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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Wildfires burn Wednesday on a hillside over Highway 101 north of Ventura, Calif. The fire is one of several ravaging Southern California.

Thursday, December 07, 2017 1:00 am

Wildfire besieges tony Bel-Air

High gusts add to risk as California reels from blazes

Associated Press

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Getty Center built to withstand fire

The Getty Center art complex in Los Angeles made sure it could protect its priceless artwork and antiquities from flames like those just across a freeway Wednesday.

Officials say fire protection was designed into the facility by architect Richard Meier, including the thickness of the walls and doors to compartmentalize any flames.

The $1 billion home of the J. Paul Getty Museum sits in the Santa Monica Mountains and has been closed to prevent harm to its works from smoke from several wildfires.

Smoke detection and sprinklers are ever-present at the center, along with pressurization systems to keep smoke out or reverse flow if it does get in.

The center has its own reservoir to supply suppression systems if necessary, and there is an on-site helipad to fill helicopters with water. Hydrants throughout the property are fed from a large-diameter loop.

The immediate zone around the building is kept green with fire-resistant plants, and the expansive area surrounding the campus is rigorously kept clear of grasses. Canopies of oak trees also serve to suppress the growth of vegetation that could feed a blaze.

LOS ANGELES – A wildfire erupted in Los Angeles' exclusive Bel-Air section Wednesday as yet another part of Southern California found itself under siege from an outbreak of wind-whipped blazes that have consumed multimillion-dollar houses and tract homes alike.

Hundreds of homes across the L.A. metropolitan area and beyond were feared destroyed since Monday, but firefighters were only slowly managing to make their way into some of the hard-hit areas for an accurate count.

As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and cast a hazardous haze over the region. About 200,000 people were under evacuation orders. No deaths and only a few injuries were reported.

From the beachside city of Ventura, where rows of homes were leveled, to the rugged foothills north of Los Angeles, where stable owners had to evacuate horses in trailers, to Bel-Air, where the rich and famous have sweeping views of L.A. below, fierce Santa Ana winds sweeping in from the desert fanned the flames and fears.

“God willing, this will slow down so the firefighters can do their job,” said Maurice Kaboud, who ignored an evacuation order and stood in his backyard with a garden hose at the ready.

Air tankers that were grounded most of Tuesday because of high wind went up Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before the wind picked up again. They were expected to gust as high as 80 mph overnight into today.

Before dawn Wednesday, flames exploded on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, closing a section of heavily traveled Interstate 405 and destroying four homes in Bel-Air, where houses range from $2 million to more than $30 million. The fire had reached the estate and winery owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch by Wednesday evening.

Many schools across Los Angeles canceled classes because of poor air quality. UCLA, at the edge of the Bel-Air evacuation zone, canceled afternoon classes and its evening basketball game. Production of HBO's “Westworld” and the CBS show “S.W.A.T.” was suspended because of the danger to cast and crew from two nearby fires.

In Ventura County northwest of L.A., the biggest and most destructive of the wildfires grew to 101 square miles and had nearly reached the Pacific on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles inland a day earlier. The fire destroyed at least 150 structures, but incident commander Todd Derum said he suspects hundreds of homes have been lost.