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Up to 60 Homes Escape Blaze in Hollywood Hills

Times Staff Writers

A brush fire that consumed more than 25 acres and threatened scores of homes in the densely populated Hollywood Hills late Tuesday afternoon was probably sparked by a homeless man camping in the steep vegetation of Nichols Canyon, authorities said.

The fire, which began about 5:45 p.m. in the 1700 block of Nichols Canyon Road, tore through thick vegetation and sent up a curtain of smoke that was visible to thousands of residents and commuters throughout Los Angeles. More than 170 city and county firefighters battled the blaze on the ground and from helicopters before it was almost fully contained two hours later.

As brush-clearing crews in orange jumpsuits fanned out amid the vegetation and helicopters dumped fire retardant chemicals on the flames, police arrested a man seen leaving the area near the source of the fire.

The man, described by authorities as homeless, was booked on suspicion of committing a reckless act, according to Los Angeles Deputy Fire Chief Mario Rueda.

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The fire was contained to an undeveloped area of hillside, and no residents were injured or homes damaged. At its peak, the blaze threatened between 40 and 60 homes.

Residents said they were stunned by the speed of the fire and hurriedly telephoned friends to warn them.

“We saw flames shooting out. [Then] we saw all these wonderful helicopters; they were really low,” said Gabrielle Einstein, 29, who lives on Genesee Avenue. “This is pretty much as L.A. as you can get: A forest fire in your neighborhood.”

Some residents grabbed their dogs and other valuables and fled their homes.

“It went up so fast,” said Ric Waugh, 37. The Nichols Canyon resident said he had arrived home from work to find a 20-foot wall of flames about 50 yards from his home.

He said he could hear the screams of coyotes who lived in the brush. “They were going bananas,” he said.

Firefighters said the fire moved quickly uphill heading east and could have spread much farther under different conditions.

“Fortunately, we didn’t have the element that’s most problematic, and that’s wind,” Rueda said.

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The homeless encampment that authorities suspect was the source of the fire has been an irritant for many residents, according to Waugh and others. They said they have often called the Los Angeles Police Department to complain.

“This is the problem,” said Nichols Canyon resident Jessica Postigo, 35. “The homeless are up into the canyon and they either smoke or light fires, and this happens, and it’s scary.”

Postigo said a fire started at the homeless encampment last fall, but was quickly contained.

Another brush fire was reported just after 5 p.m. in Pomona, where 10 acres of brush burned and several homes were threatened.

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About 200 firefighters were on the scene, and the blaze at Mission Boulevard and Phillips Drive was contained shortly after 7 p.m., said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Mark Savage.

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Times staff writers Jessica Gresko, Wendy Lee, Rong-Gong Lin II and Monte Morin contributed to this report.


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