L.A. Fires Force Evacuation of Park, Zoo

A fire in the hills above Los Angeles forces the evacuation of the city's largest park and zoo. But firefighters managed to hold off the flames and save a number of homes that were threatened near historic Griffith Park.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

And I'm Rebecca Roberts.

In Los Angeles, 600 firefighters are battling a fierce wildfire in the city's sprawling Griffith Park. The park is home to many of L.A.'s landmarks, like the city zoo, the observatory, and the Gene Autry Museum. Hundreds of nearby residents have been evacuated. With continued high temperatures and dry weather, L.A. has been on fire watch all week.

Here's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles): Fire season is here early, and very clearly we need to take precautions and be vigilant.

ROBERTS: NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us now from the command center in Griffith Park. Good morning, Carrie. So what's the situation? What can you see from there?

CARRIE KAHN: I'm in the park. We're at the Greek Theater, where there are hundreds of firefighters set up here. And you could see the fire, about 10 minutes ago, climb up the top of this ridge here. The other side of the hill is just barren. You do see flames. It's an amazing sight. As you come to the park you see the observatory on the hillside with its huge dome telescope, buildings, and the fires just look like their consuming the observatory. But I've been assured by firefighters that they have a defensible line around it and it's not in danger right now.

ROBERTS: And in addition to the observatory, what's in Griffith Park? Describe the park for us.

KAHN: There's a lot here. It's right in the middle of the city. It connects Hollywood with the San Fernando Valley. It's 4,000 acres of wonderful hiking trails, all sorts of horseback riding here. You have the L.A. Zoo in the middle of the park, a golf course. It's just - it's a hiker's heaven here and it's just a jewel in the middle of the city.

And Tom LaBonge, the city councilman whose district the park sits in, is a fixture always here. And he has been here all night and has been watching the fire. He said he watched the fire dance around. It was just amazing to watch it all dance around the entire park.

Mr. TOM LABONGE (Councilman, Los Angeles District 4): The dance of the fire reminds me how Mick Jagger dances onstage. It has gone all over. It's moved from all the way over to the pony rides, you see, the merry-go-round, Engine 38 from Wilmington has saved. And then it's come back. It threatened the observatory. It's been a challenge like no other, but they have done a great job in the air. KAHN: They have been attacking this fire in the air and on the ground. And they say that its more than 600 acres have burned so far in the park.

ROBERTS: At the command center do they have any sense of how it started?

KAHN: Well, okay. As we've been hearing all night, they don't know exactly what it was. But they do say they have a person of interest that they are talking to. We've heard conflicting stories about exactly who that person of interest was. Whether he was a homeless person camping, or a golfer who threw a cigarette out onto the golf course and then tried to put the flames out. The man did suffer burns and was taken to a local hospital. The fire chief will only tell us that he's a person of interest and they're not saying much more about it than that.

ROBERTS: L.A. already famous for its traffic, I imagine that this is not helping the morning commute.

KAHN: It isn't. The park butts up against two major freeways and off-ramps, and on-ramps are closed into those freeways. And so it is going to be a bad commute for people in and out of this area. And also the smoke is really bad. It's just filled the air and it is blowing. You know, firefighters are very concerned about any change in weather. They do think that they are getting the upper hand on the fire right now. They say it's about 40 percent contained. But they are really concerned about the weather. They're also concerned about firefighter exhaustion. This fire broke out 1:30 yesterday in the afternoon and firefighters are just coming off the line and they're bringing in reinforcements now.

ROBERTS: NPR's Carrie Kahn, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome.

ROBERTS: Hundreds of firefighters are working to put down a blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. We'll continue to follow this story throughout the day.

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