Los Angeles, CA Griffith Park Fire, Oct 1933
26 BODIES RECOVERED, ARSON SUSPECT JAILED AS L.A. PROBES FIRE HORROR.
CITY SEEKS TO FIX BLAME FOR ORDER SENDING 1500 JOBLESS INTO DEATH TRAP.
50 BELIEVED TO HAVE PERISHED AS SEARCH PARTIES COMB MUNICIPAL PARK WHERE CHARITY ROLL WORKERS MET HOLOCAUST.
VICTIMS KIN JAM MORGUES.
Los Angeles, Oct. 4 -- (AP) -- Thirty-five men are known to have perished in the forest fire which made a crimson inferno of a box-end canyon in the city's Griffith Park late yesterday, the coroner's office reported today.
Four charred bundles which a deputy coroner said he believed to be bodies of additional victims were taken out this morning.
The coroner's office reported this afternoon that the death list likely would reach 50.
Meantime, Hollywood detectives reported the arrest of a man giving the name of ROBERT D. BARR, 29, of Culver City on suspicion of arson in connection with the holocaust which Fire Chief RALPH J. SCOTT said today occurred "because inexperienced men were permitted to go in and try to fight a type of blaze they knew nothing about."
Total Of Dead May Not Be Known For Two Days; First Victims Identified.
Officers said BARR admitted he started a fire in Griffith Park at 10 o'clock last night, but denied having been responsible for the main fire, which began burning nearly eight hours earlier.
Officials said it may be two days before a final check of the death toll can be made because many of the 3,784 R.F.C. workers employed in the park did not report today for a roll call.
One of the bodies was identified today as that of JAMES CORTEZ VIORATO by his widow, who is serving on a Superior Court jury. Widows and relatives of other victims began later to aid the authorities to establish a roll of the dead.
More than 125 men, rescuers and men who escaped with their lives were burned and injured, some of them seriously.
Throughout the night thousands of relatives of the workers who had been given unemployment relief jobs on park roads crowded about the county morgues and hundreds were admitted today in efforts to make identifications. Fire Chief SCOTT said:
"Had there been anyone with experience in fighting brush fires or any experienced fireman on the scene, the men who dropped their work on the road grade to fight the blaze would have been ordered to safety."
A cordon of uniformed policemen was required to hold in check the crowds which stormed the doors of the two morgues and watched with tear-dimmed eyes the long string of stretcher-bearers as they carried the charred bodies of victims through the doors.
FRANK MERRILL, superintendent of Griffith Park, blamed the catastrophe to "lack of experience in brush fire fighting" on the part of those who died and the men who sent them into the canyon of death.
Park Superintendent And Fire Chief Blame Those Who 'Sent Men To Suicide'
"The disaster would not have occurred," said MERRILL, "had the road foreman been experienced in such fire fighting work. It meant death to the men, to send them into such a box-like canyon with fire in its center and possibility of a sudden gust of wind carrying the flames in every direction."
Fire Chief RALPH SCOTT corroborated MERRILL'S views by the statement that "it was suicide to send those men into a walled-in canyon whose entrance was blocked by raging flames and whose only other means of exit was a winding cowpath up the wall of the ravine."
Mayor FRANK L. SHAW ordered a thorough investigation of the circumstances which caused so great a toll to be taken. He said if carelessness or negligence are found to be the blame the city will cooperate with the county in fixing the responsibility. He promised also that the city will provide relief for the families of the victims.
The workers, laboring with pick and shovel in the park roads, heard an order to fight fire in the rolling hills of the park, largest in the Los Angeles recreational system, shortly after 2 p.m.
1500 Blindly Obey Orders Sending Them Into Box Canyon Trap Of Death.
Before 3 p.m., most of the thousands of men had abandoned their posts in response to orders from their foremen, and had followed blindly a treacherous cowpath down the south wall of the canyon, known as Mineral Wells Canyon which was to become a valley of death.
"Smack it out with your shovels, and cut a fire break," was order ringing in the ears of the men, unskilled at brush fire fighting, as they entered the canyon.
Deep in the canyon, a small area was burning. There was little or no wind, the flames and smoke from the burning scrub oak growth in the canyon's floor, shooting straight upward.
Suddenly a wind whipped down into the canyon, fanning the blaze into a furnace of death sweeping outward from its center. In a few seconds the approximately 1,500 men who had entered the canyon were scrambling up the steep sides of the canyon wall.
The cowpath became a line of fighting, sweltering, cursing, praying humanity. The strong clambered over the weak, in the awful climb. Upward with death crackling at their heels, struggled the workmen.
Survivors said the flames jumped as much as 100 feet at a time, catching up with and bringing down the screaming struggling men.
Searchers found that the men died in couples. Of the 36 bodies so far recovered, only a few were alone in death, the great bulk of the number seeming to have paired off as death licked at their fleeing heels.
Some of the pairs, pathetically huddled in their upward struggle on the canyon's side, gave evidence of heroism in face of death.
One couple had almost reached the canyon's rim when the wall of flame struck them down. One, a stalwart, had been pushing his fellow struggler upward when the blaze cut them down.
Always they were side by side, these pairs, when the end came. And always they were stricken when striving to reach the rim which was just a little too high on the canyon's edge.
Kin Identify Blaze Victims.
Widows and Relatives of County Aid Workers Begin To Establish Death Roster.
Los Angeles, Oct. 4 -- (AP) -- Bodies of victims of the Griffith Park fire were identified by wives and relatives today either by viewing bodies or identifying jewelry, key rings, teeth and the like as follows:
GEORGE ALVIN ANDERSON, 4213 Woodlawn Avenue, Los Angeles.
JAMES CORTEZ VIORATO, 1839 South Main Street, Los Angeles.
JESUS RIVERA, 38, 4221 Blanchard Street, Los Angeles.
JOHN CLARK, 42, 2436 South Main Street, Los Angeles.
WALTER LEE BERNOR, 1003 East Sixty-eighth Street, Inglewood.
ROY BROWN, 31, 633 West Fifty-sixth Street, Los Angeles.
AUSTIN WILLIAMS, 35, Negro, 1315 East Eighteenth Street (died in hospital, overcome by smoke).
Scenes of Tragedy Are Revealed in Wake of Holocaust; Many Die in Reach of Safety.
Los Angeles, Oct. 4. -- (UP) -- The fire that drove like a plague through Griffith Park left scenes of abject tragedy.
Strong men were overcome by terror as flames crackling at their heels, suddenly leaped up to singel their faces.
One man fought his way through blinding smoke to the top of a ridge. Within a few feet of safety he whirled about.
"My brother's back there," he screamed. Before a dissuading hand could reach him, he plunged down the slope to death.
They were all poor men, those wretched victims. They worked for $2.40 a day, 10 days a month. Most supported large families. All were breadwinners.
Many died with escape within easy reach. Some fled in wild stampede, others with heroic thought of others. Rescuers stumbled upon two blackened bodies withing a few yards of the top of a canyon.
An unsung hero carried WALTER MORRIS, Negro, out ot the death zone after the latter started to run the wrong way. A powerful punch rendered the frenzied Negro unconscious but saved his life.
The heat was so intense that wrist watches on many trapped victims melted.
One of the outstanding heroes was G. H. BLACKLOCK, 23. Time after time, the youth dropped back into the path of the flames to drag out unconscious workmen. Finally he collapsed. Physicians said he may die.
It was FRANK MARSALA'S last day on the job. He intended quitting to fill a more lucrative job as truck driver. But the job was given to another. MARSALA was on the brink of death.
A so-called "box" canyon, the valley of death more nearly resembles a great teacup. A narrow and rocky footpath that curls three-quarters of the way around its top is the "rim." All four walls drop almost sheerly to the canyon floor, the teacup's bottom.
Footing on the catwalk it so precarious it was regarded today as quite possible that several men had tumbled off into the flaming pit below.
It is probably 1,000 yards from rim to rim. 500 yards from rim to bottom.
The one slight break in the canyon wall -- a bottleneck less than 50 feet wide -- was blazing before the men realized their danger. The victims were caught by the booming flames as they tried to clamber up the steep walls. A few crawled to within 20 feet of the rim before overtaken.
Oakland Tribune California 1933-10-04