Mayor: L.A.'s Getty Fire sparked by tree branch that fell on power lines

Video footage shows the branch breaking off a eucalyptus tree and sparking the fire


By Richard Winton, Hannah Fry, Dakota Smith and Ruben Vives
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The Getty fire was sparked by a tree branch that fell on power lines, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced at a news conference Tuesday evening.

Video footage shows the branch breaking off a eucalyptus tree and sparking the fire in the 1900 block of North Sepulveda Boulevard, Garcetti said.

From left, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, California Governor Gavin Newsom and L.A. City Mayor Eric Garcetti tour a burned home along Tigertail Road in Brentwood, Calif. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via AP)
From left, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, California Governor Gavin Newsom and L.A. City Mayor Eric Garcetti tour a burned home along Tigertail Road in Brentwood, Calif. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via AP)

The power lines being examined are operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, according to a fire official. The agency said it was cooperating with the investigation.

Unlike Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, the state’s largest power providers, the DWP does not shut off service to customers before or during a wind event. Its service footprint is also in a highly urbanized, less wildfire-prone area, compared with the other utilities.

“Our systems are completely different,” Andrew Kendall, senior assistant manager of the DWP’s power system, said at a board meeting earlier this month. “We have a 465-square-mile service territory. PG&E’s is 70,000 square miles, Edison is 50,000 square miles.”

He said that, for the most part, those utilities are shutting down their distribution systems, not their transmission systems.

“Most of ours, if not the majority of ours, are in an area where we’re no more than a five- to seven-minute LAFD response,” Kendall said. “So right now, at this time and based on previous history, we don’t feel we’re at a point where it’s prudent to do a shutdown.”

The Getty fire broke out shortly after 1:30 a.m. Monday along the 405 Freeway near the Getty Center museum and spread to the south and west, rapidly burning more than 600 acres and sending thousands of people fleeing from their homes in the dark.

About 600 DWP customers in the Getty fire area remained without power Tuesday.

At about 3:19 a.m. Monday, the utility took three circuits out of service, resulting in 2,600 customers losing power in Bel-Air, Brentwood and Westwood. One of the circuits is still de-energized. The other two have been turned back on, said Carol Tucker, a spokeswoman for the utility.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said that, despite firefighters’ efforts, eight homes, including some on Tigertail Road, have been destroyed in the blaze. Six others were damaged. Some homes that were destroyed were adjacent to properties that didn’t sustain any damage at all, he said.

“They were literally overwhelmed,” Terrazas said of crews fighting the fire within neighborhoods. “They had to make some tough decisions on which houses they were able to protect. Many times, it depends upon where the ember lands.”

The neighborhoods around the Sepulveda Pass have seen more than their share of fires over the years — and residents say they know to be on guard.

In the hills surrounding Danny Cahn’s home, fires have a history of blazing out of control. In 1961, when Cahn was a preschooler, residents had to flee an inferno that swept through Bel-Air and Brentwood, destroying 484 homes.

Cahn, 62, said life had never quite been the same since the “big one” roared though, propelled by Santa Ana winds that left a number of L.A.’s rich and famous homeless.

“There’s always a threat hanging in the air around here,” said the retired film editor, who was taking photos Monday of aircraft dropping pink retardant and water on flames about half a mile away. “I can recall six or seven major fires in my lifetime.

“When the smoke clears and the fires are out,” he said, “it’ll be a wonderful place to live — until the next wildfire.”

Another major fire that broke out in the Sylmar area earlier this month is also under investigation. The Saddleridge fire, which burned homes in Porter Ranch, started under Southern California Edison power lines.

Edison later said its electrical system was “impacted” around that time. The utility hasn’t provided additional details.

Earlier this year, authorities alleged that two Los Angeles men intentionally set fire to a homeless encampment, a situation that sparked a brush fire and led to the evacuations of several homes in Eagle Rock and Glendale.

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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