Los Angeles, CA Canyon Fires, Nov 1961

Aerial View Of Fire Damage Fire View



Los Angeles, (UPI) -- Increasing winds today threatened to sweep a 12-mile wall of flame into scores of ocean-front homes despite renewed air and ground attacks on the worst fire in Los Angeles history.
With at least 250 homes burned already, almost 2,000 firemen and 1,200 soldiers fought desperately to keep two tongues of flame in the Santa Monica Mountains from joining.
"If we can't keep them separated," said one fire official, "we'll have the same thing in Pacific Palisades that we had in Bel Air yesterday. The winds will tell."
The two blazes -- one in Topanga Canyon and the other the still fierce Bel Air fire -- were less than a mile apart and less than a mile from the beach front residential areas.
Borale bombers, starting at dawn, flew time and again over the blaze to dump their loads of fire quenching chemicals.
Despite all their efforts, the fire had eaten through 5,759 acres in the Bel Air area and 4,330 in Topanga Canyon.
Three more schools were evacuated today as the flames moved near the Pacific Palisades. Five schools were evacuated yesterday. The blaze, which began early yesterday had forced evacuation of 6,000 students and countless residents.
One private school was razed and Mr. St. Mary's College, just a few blocks north of the University of California at Los Angeles, was partially destroyed.
The elite Bel Air Hotel on Sunset Boulevard was evacuated.
Water pressure dropped when stubborn home owners refused to give up. They kept homes damp as long as possible with garden hoses.
The blaze licked at the greens of the Bel Air Country Club then turned northwest toward Topanga Canyon where county fire units responded to an alarm which originally was thought to be minor but charred 2,000 acres when caught by 65 mile an hour winds.
There was no immediate hope for containment.
Homes in the fire stricken hillside neighborhoods between the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley range in price from $30,000 to $250,000.
Destroyed by the fast moving flames -- which generated their own winds of up to 100 miles an hour in oxygen consuming fire storms -- were homes belonging to actor BURT LANCASTER, comedian JOE E. BROWN, actress JOAN FONTAINE and movie producer WALTER WANGER.
Screen star KIM NOVAK was seen on the roof of her home wetting it down with a garden hose to keep sparks from igniting it.
Former Vice President RICHARD NIXON also clambered to his roof to wet it down. He was chased down by police fearful for his safety.
Some 1,200 men from Fort MacArthur at nearby San Pedro -- ordered in by Gov. EDMUND G. BROWN who declared the fire a disaster area -- joined city and county firemen who had spent more than 24 hours on the lines.
Ten borate bombers -- converted U. S. warplanes -- were credited with halting the flame's march toward the heavily populated beach areas yesterday when firemen stood frustrated by limp hoses because of lack of water pressure.
In San Francisco, the National Board of Fire Underwriters said that property losses will be paid promptly by the capital stock insurance companies involved.
The board urged property owners to take these steps to aid companies in effecting immediate payment of losses.
Notify immediately the handling insurance agent or broker.
Effect immediate temporary repairs to protect property from further damage by the elements after the fire is out. The cost of such repairs will be paid by the insurance companies.

As a rampaging inferno leap frogged from one ridge to another, thousands of Los Angeles residents fled their suburban homes in the early morning darkness.
With ruin measured in square miles rather than acres, the worst disaster in the history of Los Angeles had leveled 250 homes and damaged some 50 others before midnight.
Just one ridge removed from ruin, television's "Maverick" took an early hour vigil today on the lonely streets of fashionable Bel Air.
"It only takes one spark to turn this whole place into an over," JAMES GARNER (Maverick) said, nodding at the ruins of his neighbors Thurston Circle home. The $75,000 house was the only one on the street which was burned. It was gutted early yesterday when a spark, lifted by 70 mile an hour winds, lodged in the roof.
As "Maverick" walked alone on the deserted street, a neighbor, one of the few who elected to remain at his home, stood on his roof with eyes trained on the growing glow in the north.
"I think she might have missed us for sure this time," the neighbor shouted.
"Hope so," was the reply.
Forcing more than 3,000 persons from their hillside homes, the fire, even by midnight, had caused damage estimated in the millions of dollars.
Meanwhile local relief organizations went into full swing to handle the expected rush of evacuees.
From his downtown office, ED MATSON, disaster director for the Red Cross, said: "We expected a rash of displaced persons, but it seems that most of the people went to friends homes or to local hotels."
The Red Cross maintained three fully equipped shelter areas in local high schools.
At University High School, a team of six Red Cross nurses and volunteers kept a close vigil on the one family left in their charge. "But," explained one volunteer, "we've had hundreds come through here either for information or for a cup of coffee."
"They seem to prefer the hotels to a Red Cross cot in a gymnasium," he added.
In the lobby of one of the plush hotels of Beverly Hills, evacuees were reported by the night clerk as "sitting around swapping tales like a bunch of old women."
"We've taken in about 30 families, and have room for another 14," the night clerk said.
Comedy became mingled with confusion as the mass mountain exodus gained momentum.
One Bel Air resident, clutching his neckties and pipes, said he left a rack of $200 suits and a valuable collection of carved in ivories.
As the fire continued unabated through the long night hours, teams of smut covered firemen worked their way out of the ovens of Mandeville canyon for a quick cup of coffee.
"It's the worst fire I've ever seen," commented on battalion chief, a veteran of 22 years in the department. "When they finish adding this one up I'll be they find it worse than the 1906 fire in Frisco."
"It was really bad up there," nodded one drawn fireman, "but as soon as I finish this apple I'll be ready for some more,"
"It's the deer and animals trapped in there that really get me," a college student said.
Clusters of bystanders, clad in robes and slippers, stared, hypnotized, at the spreading red hue.
"It's horrible," said one.

The Press Courier Oxnard California 1961-11-07