From the Archives: The 1961 Bel-Air fire

Nov. 6, 1961: Homes on Roscomare Road in Bel-Air burn during the brush fire.
(George Fry / Los Angeles Times)

The two-day Bel Air/Brentwood brush fire destroyed nearly 500 homes, but no lives were lost. The fire damaged or destroyed several homes belonging to Hollywood celebrities.

In 2006, Los Angeles Times writer Cecilia Rasmussen wrote:

Among the most notorious California wildfires, the Bel-Air/Brentwood fire began in a trash heap.....a blaze that left hundreds of the rich and famous homeless in what LIFE magazine called ‘A Tragedy Trimmed in Mink’ and prompted brush clearance laws and an eventual city ban on wood shingle roofs.

On a warm November morning in 1961, a Sherman Oaks construction crew, working just north of Bel-Air, noticed smoke and flames coming from a nearby pile of rubbish. Within minutes, Santa Ana winds swept burning embers from roof to roof, spreading fire across the affluent enclaves of the Santa Monica Mountains. ...


Actor Burt Lancaster, comedian Joe E. Brown, composer Lukas Foss, Nobel laureate chemist Willard Libby and Zsa Zsa Gabor lost homes.

The above photo by George Fry appeared on the front page of the Nov. 7, 1961, Los Angeles Times. This image and several others were recently scanned from the original negatives. An older version of this post was published Nov. 7, 2010.

Nov. 7, 1961: A column of flames shoots over a ridge near Trippet Ranch at the end of Entrada Road in Topanga Canyon.
(Los Angeles Times)
November 7, 1961: Burned out homes along Linda Flora Drive in Bel-Air.
(Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times)

Nov. 7, 1961: Actor Robert Taylor loads Henry into a station wagon as flames threatened his Mandeville Canyon ranch, which was spared. Taylor later said he "drove to Ronnie Reagan's place."
(Los Angeles Times)
Nov. 6, 1961: Advancing flames force former Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat, to leave their rented home on Bundy Drive in Brentwood. Before leaving, Nixon hosed down the roof.
(Los Angeles Times )
Nov. 7, 1961: Spectators watch aircraft dropping borate on hill near Mandeville Canyon ranch owned by actor Robert Taylor, second from right. The man in the center is Los Angeles Times reporter Charles Hillinger.
(Los Angeles Times)
Nov. 6, 1961: Firefighters are not able to save a home on a Roscomare Road.
(Los Angeles Times)

Nov. 7, 1961: Zsa Zsa Gabor's home on Bellagio Place was destroyed while she was in New York. Gabor returned to salvage what she could — while wearing a diamond and pearls.
(Bob Martin / Los Angeles Mirror )

See more from the Los Angeles Times archives here