Hollywood Hills Fire Gives L.A. Scare
LOS ANGELES Mar. 30, 2007 -- Flames allegedly ignited by two youths roared up brush-covered ridges in the Hollywood Hills on Friday, giving the city a major wildfire scare but leaving nearby neighborhoods and entertainment industry complexes unharmed except for a choking blanket of smoke.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said two boys, ages 16 and 17, from Illinois told authorities they caused the fire and were in custody. He gave no details on what the boys did, but said there was a witness.
"They've admitted that they started this fire," the mayor told a press conference. He said they were "old enough to know what they were doing."
Deputy Police Chief Michael R. Hillmann refused to say what the youths admitted to, but characterized it as "an irresponsible act."
The fire started next to the Oakwood Toluca Hills, a corporate housing complex northwest of downtown, and spread rapidly up the north face of the hills, covering 150 acres before it began to lose intensity.
The mayor said the two youths, who were visiting Los Angeles with their parents, had been staying at the Oakwood complex. Villaraigosa said the youths were being taken to a juvenile detention facility.
The teens walked into a Burbank police station around 3 p.m. and were turned over to Los Angeles police, said Burbank police Lt. Ron Caruso. He did not know if the boys arrived with adults.
For several hours smoke roiled into the sky behind the famous Hollywood sign that stands on the south face of the hills, but the flames made no move down the south face and by late afternoon the landmark appeared to be well out of any danger.
Nonetheless, dozens of people gathered at the foot of the hills to take pictures of the sign and smoke.
"If it burns, we would be losing an icon," said Russ Mitchell, a Los Angeles resident.
Oakwood Worldwide spokeswoman Angela Lapre said one building was evacuated at firefighters' request.
The Oakwood Toluca Hills housing complex has been a popular place for aspiring child actors to stay over the years. Residents of the complex rushed home after seeing smoke spread above the Los Angeles Basin.
Nathan Stevenson, 20, an actor in from Toronto to get work during the TV pilot season, was nearby in Universal City when he got a call about the fire and paid a taxi driver to rush him to his car.
"Then I flew here," he said. "I wanted to make sure to get my clothes out of the apartment. I brought my entire wardrobe here. I've got a lot of money in this place."
Deputy Fire Chief Mario Rueda said the fire was well in hand but firefighters would remain on the scene.
"We do believe we have it contained at this point, but it's going be a long night here mopping up to make sure it doesn't spread," he said.
Some 200 firefighters and five helicopters battled the flames, said Fire Department spokesman Ron Myers. Helicopters operated from landing pads atop nearby Mount Lee, a landmark topped with transmitters.
There were no reports of structural damage, he said. The blaze was reported at 12:50 p.m.
"I don't know the exact last date we've seen a fire in this particular area but the hills are prone to fires throughout the year," Myers said. "This is just a little bit earlier than what we normally see."
Southern California is parched after an extremely dry winter that left rainfall levels more than 11 inches below normal. Just 2.47 inches has fallen since July 1.
Humidity also was low, about 10 percent, which makes vegetation burn more easily.
The Hollywood Hills bisect Los Angeles, forming the southern side of the San Fernando Valley. The blaze started east of Universal City, south of the Warner Bros. studios complex in Burbank and to the west of 4,200-acre Griffith Park and Forest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery.
During the height of the fire, Scott Rowe, vice president of corporate communications for Warner Bros. Entertainment said the company was monitoring the situation closely.
"The studio is fairly filled with smoke at the moment," he said. "It's at our back door. I think a couple of our entrances have been closed at this point and we're operating normally but that could change any minute."
Precautions were taken at Sunset Ranch, which offers horse rides from the south side of the hills over to the San Fernando Valley side. Manager Jason Marchant, 34, said three scouts were sent out on horseback to make sure the fire didn't move toward the ranch.
"The horses are haltered up and are ready to mobilize at a second's notice," he said.
Flames erupted just about a block from the 60-year-old Smoke House restaurant in Burbank.
"It's scary," said general manager Israel Aviles, 38, who told employees to be ready to evacuate.
John Black, a cashier at Miceli's Italian restaurant in Universal City, said most of the skyline above the historic eatery was thick with black, gray and orange smoke.
"I'm concerned about the fire because I live really close to here," he said.
Lights flickered in some parts of the city during the fire, which burned near some power transmission lines.
"We have had no outages as a result of the fire," said spokeswoman Gale Harris of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
"The smoke is affecting the lines, but we just made adjustments. We're OK," she said.
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