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Looking back: Some of L.A.'s worst blazes

Times Staff Writer

This week’s blazes on Santa Catalina Island and in Griffith Park are the latest to strike Southern California in what has been the driest year on record.

Here is a chronology of some of L.A. County’s worst blazes:

October 1996 -- A brush fire ignited by an arcing power line destroyed 10 homes in Malibu, Calabasas Canyon and Corral Canyon, and burned close to 14,000 acres.

October and November 1993 -- Runaway brush fires carved swaths of destruction through six Southern California counties. It took the work of more than 10,000 firefighters over six days to subdue the flames.

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The fires that ravaged Malibu, Calabasas and Altadena killed three people, injured 12, destroyed or damaged nearly 400 houses, and forced the evacuation of thousands. All told, more than 173,000 acres of Southern California were charred.

June 1990 -- The College Hills brush fire in Glendale destroyed or damaged 67 homes. It was started by one of Southern California’s most notorious firesetters: John Leonard Orr, a firefighter and Glendale arson investigator. Orr is serving a life term for a series of structure and brush arsons that ended with his arrest in 1991, including a fire at a South Pasadena hardware store in which four people died.

July 1989 -- A brush fire in Turnbull Canyon in Puente Hills destroyed 13 homes.

December 1988 -- A 3,000-acre fire in Granada Hills and the Porter Ranch area destroyed 15 homes and damaged 25 others.

July 1985 -- An arson fire swept up a slope in Baldwin Hills and killed three people, destroyed 48 homes and damaged 18 others.

October 1982 -- A wind-driven fire raced from Dayton Canyon, in the West San Fernando Valley, to the Malibu coast, destroying 97 homes and burning 54,000 acres.

October 1981 -- Santa Ana winds sent flames from a Chatsworth Reservoir blaze south toward the Ventura Freeway, destroying six homes and damaging eight.

September 1979 -- A fire in Kirkwood Bowl in Laurel Canyon burned 120 acres and destroyed 24 homes.

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October 1978 -- A juggernaut of flame and smoke from eight almost-simultaneous fires destroyed 230 homes and a church in blazes from Malibu to Agoura to Mandeville Canyon. One man was killed.

September 1970 -- Ten people died and 403 homes were damaged or destroyed when several blazes combined into a single wall of flames 20 miles long, stretching from Newhall to Malibu. The conflagration charred 435,000 acres.

November 1966 -- A faulty power line near Pacoima Dam sparked a fire that trapped and killed 12 firefighters. Fueled by 60 mph Santa Ana winds, the blaze blackened 2,000 acres around Loop Canyon.

November 1961 -- The Bel-Air/Brentwood fire began in a trash heap. Within minutes, Santa Ana winds swept burning embers from roof to roof, spreading fire across the affluent enclaves of the Santa Monica Mountains. Nearly 500 homes were destroyed. The blaze, which left hundreds of the rich and famous homeless, prompted brush clearance laws.

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July 1959 -- Fire consumed a large swath of Willow Glen in Laurel Canyon, destroying 38 houses.

December 1958 -- Gale-force winds pushed fire through Malibu, destroying 36 homes. On New Year’s Eve, fire consumed 71 additional homes in Topanga and Benedict canyons.

June 1957 -- A brush fire burned 1,000 acres in Griffith Park, injuring two firefighters and two teenage volunteer firefighters.

December 1956 -- A Malibu-Zuma fire that also moved into the Lake Sherwood area of Ventura County destroyed 99 homes.

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November 1945 -- A fire in the Malibu hills destroyed 150 homes.

November 1938 -- A Thanksgiving Day fire in Topanga Canyon burned 350 buildings, many of them shacks on the then-rural and sparsely populated hillsides.

October 1933 -- Twenty-nine firefighters from the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration died when flames trapped them in a ravine as they fought a blaze in Griffith Park.

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Sources: Times files; state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection


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