The Station fire, which started Aug. 26 and continues today to consume much of the vast Angeles National Forest, was not the first fire to threaten this town. There have been others, some of which left devastating marks here, all documented by newspapers including the La Cañada Valley Sun.
In November 1933 the San Gabriel Mountains behind La Cañada and La Crescenta were on fire, with the blaze at one point sweeping down along the east side of Pickens Canyon, as thousands of spectators lined Foothill Boulevard to watch the flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air.
The Gould Castle then sat prominently at the mouth of Pickens Canyon. Locals were relieved to learn the castle itself was saved from that fire, but its olive orchard was not.
According to reports in the Los Angeles Times, backfires were set between Pickens and Earl Canyon, above Alta Canyada, to try to stop it from hitting residential areas. But La Crescenta was particularly hard-hit, with the Harvey Bissell ranch grounds being devastated and the L’Hermitage Mountain Vineyards Winery on New York Drive losing the wine building, a garage, 20,000 gallons of wine and 1,500 gallons of brandy. A home on New York Drive was also lost, as were seven homes on Briggs Terrace.
With the fire still being battled (it was reported “under control, but not out,”) Flintridge attorney Frank Doherty urged the county Board of Supervisors to order the building of check dams and fire trails, tasks that could be done as civil works projects, he said. “The area as it lies now, with the mountain sides burned off, is a menace to Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, La Crescenta and the Flintridge district, when the floods of winter come,” Doherty said at the time.
Apparently Doherty’s urging did not do the trick, at least not before the rains came. The infamous New Year’s flood two months later, which wiped out homes and took lives in La Crescenta and Montrose, was directly blamed on the fire of November 1933.
In November 1949, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy had a perilously close encounter with a wildfire in the San Rafael Hills that mark the southern boundary of town. More than 130 girls were evacuated and given refuge at St. Francis High and La Cañada Elementary schools. Homes were threatened at 333 Corona Drive, 570 Highland Drive and 4172 Cambridge Road; many people living on Highland, Inverness and Berkshire packed up their valuables and left. The fire swept down the hillside toward the Devil’s Gate Dam area, jumping La Cañada-Verdugo Road (which stretched at that time, long before the days of the 210 Freeway, between La Cañada and Altadena) into Oak Grove Park. It was reported that some homeowners were seen clambering up to their rooftops with hoses in apparently successful attempts to save their homes. No structural losses occurred.
A young temporary firefighter who was disgruntled with his bosses in the U.S. Forest Service, admitted to setting the devastating Woodwardia fire of October 1959 by wrapping a paint brush in a rag saturated with a flammable substance, lighting it and tossing it into some dry brush off Angeles Crest Highway about four miles north of Foothill Boulevard.
It was labeled by the Valley Sun “the worst in La Cañada’s history” and blackened 14,200 acres of the Angeles National Forest and La Cañada over the period of about a week. An evacuation center was set up at Flintridge Preparatory School.
The Woodwardia fire engulfed a home in the 5100 block of Alta Canyada Road and a small lodge on a ranch in the 1000 block of Vista del Valle. Several other homes were damaged, two firefighters killed and several injured. Scores of residents were evacuated from Jarvis Avenue, Earl Drive, Bubbling Well Lane, Earlmont Avenue, Louise Drive and Alta Canyada Road, including one of La Cañada’s most famous residents, actor/singer Dennis Morgan.
An October 1967 blaze that wiped out five homes on Terracita Lane and Alta Canyada, damaged several and threatened 50 others was started by a visiting 13-year-old boy who had been playing with matches in the steep-walled canyon between those two streets. The youth ran to a nearby fire station to report the fire, but it was a fast-moving blaze that was difficult to contain.
Thanksgiving week of 1975 saw smoke and ashes rain down on La Cañada and neighboring communities, with the Big Tujunga wildfire underway in dry, windy conditions. It was actually an offshoot of a fire that had been thought contained the night before in the Hidden Springs area of the Angeles National Forest. Hundreds of evacuations were ordered and homes were lost in Sunland, Tujunga and immediately next door to La Cañada, in the Crescenta Valley.
Oak Grove Park was the command post when the Sage fire broke out in the Angeles National Forest in mid-September 1979, blackening more than 31,000 acres in its first day. A sudden, very visible flare-up in Colby Canyon caused some alarm in La Cañada, but no homes here were burned. Also burning in the forest during the same time period were the Monte and Pine Crest fires. There were, in fact, a total of 13 wind-driven fires burning in the Southland that same week.
Driven by Santa Ana winds reportedly clocked at 100 miles per hour, a brush fire caused by arcing Southern California Edison lines swept through 550 acres beginning Jan. 27, 1984. “We are considering this one of our worst windstorms in history,” a spokesman for SCE said.
La Cañada did not come through unscathed. A total of 10 homes here burned; four of them were destroyed or heavily damaged. The streets where the most serious losses were sustained were El Vago, Harter Lane, Alta Canyada Road, Vista del Valle, Evening Canyon Drive, Alta Park Lane and Big Briar Way. Also threatened were homes east of Angeles Crest Highway, in the Starlight Crest area. About 50 people checked in at the American Red Cross evacuation center set up at La Cañada High School, mostly just to have some doughnuts and coffee before leaving for other destinations. A few chose to sleep there until they could return home.
Although it was winter, just a few days before Christmas, hot 70 mile-per-hour winds blew into the Southland on Dec. 22, 1999 and fanned a nearly 600-acre fire in the San Rafael hills on the La Cañada/Glendale border. Although 25 homes were evacuated on Forest Hill Drive and the fire appeared to be endangering more houses on Starland and Sugar Loaf drives, nothing was destroyed except a Glendale police firing range. The fire jumped the 2 Freeway that night, with one witness saying embers landed on cars. Law enforcement shut the route down to traffic for a 16-hour period, until the fire was contained. La Cañada High School served as an evacuation center, as it did for refugees of the Station fire this past week.