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Blaze strikes Griffith Park

Times Staff Writer

A fast-moving wildfire erupted Sunday in Griffith Park, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people from the Los Angeles Zoo and briefly threatening a breeding center for endangered California condors before firefighters and water-dropping helicopters gained control of the fire.

The Los Angeles Fire Department declared the fire knocked down about 3:30 p.m., saying it had burned 25 acres of heavy brush but caused no structural damage or injuries.

The fire burned an area west of the zoo and Travel Town, said Ron Myers, a Fire Department spokesman.

Officials shut some entrances to the park during the fire and the cleanup.

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Jason Jacobs, a zoo spokesman, said firefighters ordered the facility to evacuate visitors shortly after 1 p.m.

Jacobs estimated that about 4,000 people were told to leave.

Jacobs said 18 California condors, including five chicks, and two king vultures from the condor breeding center were placed into crates and moved to a large shady spot in the center of the zoo as the fire got closer to the condor facility on the zoo’s west side.

The zoo has taken part in the California Condor Recovery Program since the 1980s, helping to reintroduce the condors, whose numbers had dwindled almost to extinction, to the wild.

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According to the zoo’s website, 126 California condor chicks have hatched there.

Jacobs said the fire never threatened the zoo’s property, which is bordered by a parking lot, a golf course and land that is regularly cleared of brush.

“Anyone who lives in California knows they have to be aware of wildfires,” Jacobs said. “We are aware of that, and we plan for that.”

Jacobs said zoo officials would consult with firefighters before making a decision on whether to reopen today.

About 200 firefighters were involved in controlling the blaze, which was first reported at 12:42 p.m., Myers said.

The fire could be seen from parts of the San Fernando Valley and the 134 Freeway, which runs along the northern edge of the park.

Los Angeles Fire Department Cmdr. Mark Stormes said that when the fire started, several fire crews were near Griffith Park preparing for a drill. They responded quickly.

“We were lucky. We were able to get on it in five minutes,” Stormes said.

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Firefighters from Los Angeles, L.A. County, Burbank and Glendale battled the fire.

They were assisted by five water-dropping helicopters.

Sunday’s fire occurred 14 months after a wind-whipped wildfire consumed 1,200 acres in the park and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in Los Feliz.

Stormes said the fire started about 1 1/2 miles from the site of last year’s fire.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

“There does not appear to be any explainable reason why this fire was started. It was introduced, either by accident or intentionally,” Stormes said.

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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