Why the Getty Fire Wasn’t an Act of God


The Getty Fire broke out on October 28th at 1:30 AM on the 1800 Block of North Sepulveda, west of the 405 freeway.  Residents in the area began waking to the smell of smoke and fleeing their homes.

Shortly after sunrise the 405 Freeway was closed from the 101 to Sunset Blvd.  There were closures on Sepulveda Blvd and I believe on Sunset Blvd creating crippling traffic nightmares for west Los Angeles.

Evacuation orders were in place from Temescal Canyon Road on the west, Sunset Blvd on the South, Mulholland Drive on the North and the 405 Freeway on the East, with a much larger evacuation preparedness zone.

The evacuation orders were lifted November 2nd, and the fire fully contained by November 11th.  But not before the fire had consumed 745 acres, injured 5 firemen, destroyed 10 homes and damaged 15 others.

Getty Fire
Remains of a house on Tigertail Rd destroyed by the Getty fire days earlier

As I drove up Tigertail Road to the top where most of the destruction from the Getty Fire occurred, I was struck by the number of moving vans in front of homes.  Homes that didn’t appear to have been damaged.  I wondered whey they were leaving.  Was there smoke damage, or damage that couldn’t be seen from the road.  Or had they had enough of living in a neighborhood that has been struck by large wildfires twice in just two years.

My mind was full of questions. I noticed how the fire would consume one house and leave the neighboring houses intact.  I wondered how the lone mansion at the bottom of the ravine that had burned on all sides of it remained unscathed.  I found it odd that a tree branch hitting a power line could cause enough arcing to start a fire, yet leave the power lines intact.  Tree branches don’t conduct electricity!  The branch didn’t cause the arcing.  Somehow the high voltage electricity had to come in contact with metal for that to occur.

Most of all I couldn’t help but feel the fire didn’t need to happen.  There’s nothing we can do to totally eliminate wildfires, but we shouldn’t be seeing fires of the frequency and intensity we are currently experiencing.

I couldn’t help but notice that the house at the bottom of the ravine that survived was surrounded by very green trees.  The hills climbing up the ravine from the surviving house had been covered with a dense overgrowth of dry chaparral.  Chaparral is known for providing highly combustable fuel for wildfires.  The chaparral burned and helped the fire to grow uncontrollably.  The area of green vegetation did not burn.  Why in an area so prone to wildfires was nothing done to clear the dead chaparral?  Particularly after so much of the same area was destroyed by the Skirball fire in December 2017.  Wouldn’t it make sense to take action to prevent it from happening again?

Homes that were consumed by the fire were built mainly of wood.  Portions of them that were made of stone were still standing.  Neighboring homes that were still standing tended to be of stone, stucco or concrete construction for the most part.  Isn’t it irresponsible for the developers to build home of highly combustible material such as wood in a wildfire zone?  Think about that.  They had to know the risk.  Wildfires are nothing new to Southern California.

Houses on Tigertail road have been tagged by fire department. This one has been red tagged “unsafe” and “total loss”.

Back to PG & E and the power lines that started the fire. Our Mayor is calling it an act of god.  I’m not so sure I agree. There have been reports for years that PG & E’s power lines were old and in need of maintenance.  Yet in a state where we pay almost twice as much for our electricity as the rest of the nation, the main power company – PG & E – somehow couldn’t manage to find the funds to repair/replace them!

The power transmission tower that started the Camp Fire that completely destroyed the town of Paradise California was due to a damaged O-ring or C-clamp that had not been repaired on a tower that was built in 1919!  It was 100 years old!  Were there similar defects in the power transmission tower involved in the ignition of the Getty Fire?  Has anyone investigated this?

It was reported that PG & E settled for around $18 billion and about one billion of that was paid to the state.  Has the state used any of that money to help ensure power lines were repaired?  Has the state used any of that money for the forest management necessary to prevent more wildfires?  That would be far more economical than paying to put them out after they are burning and to repair the damage.  Not to mention the needless loss of human and animal life, and the emotional toll on the victims.

A final point here is about the increase in the number of wildfires in California now being blamed on “climate change.”  The New York Post did a very interesting expose on this. They trace the increase in wildfires to changes on forest management policies enacted during the Obama administration.  Saying it was needed to counteract global warming, the administration reversed forest management policies that cleared away dead foliage and overgrowth.  This overgrowth is now causing there to be more wildfires of increasing intensity… and climate change is being cited as the cause.  Does anyone else see the illogic here?

Thanks to the heroic efforts of our firefighters, the toll of the Getty Fire is nothing like the Camp Fire.  But my journey up Tigertail Road was eye opening and caused me to ask questions about that which didn’t add up.  What I saw was a beautiful community with beautiful homes that were destroyed simply because too many people didn’t care enough or take enough responsibility to look at what might happen if the forests were neglected, the power lines were not maintained and the homes were not built to withstand the natural disaster most likely to destroy them.

That is, the Getty Fire was not an act of God.  It happened because too many people didn’t look beyond themselves and their immediate gain and California, once again, suffered billions of dollars in damages and unforgivable suffering caused to the victims.

More photos after the break….

getty fire
This car was once covered by a carport, the remains of which are now on top of it.
The ravine behind what was once a home had been covered with dry and dead chaparral which provided the fuel for the fire to spread so rapidly.
fire damage
Houses along Tigertail Road that were destroyed by the Getty Fire a few days earlier
Remains of a house on Tigertail Rd gutted by the Getty fire days earlier

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