Burbank community praises first responders during La Tuna fire

Burbank community praises first responders during La Tuna fire
A DC-10 drops fire retardant on the Verdugo Hills above Burbank as multi-agency crews battle the La Tuna fire, on Saturday Sept. 2, 2017. (Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times)

Although the danger has all but passed, Burbank residents were on tenterhooks all weekend as the La Tuna fire made its way into the city late Friday evening.

The fire had temporarily displaced residents from nearly 300 homes in the foothills when it made its way into Burbank sometime around 10:30 p.m., despite the best of efforts of firefighters attempting to halt its spread. Residents were told to head to the McCambridge Park Recreation Center, which had been set up as an evacuation point by city officials and the Red Cross.


Jerry Varney decided to stay at his home, while his wife Nancy and their 12-year-old dog Maggie went to the evacuation point because of safety concerns for both of them.

The couple has lived in their home in the 3300 block of North Lamer Street for more than 40 years.


Jerry Varney said he stayed partially because he's been through similar wildfires before, but also because he wanted to make sure his two custom classic cars — a 1957 Chevy Bel Air and a 1940s Ford convertible — were safe.

He said his neighborhood was a complete ghost town, save for the firefighters in the area and a handful of neighbors who stayed behind.

As the fire advanced, the flames were just several hundred feet from the couple's backyard.

"It's hard to describe how big the flames were. They were really big," he said. "It was sweeping all over the place."


He compared the sound of the fire to that of a jet engine.

Many residents across the city were glued to social media, reading and posting updates about the fire.

On Twitter, one user compared the fire to the "end times," while another asked if it was ever something people got used to after living in Los Angeles.

Burbank Councilwoman Sharon Springer spent most of her weekend posting updates on Facebook in an effort to keep residents, especially those who were required to evacuate their homes, up to date on the status of the blaze.

Living in the hillside area not too far from the front lines, Springer said she was constantly in touch with fire dispatch and posted any relevant information she thought would be useful for residents to know.

"It felt like it was the least I could do," she said. "I could pass on legitimate, confirmed information, not hearsay."

Springer said she vividly remembers what the fire looked like early Saturday morning, describing it to be a frightening sight.

"There were flames everywhere," she said. "It looked like the whole hillside was burning from one end to the other."


The councilwoman kept close tabs on the fire over the weekend, saying that she was glad to update residents that there were no houses lost or fatalities due to the fire.

Springer said she was truly impressed with the firefighting efforts by the Burbank Fire Department as well as outside agencies that also provided support.

"They did a phenomenal job," she said. "It scorched in some places, and you can see how close it got to some structures. It's amazing to see how they manage a fire; that's what's so impressive to me."

Community support also came out en masse for first responders as the police and fire departments received a steady flow of donations of food and water from residents. The agencies received so many donations that officials took to social media to announce they ran out of room for storage.

Jerry Varney said he was greatly appreciative of the firefighters' efforts.

"Thank God for the firemen; they were great," he said. "Some of those guys had not slept in three days."

Meanwhile, the Burbank Animal Shelter opened its doors to look after the pets of owners fleeing from their homes. Brenda Castaneda, shelter superintendent, said it seemed like most owners were able to make arrangements because the shelter was not hit with a deluge of pets.

However, there were a few people who dropped off their animals with the shelter.

"We did have one person that had about eight cats," she said.

Castaneda said the shelter also helped owners at McCambridge Park Recreation Center because pets weren't allowed inside.

"We did take crates over there in case people wanted to use them for their animals," she said. "They're like family members; it felt like some people couldn't leave them anyway."

The shelter also took in several stray dogs and is in the process of returning them to their owners.

Castaneda said pet owners should be prepared in case of a future emergency and have enough food and water for their pets to last several days. She also said owners should have extra supplies such as leashes and harnesses handy.