Remembering the Bel Air Fire of 1961 as the Skirball Fire Rages

December 7, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Roscomare Road, Bel Air, During the 1961 Fire, courtesy LA Times Archive

Waking to the news that the Sepulveda Pass was burning yesterday, I immediately thought of the last major wildfire to hit the area. On November 5th, 1961, the Bel Air Fire raced through the Hollywood Hills, burning 16,000 acres and destroying 484 houses. Though there were no fatalities, it was the largest fire to strike the City of Los Angeles, unrivaled until the current one began late Tuesday night.

The Bel Air and Skirball Fires began in similar conditions: fires from ignited brush were spread by Santa Ana winds at the end of an unusually long dry season. Without measurable precipitation or humidity, both catastrophes progressed quickly, flames racing from canyon to canyon along the ridge line of the Santa Monica mountains.

In Beachwood Canyon, the 1961 fire claimed 17 houses, including that of the writer Aldous Huxley and his wife Laura. When I interviewed Laura Archera Huxley in 2007, she vividly remembered being mesmerized by the flames near their house on Deronda Drive. Unable to grasp the urgency of the situation, she and Aldous waited too long to evacuate and lost nearly all their possessions as well as their home.

The Skirball Fire is being blown west instead of east, so Beachwood Canyon isn’t in danger from it. But bone dry conditions combined with tourists who smoke with impunity near the Hollywood Sign puts those of us who live here in constant jeopardy. When I learned that firefighters from our area were being deployed to fight the Skirball Fire, I started packing my bags.

Twenty-four hours later, the situation seems to be improving. But until this winter’s rains begin, fire danger remains, as does our fear. Visitors who ignore Beachwood Canyon’s No Smoking signs should know that all it takes is a single flick of a cigarette to destroy homes and lives. For those who don’t care, there’s a hefty fine for smoking. Let’s hope the City enforces it.

Related articles:

https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/why-we-freak-out-when-you-smoke-in-beachwood-canyon/

https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/setting-our-house-on-fire-hollywood-sign-tourists-and-their-cigarettes/

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Merry Christmas from Under the Hollywood Sign

December 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

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The photo above shows California holly (toyon) in bloom in the Hollywood Hills. Some believe this plant inspired the name Hollywood, although it was more likely a random choice by Daeida Wilcox, who met a woman on the cross-country train with a vacation house of that name. You can read more about California holly here: https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/the-hills-are-alive-with-california-holly/

This is the seventh Christmas for Under the Hollywood Sign. As regular readers know, I began the blog to promote my documentary of the same name. That film, as well as my others, is now on sale at half price (that’s $12.50 for features; $6 for the short) on my website http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com The sale continues through the end of the month; please check it out.

Waiting For Rain In a Bone-Dry Canyon

August 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

The "Wood," 8pm Friday, August 22, 2014/Hope Anderson Productions

The “Wood,” 8pm Friday, August 22, 2014/Hope Anderson Productions

August in Southern California is a very dry month, the prelude to an even hotter, drier September. Those of us who live in canyons live in dread of fires, which can start from a single match or cigarette–hence the NO SMOKING signs that tourists somehow ignore. In the fourth year of a great drought–the worst on record in California–we are waiting for the winter rains.

On Friday night, I looked north and to my surprise saw an unusual amount of cloud cover at the Hollywood Sign. It seemed to be a harbinger of better days to come, so I got my camera and took this photo.

Apricots in Beachwood Canyon, Past and Present

June 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

Some of Today's Harvest/Hope Anderson Productions

Some of Today’s Harvest/Hope Anderson Productions

As soon as I moved into my house in Hollywoodland in 2005, I started planting fruit trees. Over the years, I’ve planted Meyer lemons, a Bearss lime, a Valencia orange, two peaches (one of which died a sudden fungal death, and a recently planted O’Henry), a Green Gage plum and a Royal Blenheim apricot. Most of my trees have struggled in the rocky, arid soil, but the apricot–now in its fourth year–has produced superb fruit in exponential quantities. The photo above represents less than a third of the 2014 harvest, all of it picked today.

A look at Beachwood Canyon’s history proves my apricot tree is no anomaly. Before 1911, Beachwood Drive ended at what is now Graciosa Street. Beyond the paved road lay orchards that grew apricots. And beyond the apricot orchards was a single ranch, the future Hollywoodland.

Calamity Canyon: This Week’s Round-Up of Hollywoodland Misadventures

May 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Fire Hydrant on Mulholland Highway 5/26/14/Courtesy Elias M. Saade

Fire Hydrant on Mulholland Highway 5/26/14/Courtesy Elias M. Saade

As I was driving along Franklin today around 3pm, three fire trucks roared past and up Beachwood Canyon, sirens blaring. Once on Beachwood Drive, I pulled over twice more to let emergency vehicles pass. Meanwhile, helicopters arrived and circled the Hollywood Sign. What was happening? Apparently two women climbing illegally to the Sign got stuck in a ravine under the letter D and needed rescue. (Note to potential climbers: Not only is climbing to the Sign illegal, but it’s much harder than it looks.)

Before anyone writes, “You knew the Sign was there when you moved here!,” or in the case of LA Curbed, “NIMBY,” let me say that before GPS became standard on cell phones, such emergencies rarely occurred. Moreover, this is the third incident in the same area during the past five days. And it’s only May 30th.

Here’s a recap:

1. Sunday, May 25th, 10:30pm: A woman walking her dog in the dark along the high wall at the dead-end of Mulholland Highway falls off, breaking her arm. She is rescued by the LAFD after a lengthy spate of sirens and helicopters. The dog is OK.

2. Monday, May 26th, 6:30pm: A car–apparently belonging to the owner of one of the tour bus companies–hits the fire hydrant near the same end of Mulholland Highway, sending a plume of water down Ledgewood. Fire trucks are called to stop the flooding. (This has happened several times before, yet no barrier has been erected to protect the hydrant.)

3. Friday, May 30th, 3pm: See above.

To those planning to visit Beachwood Canyon, those signs that say “no smoking” and “no trespassing” are there for good reason: your safety. And it’s really best to stay away from that hydrant.

Beachwood Canyon’s Very Sick Mountain Lion: How P-22 was Poisoned

April 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

P-22, Sick with Mange/Courtesy latimes.com

P-22, Sick with Mange/Courtesy latimes.com

P-22 When Healthy/Courtesy Friends of Griffith Park

P-22 When Healthy/Courtesy Friends of Griffith Park

Readers of Under the Hollywood Sign will recall previous posts about the tree rats that populate the Hollywood Hills and the coyotes that (mercifully) cull them. Sadly, the poison that residents sometimes resort to using when rats invade their homes has moved up the food chain, poisoning coyotes and the mountain lions that feed on them. This point was underscored by the revelation that P22, the mountain lion whose nighttime meanderings through Hollywoodland have lately been captured on camera, has been sickened by raticide-related mange.

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Griffith-Park-Mountain-Lion-P22-Found-Sick-Possibly-From-Rat-Poison-255617591.html

Park rangers have treated P-22, so it’s possible that it will recover. But when the story broke, a neighbor reported another source of poison: the fetid water in the pool of a long-vacant house on Hollyridge Drive. P22 was seen drinking from the pool after the City dumped in mosquito-abating chemicals. When I went up to see the house yesterday, its appearance was dire:

Vacant House on Hollyridge Drive/Hope Anderson Productions

Vacant House on Hollyridge Drive/Hope Anderson Productions

The good news is that the house has just been sold. Let’s hope the new owner will drain the pool before tackling what promises to be a lengthy and arduous renovation.

Why We Freak Out When You Smoke in Beachwood Canyon

April 15, 2014 § 1 Comment

No Smoking Sign at Lake Hollywood Park

No Smoking Sign at Lake Hollywood Park

Last night a neighbor of mine went up to the vista above Lake Hollywood to look at the lunar eclipse. So did a number of people from outside the Canyon, some of whom were smoking despite the signs forbidding it. (The photo above is from 2011; since then, Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office has installed even larger signs, including one featuring Smokey the Bear, to little result.) Although all but one of the smokers put out their cigarettes after my neighbor asked them to, one pointedly refused.

Yet one cigarette is all it takes to start a fire in the dry brush. A couple of years ago, a fire caused by a tourist’s flicked cigarette burned an acre at the vista in minutes before firefighters arrived. I wrote about it here:

https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/setting-our-house-on-fire-hollywood-sign-tourists-and-their-cigarettes/

This year California’s long drought was declared the worst in its recorded history. With below average rainfall for eleven of the past fifteen years, including almost no rain last year and the year before, conditions are now so dry that any spark could threaten every home in Beachwood Canyon. That’s why we have No Smoking signs, and why we get so upset when smokers ignore them.

Postscript: There was a brush fire in Griffith Park during the early morning hours of April 16th–probably a side effect of someone smoking during the lunar eclipse. http://hollywood.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/firefighters-battle-flames-in-hollywood-hills

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