 mph. Crews were doing brush clearance as far west as Mandeville Canyon in case the fire moved in that direction.

As of 6 a.m., wind strength was only moderate. But officials worried they would pick up again -- perhaps to 25 mph -- around sunrise. Residents in Bundy and Mandeville canyons were under a voluntary-evacuation order.

"Residents need to understand this is a very dynamic situation," said LAFD Capt. Tina Haro.

The fire is about two miles from the Getty Center, he said, and is also burning near the Mountaingate Country Club, Evacuation shelters have been established at the American Jewish University on Mulholland Drive and the VA Hospital in Westwood.

In addition to the 405, Sepulveda Boulevard was shut down through the pass, as well as several side streets, and Mount St. Mary's College was also closed for part of the day.

Humphries said history had proved that fires in such developed hillside areas can be unpredictable. The notorious Oakland Hills fire, for example, burned hundreds of homes after firefighters thought they'd gotten a handle on it, he said.

Officials said they don't know what sparked the blaze. Humphries said that even though progress is being made to contain the fire, a gust of winds could move it very quickly.


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