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Brush fire in the Sepulveda Pass forces evacuations

Visitors to the Getty Center and Mount St. Mary's College are ushered from the facilities. The apparent accidental blaze shuts down part of Sepulveda Boulevard and two 405 offramps.

July 09, 2009|Ruben Vives

Hundreds of visitors at the Getty Center and dozens more at Mount St. Mary's College were forced to evacuate Wednesday afternoon when a brush fire swept through the hillsides and canyon walls in the Sepulveda Pass, fire officials said.

The blaze, which fire authorities said had been 90% contained by Wednesday evening, prompted street closures and left one firefighter with a minor foot injury.

The fire appeared to have been accidentally sparked during a midday weed-abatement program, fire authorities said.

No structures were threatened by the blaze, but Los Angeles Police Department officials issued voluntary evacuations for the surrounding homes, said Lauren DeRosier, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman. The fire came within roughly a mile of the museum and college campus.

At one point, at least 350 city and county firefighters were attacking the blaze on the ground while seven helicopters helped fight from the air, DeRosier said. The fire broke out about 12:44 p.m. in the 1200 block of Getty Center Drive.

Sepulveda Boulevard between Mulholland Drive and Sunset Boulevard was closed to traffic, as were the Skirball Center Drive and Getty Center Drive offramps on the northbound 405 Freeway. Officials were unsure when the road and offramps would reopen.

The fire prompted museum officials to evacuate 1,600 visitors and 800 employees, said Getty Center spokesman Ron Hartwig.

Chuck Bunnell, 59, of Chatsworth was inside the museum when employees began alerting visitors to the fire.

"They made us stand outside in the front entrance of the building for an hour," Bunnell said, adding that they were then allowed to return to their vehicles and leave.

About 75 attendees of an eight-day national Industrial Areas Foundation conference were evacuated from Mount St. Mary's College.

The attendees, from as far as New York, Baltimore and Seattle, camped out at the St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church until being taken by shuttle to a downtown location.

"They all seem to be in good spirits," said Ernesto Cortes Jr., a director for the group.

Firefighters expected to gain ground on the fire overnight once cooler temperatures settled in. Officials said that forecast high humidity and possible fog would help keep the blaze in check throughout the night.

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

Times staff writer Nicole Santa Cruz contributed to this report

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