Firefighters are battling a brush fire that quickly chewed through at least 30 acres in Pacific Palisades, burning dangerously close to multimillion-dollar homes in a hillside neighborhood.
Firefighters responded about 10:40 a.m. Monday to the blaze, which erupted near 500 N. Palisades Drive. The fire, initially reported as about one acre in size, grew to an estimated 30 acres in less than an hour before reaching about 40 acres by midday, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said.
About 200 homes in the area bordered by Charmel Lane, Bienveneda Avenue, Merivale Lane and Lachman Lane were ordered to evacuate Monday afternoon, largely due to the amount of smoke and aircraft in the area, said Assistant Chief Patrick Butler, a department spokesman. All evacuations were lifted as of 8 p.m.
“These evacuations are just out of an abundance of caution. There are no structures threatened in the area at this time,” L.A. Fire Department Capt. Branden Silverman said. “We are going to have a significant amount of air resources coming into the area above those homes, so we’d rather have residents pack their bags and leave the area.”
Officials plan to monitor the weather in the coming days and hope to have a better sense of its effects by Thursday.
“Winds in the area are shifting,” Butler said. “Right now, our big concern is probability of ignition.”
Shortly after it broke out, the terrain-driven blaze raced uphill toward homes on Charmel Lane and Vista Grande Drive, where some residents fled the neighborhood in cars. Others were on their decks with garden hoses, trying to protect their homes from a wall of advancing flames.
Firefighters pulled hoses from trucks into backyards and stood on roofs to defend homes. Television images showed residents running from the flames as fire engulfed a tree in a backyard, sending a plume of dark smoke billowing over homes. At one point, a resident quickly drove his car from his garage as flames hit his backyard.
Before noon, fire crews had largely beaten back a significant portion of the flames that were threatening homes. Several helicopters were fighting the fire with water drops as crews scaled a section of the hillside in an effort to extinguish the smoldering blaze.
“This is an extremely challenging fire for hand crews,” Butler said. “They’re essentially clawing their way up this hillside with rocks coming down on them.”
Women from an all-female inmate firefighting crew retreated just before 1 p.m. as the fire jumped toward them over the ridge.
One firefighter was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center with heat exhaustion. Roughly 30 minutes later, a group of people received an evacuation alert on their phones as rocks began to slide down the ridge.
One civilian was taken to the hospital after complaining of moderate respiratory distress.
Fire officials say no homes have sustained significant damage, in part because of firefighters’ efforts and the lack of wind in the area. However, the region is still experiencing hot, dry weather, which can dry out the brush that fuels wildfires.
Tom Danco said he had told his wife, Lynne, to evacuate when she called him Monday morning. She had been walking their dog and said she could see flames several hundred yards from their home in the Palisades Highlands. She took her dog and some important documents from their safe and left.
Danco, who was nearby, headed home to try to retrieve more items but was stopped at a roadblock on Palisades Drive. He said he wasn’t concerned at the moment about their home, citing favorable weather conditions.
“As long as there’s not a lot of wind, the fire department is really good,” he said.
Paula Griffin, 58, ran into a similar issue when she tried to retrieve her 10- and 20-year-old cats. Griffin was playing tennis in Brentwood when she learned about the fire. She rushed back to her residence, but was initially stopped at a roadblock at the entrance of Palisades Drive.
She said she’s had to evacuate her home three times in the last few weeks because of fires nearby.
“You get used to knowing you’ve got your animals and your own life... everything else can be replaced,” she said, as helicopters buzzed overhead.
The fire sent up a large plume of smoke that blanketed the region and was visible across the Southland — an increasingly familiar sight for Californians.
People visiting the Getty Villa in Malibu stood outside, phone cameras at the ready and watched as thick smoke billowed above the museum.
“People are buzzing about it, but nobody seems unduly alarmed,” said John Brittof Calabasas.
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Saleem Major, 34, was taking a walk on the beach with his service dog, Eve, near Coastline Drive when he heard several firetrucks zooming by on Pacific Coast Highway, sirens blaring.
He checked Twitter to see where the fire was. Then, he looked up.
“Next thing you know, I look to my left and it was right behind the hill where I’m at,” said Major, who lives in Venice. “I didn’t even notice it.”
The fire seemed to creep up on him. It wasn’t too windy, he said, and he didn’t see or smell smoke until the moment the firetrucks drove by.
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Roughly a mile away from where the fire broke out, customers and employees of the K Bakery Eatery and Bakeshop smelled smoke.
“We saw the smoke and all the firefighters going up the street,” employee Rosario Ruiz said.
The business has remained open, as has nearby Calvary Christian School and public schools in the area. But that didn’t stop parents from collecting their children.
Greg Philyan went to retrieve his 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra, when he saw the fire spreading. The pair hiked up Palisades Drive — Alexandra on her father’s shoulders — as a helicopter doused flames across the road.
“A lot of parents are coming, but it’s tough to get in and out,” he said. “My first concern is it’s going to come down the hill.”
Additional school police units remained south of the blaze near Pacific Palisades Elementary, Palisades Charter High School and Marquez Charter school in case evacuations were needed, said L.A. Schools Police Sgt. Rudy Perez. The schools implemented shelter-in-place procedures and limited outdoor activities while the district monitored air quality, he said.
At Palisades Charter High School, less than two miles southeast of the fire, a number of students left school early because their families were in the evacuation zone, Palisades High spokeswoman Ashley Austin said.
Tracey Price, 45, picked up her daughter Audrey, 6, and several of her daughter’s classmates from Calvary Christian after neighborhood friends sent her photos of smoke near the campus on Palisades Drive.
“I got here as soon as I could,” she said as she packed the children into the car.
Vince Downey, the head of the school, waved as the last few dozen students got picked up from campus.
Downey said that although many parents came to collect their children, the school didn’t instruct anyone to do so, partly to prevent street congestion as officials tried to keep the area clear for fire engines. Downey said it was middle school students who alerted school officials to the fire in between classes. Teachers attempted to continue classes as usual, despite the distraction.
“We tried to make it as normal a day as possible,” he said.
Times staff writer Sonali Kohli contributed to this report.