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Getty fire: Students make harrowing escape from Mount St. Mary’s University as flames approach

Getty fire
Firefighters head out for brush work along Sepulveda Blvd. in the Sepulveda Pass as the Getty fire as it burns in Los Angeles.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Diana Rodriguez, a second-year business major at Mount St. Mary’s University, was studying for her principles of management class when the lights flicked out for about a minute at 1:30 a.m. Monday. Five minutes later, she smelled smoke. But she had smelled smoke last week, drifting south from a blaze in Santa Clarita; surely whatever fire was burning now was similarly far away, she thought.

Then, around 2:30 a.m., resident assistants banged on the door of Rodriguez’s dorm. Everyone needed to gather their things and evacuate, they said.

Rodriguez grabbed her laptop, phone, camera and chargers, stuffed her backpack with snacks and water, and left her dorm in pajamas. The sky was blood red: “Really, really red and orange — pretty but a little freaky, too,” she recalled.

Ash floated in the air. Her eyes stung from the smoke of the Getty fire, which has burned more than 400 acres and several homes. The Brentwood hillside campus was not far from where the fire started off the 405 Freeway and was at one point surrounded by flames.

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They put on masks and followed a road down the mountainside. Some students were griping about having to evacuate; others were laughing “either because they didn’t know what was happening or as a coping mechanism,” Rodriguez said. The students were picked up about halfway down the mountainside by ambulances, which ferried some students to the school’s Doheny campus and others, like Rodriguez, to an evacuation center in Westwood.

Sho Akiyama’s daughter woke him up around 3:40 a.m. From his apartment, which is near the corner of Sunset and Sepulveda boulevards, Akiyama could see the predawn sky flushed with orange. He took his family to an evacuation center in Westwood where, early Monday morning, he fretted about the fate of the Getty museum and the treasures it holds.

“I hope they’re trying to protect the Getty,” he said. “I hope they’ve got a lot of water on that.”

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