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Bel-Air synagogue sues L.A. over Skirball fire sparked at homeless encampment

Bel-Air synagogue sues L.A. over Skirball fire sparked at homeless encampment
Chimneys still stand among the ruins of a home along with a mansion that survived the Skirball fire in Bel-Air in December. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A Bel-Air synagogue is suing the city and county of Los Angeles over last year’s Skirball fire, saying they failed to clear the homeless encampment where the blaze started, according to court records.

The Leo Baeck Temple said it sustained fire damage from the blaze that swept through the hills of Bel-Air in December after a cooking fire broke out at an encampment nearby, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. The blaze destroyed six homes and damaged a dozen others.

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The temple claims that the city had received multiple complaints about the encampment, which was situated among dry brush and flammable vegetation, but failed to inspect or warn the public about the dangerous condition.

The city and county “knew or should have known that this presented a fire hazard, as the area is prone to wildfires because of the trees, bushes and other vegetation and foliage,” the lawsuit states.

A representative of the city attorney’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

The temple lists four causes of action, including claims that the city and county maintained a dangerous condition on public property and allowed a public nuisance. It is seeking more than $25,000 in damages.

The encampment was nestled in a canyon several hundred feet from Sepulveda Boulevard and the 405 Freeway, hidden from passing cars. Officials have said it was home to an unknown number of people for several years.

The camp — one of scores of makeshift communities that have grown along freeways, rivers and open space across Los Angeles — was largely destroyed in the fire.

News that one of Los Angeles’ most affluent neighborhoods was damaged in a fire sparked by some of the city’s poorest residents added a sober note to the incident, with some officials saying it underscored the need to do more to house the homeless.

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