The Skirball Scorches the City of Angels


Fires are raging across Southern California this week and have ripped through a Bel-Air canyon community in the hills above UCLA.

Due to the Skirball Fire on both Wednesday, Dec. 6, and Thursday, Dec. 7, Santa Monica College canceled and closed all classes and campuses. Freeway closures and safety concerns prompted, SMC released an official statement sent out by the SMC Admissions office on Wednesday and Thursday morning. In a recent statement, SMC's campuses resumed to normal business hours and classes on Friday, Dec. 8.

The Skirball Fire is still smoldering. It has scorched over 400 acres, destroyed six homes and damaged 12 others in the Bel-Air community. As of Tuesday, Dec. 12, the fire was 85% contained with 69 fire personnel still working on scene to achieve 100% containment.

More than 350 firefighters, 52 engines, and six fixed-wing aircraft were originally fighting to keep the fire in the heart of the canyon, away from homes.

Officials closed the 405 north freeway through Sepulveda Canyon, directly west of Hoag Canyon, just after 5 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. With the heart of our transit system closed off and streets throughout the city clogged, traffic was a nightmare.

In addition to Bel-Air's upscale community where backyard tennis courts are the norm, a $30-million vineyard estate owned by Rupert Murdoch, was one of the fire's victims.

When winds picked back up during the fire, Murdoch's vineyard — covering an area from the canyon floor to the eastern ridge — was a big target. Although wine vines in October’s fires in Northern California’s wine country mostly survived, winery buildings did not fare as well.

Three helicopters dropped water on the hot spot of the winery building, as smoke continued to spiral into the air. The building was eventually lost.

Murdoch released a statement Wednesday saying, “television footage showed there may be damage to some buildings in the upper vineyard area, but the house and the winery appeared to be intact.”

Fires after the 1961 Bel-Air fire have not affected this area as it has this past week. In 1961, movie stars from the area including Maureen O’Hara and Fred MacMurray fought to save their homes — a very parallel event from this past weeks Skirball Fire that fed apocalyptic visions of Los Angeles will linger for decades to come.

George Iracheta a firefighter from fire station 99 on Mulholland Drive talked with The Corsair about several reasons why the Skirball Fire was a high priority area to protect. He stated that “This is all big money here. My districts on the other side of the canyon and we have Denzel Washington, Mark Wahleburg, Charlie Sheen... They don’t move us because you’re looking at a house that's 20-40 million dollars easy.”

Fire officials released a statement on Tuesday, December 12, saying investigators have determined that the blaze was caused by an illegal cooking fire at an encampment in a brush area adjacent to where Sepulveda Boulevard crosses under the 405 Freeway.

Approximately 90% of wildfires nationwide are human-caused, according to the National Park Service.