Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

     November 6, 1961
     The Bel Air Brush Fire
     Bel Air

. E X T R A

3000 Flee for Lives; Loss $20 Million
Los Angeles was hit Monday by an unprecedented major disaster-the worst fire in its history-and the flames threatened to fling their fury over a much greater area today.

Already at least 225 homes had been destroyed and 50 others severely damaged in the Bel Air area, fire officials reported.

To the west, only two miles away, another fire had burned over 2500 acres, destroying at least seven residences and two other structures.

Early today, then, flames flared in Temescal Canyon, between the Bel Air blaze and the one to the west, in the Topanga Canyon area.

Nine or 10 homes were reported destroyed.
From the lines the fires were taking, it was feared the fires would join this morning at Will Rogers State Park.
In surveying this new possibility, a Fire Department employee said, "the Beverly Glen holocaust could well be repeated."

To meet the new threat, expected to come from the wind shifting to blow toward the south, firemen massed at the Will Rogers Park, Borate planes were in readiness for a dawn takeoff.

It was a dawn grim with a pall of smoke making the sun a fiery ball, the light spreading over property damage already estimated to reach as high as $20 million.

The majority of the gutted residences were in the $40,000 to $150,000 class and included those of film celebrities and business executives.

The end was not in sight, as the flames raged through the night still out of control.

Early today, the three most troublesome hot spots were in Mandeville Canyon on Linda Flora Drive and in Beverly Glen.

Men and equipment were making a desperate stand on the Mandeville Canyon fire trail to save homes in the area where the canyon intersects Chalon Road.

For a time after midnight, the flames crept slowly down the west side of Mandeville Canyon toward expensive homes in the 2300 block on Mandeville Canyon Road.

Then they reached heavier brush, flared 50 to 100 feet in the air, showering sparks, and picked up the rate of advance.

One of the threatened homes, at Mandeville Canyon and Chalon Roads, is that of singer-actor Dennis Day.

Flames came within 15 feet of three homes on Linda Flora Drive and even ignited eucalyptus trees on the grounds before residents and firemen beat them back.

In Beverly Glen, embers rode 45-mile-an-hour winds to start blazes near Mulholland Drive, a section that was spared earlier because the fire was eccentric-looping around some houses and sections but striking others.

Henry Sawyer, division commander of the mountain patrol, said "if winds do not increase, we hope to have the fire under control by noon Tuesday."

It was a big "if," however. The gusty winds which have whipped the Los Angeles area for the past two days are not expected to subside until late today.

The blaze, erupting with deadly suddenness and feeding on tinder-dry brush, struck a wide area of the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Beverly Hills.

Fire: Deadly 100-MPH Winds Race in 'Storms'
It exploded at times into dreaded "fire storms"-cyclonic infernos with an intense heat that created its own fierce winds, similar to the devastation which struck many cities during heavy bombings in World War II.

It raced through the thickly covered hill and canyon territory from the valley side of Mulholland Drive on the north to the exclusive Bel Air Estates section on the south close to Sunset Boulevard.

The northern boundary of the fire was Mulholland Drive. On the south it was about one-half mile above Sunset Boulevard. On the west, the flames were past Mandeville Canyon at one point and coursing toward Sullivan Canyon. The eastern boundary reached to Beverly Glen and to the edge of Benedict Canyon.

More than 5000 acres have been blackened within a perimeter of 21 miles.

Only a few dozen of an estimated 3000 evacuees were permitted to return to the fire area-to make a weary trek to the sites of their property to ascertain what was left of their possessions.

City fire officials announced the grim toll thus far--
43 homes on Roscomare Road.
12 in the 1800 to 2000 blocks on Stradella Road.
87 on Chantilly and Chalon Roads.
12 in the 1500 to 1900 blocks on Bel Air Road.
30 on Bundy Drive.

Another center of destruction was the area of Drum Drive, Linda Flora Drive, Tigertail Road and Hanley Avenue where an estimated 50 homes were leveled or badly damaged.

During the first five hours of the fire, flames moved southeastward from Mulholland, covering Stone Canyon, Stradella and Roscomare Roads.

Deadly winds of up to 100 miles an hour were reported in the "fire storms."

Gusts with velocities of 55 to 65 miles an hour drove the flames erratically within the perimeter throwing up sparks which landed on and ignited roof-tops more than two miles away.

After being stemmed on the southeast front-at a line generally parallel and just north of Sunset, with flames licking at the 14th tee of the exclusive Bel Air Country Club-the fire moved westward.

It leaped across Sepulveda Boulevard at points about two miles north of Sunset and moved onto Mount St. Mary's College which was evacuated.

Two structures on the sprawling campus were destroyed and one was damaged.

Flames then drove onto Bundy Drive and took their toll.

Flames swept to within 600 feet of the Bel Aire Sands Hotel at Sunset and the San Diego Freeway.

Sweeping further west, flames crossed Kenter Canyon and were being held on the east side of Kenter Avenue when winds rose again, forcing the fire across the street near its northern deadend.

Flames shot more than 100 feet into the air, but some 20 expensive homes in the area were saved by quick action of the fire fighters. Kenter Canyon was contained, but crews patrolled it through the night.

Toward midnight, flames ate their way steadily westward into Mandeville Canyon.

Homes are sparse on the east side of the canyon road, but more than 200 luxury residences are located on the west side.

All available equipment was thrown into the battle to save them.

Mandeville Canyon has been cleared of residents, and Sullivan and Rustic Canyons further west have been ordered evacuated.

More than a dozen planes of all sizes and descriptions bombarded the flames with water-borate solution.

Many home owners refused to leave their property, wetting their roofs with garden hoses as flames licked dangerously near.

Three schools in the area- a total of 2263 students- were evacuated during the first few hours.

12 Injured
by Blaze

Youngsters from Rosemare Road Elementary, Bellagio Road Elementary and Kenter Canyon Elementary were taken to Brentwood Elementary School-there to await their parents.

None of the three schools will open today, it was announced.

The Red Cross set up emergency receiving stations for evacuees at University High School. The facilities, including the cafeteria, will remain open as long as necessary.

The plush Bel Air Hotel on Stone Canyon Road was evacuated.

Twenty Civil Defense units from Santa Barbara and Orange County were pressed into service.

Fire department companies from Long Beach, Glendale, Burbank and Santa Monica were ordered out to staff empty station houses.

The California Highway Patrol deployed 20 units in the fire area.

CHP officers were escorting the 6000-gallon truck trailers bearing borate solution from Montebello to Van Nuys Airport, where the water-bombing plans took off.

Seven firemen were hurt. Three of them- W.J. King, 28; Oral Burleson, 30, and Joseph Walker, 40- were taken to UCLA Medical Center.

Fifty other persons were treated for minor injuries or smoke inhalation.

The blaze started shortly after 8 a.m. in the 3600 block on Stone Canyon Road, Sherman Oaks, less than a mile north of Mulholland.

Winds of 25 to 30 miles an hour whipped the flames toward Woodcliff Road and skirted several residences at Woodcliff and Mulholland.

The fire then jumped Mulholland and, fanned by increasing winds, moved south and southwest into the Roscomare and Stone Canyon Roads area.

The first major residential area to be hit was in the 2700 block on Stone Canyon Road. Several homes were destroyed and damaged.

Moving further south on both sides of Stone Canyon Reservoir, the fire damaged six homes owned by the Stone Canyon Development Co. near the deadend of Stone Canyon Road.

A multi-unit apartment house at 2389 Roscomare suffered heavy damage.

All off-duty city firemen were pressed into service and the city department called for help from the county, which provided six engine companies and six camp crews for a total of 120 men.

An additional 400 county firefighters were held in readiness, and 250 Army men were ordered to move into the lines this morning.

The police department activated its disaster headquarters at the Civic Center Administration Building with Chief Parker in Command.

to Be Jailed

He ordered looters be jailed immediately.

There were reports a man in a red car was seen looting homes on Chalon, Chantilly and Sarbonne Roads. In another sector, a man carrying a chandelier was reported arrested. Two hundred extra policemen moved in at 5 a.m. today to prevent looting. All days off were canceled for the emergency.

A new state disaster law permitting the arrest of any unauthorized persons in a disaster area went into effect for the first time.

Los Angeles Examiner, November 7, 1961

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