Safety First: Nearby Fire Forces Getty Evacuation

Visitors to the Getty Center art complex, which houses works by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, were evacuated as a fire burned in thick brush on the steep slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Sepulveda Boulevard was closed in both directions Thursday morning between Sunset Boulevard and Bel Air Crest Road. The road reopened in time for the afternoon commute.

By Thursday afternoon, the 80-acre brush fire was 90 percent contained.

On Wednesday, the museum's ventilation systems were shut down to prevent smoke from damaging the priceless artwork, Getty Center spokesman Ron Hartwig said.

"The Getty Center was built with a great deal of safeguard," he said. "You can never be overly confident, but we're certainly prepared to handle fires in this area."

The Getty has a collection ranging from European paintings to illuminated manuscripts and photographs.

About 350 firefighters worked on rugged slopes, and seven helicopters pounded flames with water from nearby Stone Canyon Reservoir.

By the time the helicopters were grounded for darkness the blaze was mostly under control, and hand crews were looking for lingering hot spots.

Fire Chief Douglas Barry said the blaze began about three-quarters of a mile from the Getty and moved away to the east as winds blew out of the west. Cool humid conditions after dark helped firefighters.

The blaze was accidentally sparked by a brush clearance crew around 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.

About 800 employees and 1,600 visitors to the J. Paul Getty Museum and other parts of the hilltop complex were shuttled to the center's south building as a precaution, Hartwig said.

A tram took people down the hill to parking lots so they could drive out the south gate, and the center was closed for the rest of the day, he said.

Nearby to the north, Mount St. Mary's College was evacuated as a precaution even though the fire was a mile away and a canyon lay between it and the school, spokeswoman Sarah Scopio said.

College was not in session but 100 staff members evacuated along with about 200 other people attending a conference, Scopio said.

One firefighter suffered a minor foot injury Wednesday, and another firefighter came down with heat exhaustion Thursday.

"We had one firefighter with a heat-related illness that was transported to a local hospital," said Ron Myers of the Los Angeles Fire Department. "He had to be hoisted because of accessibility issues, but his injuries are non-life threatening."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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