Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

    September 16, 1979
    The Kirkwood Bowl/Laurel Canyon Fire
    Hollywood Hills

Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Monday, September 24, 1979

One of the most spectacular blazes of this year's brush-fire season occurred Sept. 16 in West Hollywood's Laurel Canyon, where a four-hour inferno destroyed 23 homes, partially ruined another five structures and caused an estimated $4 million damage. But what quickly became yesterday's news, remained a human tragedy for those left without homes or possessions.

For five days, a team of Los Angeles Herald Examiner reporters trooped from lot to lot in the charred Hollywood hills trying to record the effect of the fire on the people whose homes vanished in smoke.

Ironically, they discovered that two houses at 8280 and 8320 Grandview listed by the Los Angeles Fire Department as destroyed, in fact never existed. And, several houses that were ruined were not on any official list. Two structures listed as fatalities on Cole Crest, apparently referred to two houses at a different address.

The reporters also discovered Laurel Canyon homeowners were badly underinsured and whatever is done to rebuild the area -- with its narrow roads and limited water supply -- it will remain one of the city's most visible tinderboxes.

This report was prepared by staff writers Rudy Aversa, Ellen Futterman, Carol Gulotta, Andrew Jaffe, Robert Knowles, Sarai Ribicoff and Joel Sappell.


* * * * *

Lost:a 350-page book draft
and an 1831 Goethe Bible

Wolfgang Brook, 51, an executive at a bead curtain plant, and actor James Dobson were finishing a tostada lunch on their patio, enjoying a somewhat smoggy view of the city. When Brook got up to take the dishes into the kitchen he saw the flames coming from next door ... "I screamed (to Dobson) to get out." They got their dogs -- an Afghan hound and whippet -- and ran for the car in the ground-floor garage.

At the last moment, Brook grabbed a porcelain statue and some Waterford crystal and threw them into the delta-shaped pool. They survived the holocaust. Everything else, including a 350-page draft of a book Dobson was writing and Brook's rare-book collection -- with an 1831 Goethe Bible -- was lost.

And the men had a close shave of their own. Just as they were about to leave, Brook discovered he couldn't get the automatic garage door to open, because power was out in the fire area. Several vital minutes were lost before Brook finally found the key to switch the door on to manual operation. The whole experience left both men shattered. "Insurance will never cover it," said the tired, defected Brook, picking up a pair of melted eyeglasses from the rubble around the pool,"but we'll rebuild."

It was a wood-stone affair
with a magnificent fireplace

Jack R. Kime and George E. Hunt had lived in this view house for 15 years, according to neighbors. The house, constructed of wood and stone and built around a kidney-shaped swimming pool, they said, was designed by architect Ray Neutra. Little is known of the two men, who were not seen at the burned-out premises after the fire. At the time of the blaze, neighbors said only Hunt was inside and he was able to escape before flames engulfed the structure. No one knew if the two men would rebuild.

Actress lost video tapes
of TV show, Warhol posters

Actress MacKenzie Phillips was on the way back from her honeymoon in Hawaii when the fire broke out. She and her husband Jeff Sessler, rushed from Los Angeles International Airport to the house, but arrived only in time to witness the still-smoldering ruins. A friend said she lost her collection of Andy Warhol posters and video tapes of the television show she costars in, "One Day at a Time." Worst of all, her pet cat, "Brains," either died in the fire or ran away.

Phillips is staying in a hotel temporarily and she is looking for a rental property to stay in during the rebuilding of her home. "I haven't been able to sleep thinking about that fireplace," she said.

One bright spot, however. Neighbors and police managed to keep her Mercedes 450 SL from being destroyed.


Police said he'd be arrested
if he tried to save his house

Ernst Mayer had the frustration of being one of few residents away from home who reached the area possibly in enough time to save his own house from burning. The 43-year-old construction company owner saw the fire from the city at about 2:30 and immediately drove home in his Ford Mustang. Coming in from Blue Heights Drive to the west, he avoided police barricades making way for Fire Department vehicles.

Mayer rounded up eight neighborhood friends with trucks as a rescue crew. But police in the street and on his driveway kept him and his crew from the threatened property. Mayer steered the convoy up a hill for a quick escape and then tried to come back alone to rescue his pet cat, Tanya, who was locked inside the house. But, he again was stopped by a policeman.

"He told me he would arrest me if I tried to go in," remembered Mayer with obvious bitterness. "I only regret I didn't get his badge number." Mayer stood there, infuriated, watching the windows break in the fire ... then he heard the burglar alarm go off. About 5 p.m. the fire overtook the wood-frame structure, burning it to its foundation and gutting a cement-block garage and office complex below.

Besides all his office records, Mayer said he lost $20,000. worth of cameras, expensive underwater equipment and rare art brought back from overseas jobs, including a 14th-century Sukothai Buddah statue and a 2,000-book library. The cat was never found.

Mayer said he had little insurance. "The superscoopers dropped three loads on the house on the hill," he said pointing to a house that had been spared by the fire. "But nothing here until it was too late. I'm sure if we could have watered the roof and fought the blaze ourselves we could have saved this place. Instead it's gone. I told the cop (who stopped him) I had a gun inside. I was so mad, if I had got to it I might have blown his head off. It's a terrible thing standing and watching your home burn when you can still do something to save it."

Mayer said a decision about rebuilding would have to await a settlement of his insurance claims. Meanwhile, he was struggling to relocate the headquarters for his construction firm at another address.


It took 20 years to build;
only $60 in coins remained

Michael Duzick, 62, a technical engineer for NBC-TV on sick leave with a back injury, was working in the back yard of his redwood home one ridge behind the fire when he saw flames on Grandview. The fire seemed as far away ... until a change of wind made it jump to Brier Drive.

Duzick saw the flames start up the hill. "It was so smoky. I'd take a breath, then hold it and water the hill, then run back for another breath," he recalled.

Two police officers tried to help by watering his roof, until the pressure dropped. "Then the police told me: "That's it. This is the end." A half-hour later, a fire truck arrived. But it was too late. A redbrick chimney and a cement stairway were all that remained of the rustic, $200,000 home. It had taken 20 years to build and all that survived was $60 in coins in a homemade wall safe.

Among the prized possessions lost in the fire: 12 hours of 60mm film on his children's travels, a 10-speaker homemade stereo system ("it sounded like Hollywood Bowl") and a collection of expensive cameras. He plans to rent a trailer and live on the property. "I don't know if I can rebuild it now," he said. "I'm too old."


'I cried and cried and cried
and then collapsed'

All that was left amid the blackened rubble of Sid and Marie Loev's two-bedroom, single-story, 28-year-old house was a red-brick fireplace and a concrete front porch leading nowhere. Mrs. Loev, whose husband works as a camera salesman in Los Angeles, was dabbing at her eyes with a tattered tissue early this week, as she scanned what was once her $170,000 dream home. "We lost everything," the blond, middle-age woman said. "But we have each other...You can't buy a life."

The Loevs were at a Sunset Boulevard supermarket when they looked up and saw their street on fire. They tried to return to their hillside home, but were stopped at a police roadblock. All they could do was watch it burn from below.

"I cried and cried and cried and then I collapsed," the stylish, retired teacher said. Besides their pet Sheltie dog, they lost a $4,000 Steinway piano, expensive camera and stereo equipment, a 1968 Barracuda parked in their two-car garage and a houseful of early American furnishings.

Loev, a stocky, rapid-talking man, said he plans to rebuild on the fire-charred site. "My wife's a little nervous about it," he said, wiping a hand over his curly hair. "But I'm not. Fires in the flatlands can be just as devastating."

Wardrobe now consists
of blue jeans and a T-shirt

Song writer Mike Hazlewood was lounging on the sundeck of his two-story home, listening to Stravinski's Violin Concerto in C, when he heard what sounded like "water from an open fire hydrant" gushing through the dense, dried brush on the hillside below.

But before the lanky, Englishman could peer down the steep cliff, fire was everywhere. "I couldn't believe it was happening. I had that feeling that everything was going to be OK until I saw a 50-foot-high flame devouring a home at the end of the street," he said. Though shaken, Hazlewood had the presence of mind to scoop up the manuscript of a musical he'd been working on for two years, a couple of tape recorders and then ran outside to his maroon, 1979 Cadillac Seville parked in the garage.

As he sped away, he knew that everything else, including a $1,000 plus stereo system and a houseful of expensive French art prints, would be destroyed. "It was beautifully decorated," Hazlewood said of his view home. "Now it's a black pile of rubble." Hazlewood's wardrobe now consists only of a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt. Asked if he would rebuild, the ragged-looking bachelor replied: "I don't know. I just don't know."

They scampered for safety
in only a towel and a robe

Rather than brave the city's sweltering heat, Steve and Debra Karpf decided to spend Sunday in their air-conditioned bedroom, snacking and watching the Dallas Cowboys-Chicago Bears game on television. Outside, they heard what sounded like a 70-mph wind. Debra opened the drapes and saw flames. They immediately scampered for their lives -- Steve, with only a towel wrapped around his waist and Debra with a robe she threw on in a panic.

"I could actually feel the heat on my back as we ran down the street," Steve recalled. The couple said because of the smoke they did not have time to go into the downstairs area of the house and rescue their two cats. In addition to the cats, they lost two cars, including a prized 1976 Cadillac convertible, a modest collection of antiques and a star-sapphire ring that had belonged to Karpf's grandfather.

But Karpf, who manages Nick's Fish Market restaurants, is most upset about sentimental items claimed by the flames, such as photographs of their 1978 wedding. All that was left of the towering three-bedroom house were two cinderblock walls, a fireplace and a murky, kidney-shaped swimming pool. "As each day goes by,"Karpf said, "we realize how lucky we were to get out...I guess we'll just have to start over."


She never had chance to get back inside her home
Leigh Christian and her baby, Toby, had just left home to shop at a Sunset Boulevard market when flames engulfed her one-story home. According to neighbor Don Connoley, the fire destroyed the home so quickly that the actress never had a chance to get back inside, Christian's husband, Norbert Aleaman, a film producer, was in France on business. Only a brick fireplace and the blue-and-white oval swimming pool remained of the redwood-and-glass ridgeline home.

Connoley said the couple's white Cadillac convertible burned along with the garage. The couple had another car, a Mercedes, which was not in the garage. The couple had another car, a Mercedes, which was not in the garage the day the fire broke out. A relative of the former owner of the house, Jacques A. Delepine, said it recently had been sold to a French investor, whom he declined to identify. He confirmed, however, that the new owner planned to rebuild.

Connoley speculated that Christian was lucky not to have been in the house during the fire. "It was the most incredibly scary thing," said Connoley. "But I guess Leigh was lucky not to be here."

Spiral staircase twisted
like a giant dead insect

Jim Walker walked through the remains of the house he and his partner, Robert Huskinson, had been in the process of building for the past year. "There was a whole frame going 30 feet in the air," Walker said, "and now there's not more than an inch or two of ashes. The frames of the house and a guest house were gone with hardly a trace as were four 6-foot by 24-foot cantilevered wooden decks behind each house.

What remained were cinders, thousands of nails and a steel spiral staircase that had run up the center of the main house and now lay twisted out of shape on the ground, like a kind of giant multilegged dead insect. Looking at the scorched foundation, Walker laughed bitterly when he came across the words, "El Porto Construction 1978," inscribed in concrete. "When we poured the concrete, we put our name on it and we said, 'No one will ever see that again unless the house burns down.' " Walker said Huskinson had told him he wanted work on the house begun again at once.

They lost 'tons of clothes'
and a new 924 Porsche

Film director Jack Frost Sanders was at a meeting at a midtown office building when he got a call from his answering service saying there was a fire near his home. The silver-haired young man ran to the roof of the office building and looked out at the hillside where his modernistic glass-and-wood home, designed by architect Raymond Neutra, literally was sandwiched by fire.

"I saw the homes on both sides go up," Sanders told a reporter later when he returned to the site. After he realized the hill was on fire, Sanders said he rushed to the bottom of the canyon, where he met his wife Nancy. The couple were prevented from going further by police and had to watch helplessly while their house burned to the ground.

"I'm convinced we could have saved it if they would have let us," Mrs. Sanders, a willowy blonde explained, when the couple returned to the site to search for mementos. She said they lost their collection of art deco furniture, including a baby grand piano, her fur coat, "tons of clothes," diamond jewelry and a new 924 Porsche.

They had planned to remodel the 1950s-vintage home, but now will have to rebuild. "It was all white-wood and glass...I guess we'll be able to start from scratch now," said a rueful Mrs. Sanders as she looked at their melted Porsche.

Pages of burned scripts were scattered around her feet. "One of the first things we did was make sure there were copies of the scripts we had in the house," said Mrs. Sanders. Only the swimming pool and patio furniture and said:"It's almost as if they're waiting for us to return."

Ceramic pots, charred plants stood askew near the lawn
Dick Pearce, also a film director, didn't want to discuss the details of the fire which completely gutted his newly purchased, one-story home. The athletic-looking man stood with his wife in the rubble of the home they had moved into only six months ago, talking quietly to an insurance adjuster about rebuilding. As a reporter approached, he said politely: "There are things I really don't want you to hear."

Ceramic pots with charred plants stood askew on the edge of the home's ashen lawn. The blackened shell of an AMC Hornet was the only reminder of the place where a garage once stood. And all that remained of the living room was a massive, rustic wall built around a stone fireplace.

When the reporter returned, Pearce seemed too shaken to discuss the fire. He confirmed that he was out of town at the time of the blaze and asked if other residents had indicated a desire to rebuild. When told that they had, he said that was heartening. "I love it here," said the tall vacant-eyed director. "It had lots of plants, outside and inside the house."


Free-lance photographer
lost 15 years of his work

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Fifteen years of work was lost in this
duplex at 8350 Grandview Drive

Free-lance photographer Phil Groves, 30, lost 15 years worth of work when the duplex he rented went up in flames. Groves was down the hill when the fire started. He tried to drive in, but police wouldn't let him through the barricades. He parked his car and began running up the steep hill, scooping up water that was draining off the hill to keep his throat wet in the acrid air.

When Groves reached the house, he and his companion, Geri Price, who had been drinking beer at a neighbor's house when the fire broke out, tried to save his portfolios, negatives and slide collection. But the fire quickly devoured the cabinlike house built in the late 1800s.

John Schweitzer, a carpenter who rented the other half of the duplex house, according to Groves, lost his power tools, a few gold coins, some handcrafted furniture and a modest collections of diamonds.

Groves, who said his work has appeared in European men's magazines, said he didn't know where he would go now. "I was only living there for three months," he said in a soft British accent. All that remained of the two-story house was a large bathtub, tipped on its side and two fireplaces.

"I lost 15 years," said Groves, sipping a beer at the undamaged house of a neighbor across the street, where he was staying temporarily, "I guess I don't have to worry about material tings anymore." He then leaned out his neighbor's window and yelled to no one in particular: "I'm free."


Musician lost rock diaries
spanning 25-year period

Rock-blues singer John Mayall's three-story home was nicknamed "The Brain Damage Club," because of the great parties thrown there. A private movie-viewing room and swimming pool built into the side of the hill made the house ideal for barbecues and parties.

Mayall and a few friends were watching a movie in the house when the blaze started. They were able to escape, but the house with a film library of 2,000 hours of video-taped movies, many valuable 16th century antiques, a pornography collection dating back to the 1800s and rock'n'roll diaries spanning 25 years, was destroyed.

All that remained was a charred foundation and a hand-painted swimming pool, littered with soot and ash. Two cars, including a restored 1958 Volvo belonging to Mayall's son Jason, melted completely in the fire.

"We used to have some great barbecues here," said a blond in clog shoes and shorts, as she looked down on the remains of the Mayall home. "People used to jump out of the third story into the swimmingpool," she added, looking at a bedroom fireplace, the only remnant of the third floor. Neighbors said he had not yet decided whether to rebuild on the property.

Former actor will rebuild;
says he'll take the chance

It was just a lazy, carefree Sunday for Skip Ludwig as he sipped and dipped at Rock Hudson's Beverly Hills pool party. Yet a dozen miles away, Ludwig's $200,000 single-story home was ablaze--a fact he didn't learn until late that night when a kindly policeman drove him past the fire blockade and up to the charred remains. "I was hoping my home was saved, but I wasn't fooling myself," the former child actor said.

The fire ruined not only his spacious two-bedroom house but also valuable collections of Victorian antiques and early-1900s carnival glass, tin-type photographs of his ancestors and countless career mementos. A friend's AMC Pacer that Ludwid was "babysitting" also was burned. Ludwig, who bought the white-and-blue house just last year, said he plans to rebuild, but he recognized the possibility fore could claim any reincarnation of his dreamhouse. "That's a chance you take living in the hills. I'll take it," he said.

Loss of family heirlooms
makes owner 'just sick'

Bill Whaling was late sending in his fire-insurance payment. The hairdresser finally mailed it Saturday morning, after being told it would take four days to be processed. Sunday, fire claimed the home he has lived in for 16 years.

Whaling was in Seattle on business when disaster struck, but his roommate, Gary Harworth, said the house was destroyed within minutes. "I was sitting in the house when I realized the fire was coming up the hill," said Harworth. "I got the dog (a German shepherd, Topaz), and the pet rabbit, put them in the car and drove down the street. But when I came back up to get the valuables pot of the house, the flames had spread."

Whaling sifted through the ashes, looking for valuables. But even before he returned from Seattle, a friend, Milly Paul, came to the premises with Harworth and recovered a box of gems Whaling kept hidden under a bed. Paul, who said she had once lived in the house, told a reporter the box contained gold, silver, some watches and turquoise Indian jewelry.

On his return, friends presented Whaling with the gems and the Cadillac Harworth moved before the fire got too close. But he insisted their recovery barely made up for his losses. "I don't know," said Whaling. "I lost everything. Family heirlooms, antiques, and an entire collection of valuable paintings." Harworth said he lost an uninsured Chevrolet Camaro in the blaze. Whaling said he would have to wait to see if the insurance company would honor his late payment and make good part of the loss before deciding whether to rebuild. "I'm just sick," he said. "If I don't have fire insurance, I don't know what I'll do."


Country-rock group sleeping after show at Disneyland
At the time of the fire, Michael Riley and several other members of the country-rock group Pure Prairie League were living in the two-story,four-bedroom wood-and-glass house. They were featured at Disneyland the night before and friends said the group was still sleeping when the fire hit.

Chi Nishida, a co-owner of the house, returned to the premises later to take pictures of the damage. The owner declined to give any information about the group, which lost all their clothes, records and stereo equipment and some instruments in the fire. But she confirmed she does plan to rebuild. No member of the group was seen near the site in the days that followed the fire.

"What else can I do?" said Nishida with a shrug, picking through pieces of broken glass and fire-eaten wood that were all that remained of the structure. "I hope there won't be a next time when it comes to fire in this area."

Cadillac flattened into
2-foot-high metal pancake

For 11 years, Chuck and Ann Schneider spent their weekends building the two-story home that dominates the ridgeline where Grandview Drive runs into Cole Crest.  After the blaze, only a 10-foot-high pole of twisted metal, cement hunks and other unrecognizable materials remained.  A Cadillac that was in the garage when the fire struck had been flattened into a 2-foot-high pancake of melted metal by a fallen garage ceiling.

  Oddly, the red-brick walls of the curved, crescent-shaped pool enclosure withstood the flames, but the glass panes which shaded light from the pool deck were shattered by the intense heat and were scattered in heaps in and around the pool.

  The couple was seen in the vicinity of the fire late Sunday, but were not available for interviews later.  Neighbors, who couldn't recall the Schneiders' professions, said they kept pretty much to themselves. One recalled, however, they seemed "extremely sad" about the loss.  "I heard that Chuck had attended a demonstration of those superscooper planes at LAX," said one neighbor. "It's ironic and sad that those planes couldn't help him save his house.

Outdoor Jacuzzi fried, leaving cracked-cement hole
On the hill, just to the west of the Schneider home, separated by a tall, chain-link fence, stood two other homes only a few feet apart.  One, overlooking the Sunset Strip at 8416, belonged to Armand Riza and Dan Bramson. The other belonged to night club impresario Elmer Valentine.  Both were burned so badly it was hard to tell where one house began and the other ended. (Valentine also owned a house at 8400 which only was partially damaged).

  Flames nearly melted the electric gate that  protected the two homes from intruders.  Neither Riza nor Bramson were available for interviews.  However, it was clear from the charred debris that they were able to rescue few of their possessions.

  The white tile of the main bathroom was a heap on the ground.   What appeared to have been some kind of outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the city had been fried into little more than a cracked cement hole.  After the garage floor fell about 10 feet down the hill, the heat from the ashes stretched a Mercedes sport coupe into a grotesquely elongated figure, with half of its hulk still on high ground and the other part 10 feet lower.  Only the three-pronged Mercedes emblem on the auto's hubcaps identified the car as a premier German make.

  Standing intact in the midst of the ruins on a still-standing brick fireplace mantel was a small statue of an Inca god, its hands clasped together in prayer.  Friends think Riza now is living in another house he owns, this one in Malibu.  His roommate, Dan Bramson, who runs the Universal Amphitheater, has been in New York on business, according to friends.

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A charred Porsche sits buried beneath the remains of a house
owned by Elmer Valentine on 8424 Grandview Drive, but the
nightclub owner is more upset about his two missing dogs.

Whisky-a-Go-Go owner searching for bull terriers
Elmer Valentine, owner of three Sunset Boulevard nightclubs--the Whisky-a-Go-Go, the Roxy and Rainbow Room -- was visiting friends when the fire erupted Sunday. His first thoughts were for his three bull terriers. He rushed home in his chartreuse Mercedes, but couldn't get through police roadblocks.

A day later he toured the neighborhood with two weepy teen-age girls but gruffly shooed away reporters. Finally, reached by at phone at his Whisky-a-Go-Go office, Valentin explained that he had found only one dog and was heartsick.

"There is no way I can replace my house. Only ashes of it are left," the bachelor said. "I am making some plans to rebuild. But right now I'm worried about my dogs and trying to do everything I can to find them."

Two of the missing bull terriers, Bo, and Annie, may have escaped through a dog door when the fire started. A third terrier, Maggie May, wandered over to the wasted Ernst Mayer residence, where Mayer's friends caught and returned her. Valentine said the missing dogs both were wearing yellow identification tags around their necks at the time of the fire. He declined to discuss what was destroyed in the fire.

A friend described his one-story stucco house as "lavish." Certainly it was clear from the wreckage that the house had been spacious: there was a rectangular outdoor swimming pool, a stone fireplace and a wooden deck that skirted the hill. In the garage area was the burned frame of a Porsche 924. On the front stoop, four wine bottles -- their labels and corks charred but intact -- stood next to a ceramic turtle sitting on a rock.

"He's really upset about the dogs," explained a receptionist at Whisky-a-Go-GO. "We hoped the dogs would come to the club since they are familiar with the place but so far they haven't showed up. Everything is just so upsetting."

Two little girls fearful, still frightened after ordeal
G. Greely Wells Jr. animator and free-lance artist, was doing some yard work when he spotted the fire several hundred feet down the hill. Misjudging the speed of the wind, he took time out to run back inside and call the Fire Department. Meanwhile, the fire sped to the edge of his property and he heard a friend shout for him to gather up his two daughters, Beth, 8, and Meg, 6, who were inside watching television, and get out.

The Wells family piled into neighbor Dan Weiss' car and drove into the inky smoke that now clouded their way out of the canyon.

"A neighbor (Weiss) drove through the blaze and got them safely out of the area," Wells' ex-wife, Cathleen, explained. "The girls told me the fire was all around the car as they drove through the hills. The kids said that if (Weiss) didn't know his way out of the area, they could have been badly injured. The fire was spreading that fast." Later, she said, the girls complained of having fears about the fire, which she tried to quiet by telling them they could use it for "show and tell" at school.

The Wells' redwood home burned to the ground. Not only did he lose his house, but he also lost all of his paintings. "As it was, one of the kids left the house barefoot and all Greeley had on was red underwear and some flip-flops." Mrs. Wells said. "There was no time to grab anything, they just got out as fast as they could."

The family cat, Biscuit, was also lost in the blaze, but may have escaped through a door opening. All attempts to locate the blotchy orange, black and white cat so far have failed. Mrs. Wells said her ex-husband was staying with a friend and planned to rebuild.

Resident says TV crews blocked firefighters' trucks
Dan Weiss, 53, who describes himself as a home-furnishings executive, was watering shrubs and plants that border his hillside home when he smelled smoke. Weiss shares the house with fabric salesman Ron McGraw, 40, who was down the street at the time, and high school teacher Darrell Parker, 34. Weiss recalls McGraw shouting to tell him there was a fire in the area. He said he yelled back to McGraw to alert his neighbor, artist Greeley Wells, and his two daughters at 8466 and then started to organize his own escape.

Leaving the area wasn't easy for the grizzled Weiss, who had spent most of a lifetime in the neighborhood. "I've been on this hill 26 years," he said, staring gravely at the wreckage.

The three men were left with nightmares. "I can't sleep at night thinking how lucky we are to be alive," Weiss added. "It all happened so fast. By the time we got to the car, there were cinders as big as your first flying through the air. I remember trying to get the car started with one hand and get the electric windows closed with the other while cinders blew in on us." He drove the car into what he called a "solid wall of black smoke" feeling his way down the narrow road.

The fire was so intense it melted McGraw's Chevy Caprice and a Datsun 240Z, owned by a woman visiting the men from Airzona. The three men didn't have time to take any of their possessions. They left in bathing suits, Weiss receiving burns down the side of one leg. An ABC television crew took pity on them and donated pants and a T-shirt. Weiss was luckier than the other two: some friend gave him a pair of Gucci loafers.

Standing in the rubble of what was left of their house -- the outline of a stone fireplace and twisted water pipes which in a mocking afterstatement, a day after the fire, were still spouting water -- Weiss and his partners were unable to say for sure whether they would rebuild. "I have nothing left," said Weiss. "I have nothing left," said Weiss. "I'll be lucky to find my grandfather's diamond ring in this mess." His only criticism: that Fire Department trucks were blocked by television cameramen who converged on the tiny street. "Twenty minutes after the fire started, they still couldn't get a truck in here," he said.

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