Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Griffith Park Fire

Karen called at 8:10PM, just as we were leaving on a Baskin-Robbins run. “Quick, put on channel 9!” she said. A small fire that had been burning in the Hollywood Hills all day suddenly flared up and was threatening the world-famous Griffith Park Observatory. Tim and I gasped at the TV screen. The flames looked dangerously close.

Growing up in Los Angeles—and, more specifically, in The Valley—we, of course, witnessed our share of big fires: Bel Air (1961), Malibu (1970), Chatsworth (1983). Seems like the hills above Burbank, where my family lived, burned every summer. In fact, fire was my biggest childhood fear—more fearsome even than lava or death by quicksand! I’ve heard people jokingly say that there are only two seasons in LA—rain and fire—but when flames threaten our cultural icons, like the Observatory and the Greek Theater, it’s no laughing matter.

Assured that the Observatory was indeed not in danger, we resumed our quest for ice cream and headed north on Sepulveda Blvd. We could smell the smoke. “I think I can see the fire!” I told Tim, as I looked east. “Let’s go to the little league fields to see if we can see it from there.”

The little league baseball park sits atop a hill at the southeast end of Culver City. On a clear day, you can see the entire LA basin—quite a spectacular view. The park closes at 9PM, so we raced up the hill. It was 8:55PM.

The pitch-black parking lot was filled with cars—apparently, we weren’t the only ones drawn to disaster. We walked over to a small group of people silhouetted against the city lights.

“There it is!” Tim whispered, pointing to the east.

Even though we were some ten miles away, we could clearly see the orange glow and billowing smoke. No one spoke. Then we all hopped into our cars and drove home to watch the fire on TV. As we neared the house, I could still see the glow looming in the distance. “I think we can see it from the end of our block!” I yelled.

Sure enough, as soon as Tim parked the car, I ran down the street and there it was, looking even more ominous as the flames suddenly took a turn westward. I wondered if the Hollywood sign, which we can also see from the end of our block, was safe. I could hear sirens in the distance.

The cat and I watched the coverage on TV while Tim went to bed. The mayor, fire chief and councilmember Tom LaBonge jockeyed for command of the microphone. The grief-stricken LaBonge described the loss of wildlife and magnificent hiking trails. No longer able to stand it, I turned the TV off at 11:30PM.

I woke up to Tom LaBonge crying on the 6AM news. No structures were destroyed overnight, but all roads surrounding Griffith Park were now closed. I got dressed and walked to end of our block.

The Hollywood sign was obscured by smoke, but all else looked normal. I guess LA escaped another major fire. But just in case, I’ll be monitoring the news all day to make sure my beloved city is safe...


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