Firefighters were working Monday to contain a fast-moving brush fire that scorched the western edge of Los Angeles, as officials warned that ferocious winds could arrive later in the week and worsen the blaze.
After consuming roughly 618 acres, the Getty Fire was 5 percent contained and had “not grown at all” since midday Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) said in an evening news conference. Officials reopened a 6.5-mile stretch of Interstate 405 that had been shut down most of the day and allowed residents to return to a small sliver of a mandatory evacuation zone north of the city’s Brentwood Park neighborhood.
But Garcetti cautioned that the situation could flip at any moment if the flames pick up.
“We could in some places maybe have some people return tonight only to pull them away tomorrow in the middle of the night,” he said.
The heavy Santa Ana winds that drove the Getty Fire early Monday had tamed by midday, leaving officials cautiously optimistic about their ability to curb the blaze. But even stronger winds were expected to return Tuesday night and pummel the region throughout the day Wednesday. A combination of single-digit humidity and gusts reaching 80 mph could swiftly bring back tinderbox conditions, as The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang reported.
The mayor described the work ahead for emergency crews as a race against the clock.
“We hope to make deep progress over the next 24 hours, because we need that progress before Wednesday,” Garcetti said earlier in the day. “Wednesday is when we have those Santa Anas blowing even stronger.”
“We do feel like we’re getting our arms around this, but with the big caveat that the wrong gust, air that comes in from the wrong direction, could lift embers and immediately make this a fire someplace else,” he added. “So when people say, ‘Hey, I feel like my home is far away from where this fire is’ — do not return, for your own safety. Trust the fire department. Trust the professionals to do this, and don’t be a hero.”
The National Weather Service said it expects the next wave of Santa Anas to be “the strongest we have seen so far this season.” An “extreme red flag” warning will be in effect for the Los Angeles area from 11 p.m. Tuesday through 6 p.m. Thursday local time, meaning fires could spread rapidly during that time and behave in a way that makes them difficult to control.
The fire broke out around 1:30 a.m. on the west side of Interstate 405 in an area known as the Sepulveda Pass, near the Getty Center museum, prompting mandatory evacuations in an area with more than 10,000 residential and commercial buildings.
Roughly 1,100 regional firefighters were battling the “very dynamic” blaze from land and sky as it headed west into forested land, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. Three recreation centers were housing evacuees.
Eight homes were destroyed in the blaze and six others were damaged, officials said.
Firefighters “were literally overwhelmed,” Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas told reporters. “They had to make some tough decisions on which houses they were able to protect. Many times, it depends on where the ember lands.”
The Southern California blaze joins the massive Kincade Fire, which is marching through more than 66,000 acres of wine country at the other end of the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has declared a statewide emergency.
Terrazas warned people to act quickly if they were in the evacuation zone for the Getty Fire. He noted that the Los Angeles area has experienced several major fires in recent weeks because of strengthened Santa Ana winds and a lack of rain.
“It’s a dangerous season right now,” Terrazas said.
Students on the Chalon Campus of Mount St. Mary’s University, in the evacuation zone, left campus overnight and are staying on the Doheny Campus, near downtown Los Angeles. Flames, smoke and ash were visible from campus, according to a Twitter user who identified herself as a resident.
Some celebrities tweeted about being evacuated. Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James wrote that he and his family drove around trying to find somewhere to stay before finally ending up at a place that could accommodate them. Clark Gregg, an actor in several Marvel films, said he and his dogs evacuated to a hotel room. Actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was evacuated at 3:30 a.m. and urged people in evacuation zones not to “screw around.”
The University of California at Los Angeles and several public schools in the area were closed because of the blaze.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, which houses visual arts exhibitions, was untouched by the fire but was closed Monday as the blaze approached the edges of the campus. The carefully designed museum has a sophisticated air-filtration system to block pollution, a million-gallon reserve water tank and an evacuation plan, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2017.
“Many have asked about the art — it is protected by state-of-the-art technology,” the museum tweeted around 8:30 a.m. “The safest place for the art and library collections is inside.”