Getty Center, college evacuate due to LA fire

Thursday, July 9th 2009, 12:23 pm
By: News 9

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- 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.
   The fire was 90 percent contained late Wednesday after erupting early in the afternoon and quickly growing to 80 acres (32 hectares) above parking facilities for the Getty.
   The fire eventually moved eastward, away from the museum, officials said.
   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 (1.2 kilometers) from the Getty and moved away to the east as winds blew out of the west. Cool humid conditions after dark helped firefighters.
   "We feel very confident we'll have this fire under control very shortly," Barry said.
   Fire Department spokesman Lauren deRosier said equipment used by a brush clearance crew sparked the fire.
   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 (1.6 kilometers) 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.
   The Getty Center opened in 1997 on ridges above Interstate 405, which runs through the Sepulveda Pass. It is known for its gardens, conservation and research work, and its museum, which holds a number of famous works, including Van Gogh's "Irises."