Los Angeles Fire Fighters Check Biggest Brush Fire in City in Many Years

LOS ANGELES firemen battled the biggest brush fire in many years entirely within the city on the afternoon of July 28.

The blaze, believed to have been started by a careless motorist who tossed a cigarette into tinder dry brush, threatened the fashionable Bel Air residential district in West Los Angeles and caused one of the worst traffic jams in the history of Western L. A.

Whipped out of control by brisk winds in Sepulveda Canyon, the fire finally was contained by 150 firemen using 48 pieces of equipment, but only after it blackened 300 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains.

First reports of the fire came to Mountain Patrol Headquarters from a department call box at the south end of the Sepulveda Blvd. tunnel at the crest of the mountain range which separates the San Fernando Valley from Beverly Hills, Hollywood, West Los Angeles, and Santa Monica.

A full assignment of Engine 19, Tank 19, Engine 37, Booster Tank 37, Tank Patrol 2, and Battalion Chief Thad Whippo was dispatched.

At 2:10 p.m. Engine 19 arrived at the location 1 1/2 miles south of the Sepulveda Tunnel and immediately requested assistance; Engine 71, and Tank 21 responded.

A few minutes later, Asst. Chief Forest Moore, Division 2, arrived and requested additional help, and Engine 88 and Tank 88 from the San Fernando Valley, and Engine and Tank 41 from Hollywood rolled.

By now busy Sepulveda Blvd. was blocked as the fire burned eastward. A hundred police officers from West Los Angeles and Valley Stations were rushed to the area to try and control the snarled traffic and facilitate movement of fire apparatus.

Sepulveda is one of the few arteries by which the mountains may be crossed. Radio stations broadcast information that the road was closed and warned homeward bound aircraft workers to take othei canyon roads. Word was also passed to students and faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles to take other routes.

The road was not reopened until 1 a.m. on the 29th.

Meanwhile the fire was burning east from Sepulveda toward Bel Air. Then a sudden shift in the wind spread the blaze on the west side of the highway.

Prompt action here managed to stop the slopover or a real disaster might have occurred—a wind-fanned fire in dry brush burning east and west toward some of the most expensive homes in California.

Meanwhile every available Mountain Patrolman, under command of Batt. Chief Henry Sawyer, responded to the blaze. Several patrolmen and Tank Patrol 1 were kept in reserve in the event another mountain fire should break out.

The signal office at Westlake was fast becoming a madhouse as dispatchers combed the city for every available tank wagon. Tanks were vital since there are no hydrants in the area.

On learning of the fire. Chief Keith E. Klinger of the Los Angeles County Fire Department offered any assistance needed.

Three county juvenile forestry crews and a bulldozer were dispatched to the blaze all under command of Asst. Chief Harvey Anderson, County Division III, one of the area’s leading mountain fire fighting experts.

Liaison was made at once with Chief Moore and county fire fighters were quickly and efficiently worked into the fight against the stubborn blaze.

Shortly after 4 p.m., Chief Engineer John H. Alderson arrived and after a brief survey ordered eight booster tank wagons with four-firemen crews to the fire. One company, BT 5.3. was ordered in from San Pedro in the Harbor area— nearly 40 miles away.

Smoke and flames boil up in background on Bel Air fire as bulldozer cuts firebreak.

L. A. F. D. Photo

L. A. F. D. Engine 41 on Sepulveda Boulevard near Bel Air. Note flames pouring from hillside behind. No homes were lost after fremen waged long battle to control biggest brush fire in city in many years.

L. A. F. D. Photo

Two city bulldozers and the county “cat” started building lines around the fire, which was burning in some really rugged terrain. But the “last stand” took place on Fire Road 19 between the fire and the Bel Air Homes. Although menaced by the heavy smoke and leaping flames, fire fighters stood their ground here.

Crew’s remained on the lines in cold trail and mop-up operations until noon on the 29th.

It was the second largest concentration of apparatus in recent L.A.F.D. history—the biggest coming last September on the Chatsworth Fire.

At the fire in Sepulveda Canyon were nine engine companies, eight tank trucks, nine booster tanks, two hose carriers, two utility trucks, 11 mountain patrol units, two mountain patrol captains. two battalion chiefs, one assistant chief, and Chief Alderson.

Among the unusual equipment on the fire were Tank Patrols 1 and 2, recentlypurchased, all-wheel drive. 1000-gallon tanks; and Tank Wagon 39 from Van Nuys, a 2500-gallon mother tanker.

Emergency Truck 27 was ordered to the Mountain Patrol Headquarters to assist with broken-down apparatus.

Fourteen move-ups were necessary, with two companies, Engine 43 and Engine 6 and Booster Tank 6, moving twice.

But just about the time the weary city firemen were cleaning their apparatus and last crews were being sent home, a fire broke out in the Davis Canyon section of Pasadena in county territory.

Firemen from Engine 71, L. A. City Fire Department, relax while Spot, company mascot looks on. Men were working on Bel Air fire off Sepulveda Boulevard.

This blaze posed an even greater immediate potential than the Bel Air blaze. This fire was just west of the line where the disastrous Monrovia Peak Fire was finally stopped in January, 1954.

The fire threatened 75 homes in the Hastings Ranch subdivision of Coronet Homes. Homeowners watered down rooftops while crews from Pasadena, Los Angeles County, and the United States Forest Service rushed to fight the fire.

The fire was caused by a mysterious explosion among picknickers at Eaton Canyon County Park.

Miss Louise Lucken, park naturalist, said 175 children, members of Temple City and El Monte groups, and 20 leaders were evacuated by bus from the park after the explosion caused the fire to jump to dry undergrowth.

Sixty acres were burned before seven fire companies, 50 indians from a U.S. F.S. “hot-shot” crew, six tankers, two camp crews, and a tractor, under Asst. Chief William Weyant, Division II, L. A. County Fire Department, brought the fire under control.


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