IT IS OFTEN SAID, usually by people who don't live here, that Los Angeles is a city without a center, a collection of suburbs in search of a downtown. In political or cultural terms, that may be true. But the city's emotional heart is somewhere near its geographic center -- the great park bestowed by Col. Griffith J. Griffith in 1896 and severely burned in a fire this week, serving as a near-catastrophic reminder that Southern California is embarking on an extraordinarily dangerous summer.
The sight of flames tearing across the slopes of Griffith Park, the tales of heroic stands to save the zoo and the merry-go-round, the smoke rising behind the regal dome of the refurbished observatory -- all bring home the fact that fire season has begun five months early, its threat immediate, not remote. It jeopardizes not just faraway foothills but the heart of the city itself.
Historically light rainfall and an early onset of hot weather have left all of Southern California exposed. Firefighters can barely recall a drier, more treacherous brush season. Indeed, even as Los Angeles' attention was focused on Griffith Park, other blazes in San Bernardino, Yorba Linda and Lake Elsinore made clear that the risk is close to omnipresent whenever the Santa Anas blow. That suggests a fearful stretch ahead, demanding stepped-up prevention. Perhaps the fires will finally spur action by public agencies to clear brush from land for which they are responsible.