Los Angeles is in the grip of a dramatic set of fires that have already displaced thousands of people and put the city into a state of emergency. But while the Rye, Thomas and Creek fires are by far the most uncontained and the most dangerous, the one drawing the most attention is the Skirball Fire, because it may blow right through the city’s cultural district.
The Skirball fire, which has already shut down the 405 freeway and is destroying homes in the Bel Air neighborhood, is less than a mile from the J. Paul Getty Museum, home to an enormous collection of ancient and medieval artifacts and manuscripts, among other historically valuable items. It’s also less than a mile from UCLA’s main campus and is close to the Hammer Museum and the Annenberg Space for Photography. Thousands of pieces of irreplaceable history and art are one major gust of wind away from burning up, and the wind appears to be pushing the fire south along the freeway, towards Brentwood and Santa Monica.
The Skirball would normally be scary but containable. However, it’s simply not the top priority of the Los Angeles Fire Department. The LAFD has needed to evacuate nearly 1,300 homes in Santa Clarita, and the Creek fire has displaced 150,000 people so far as it inches toward Burbank.
If that weren’t enough, the Thomas fire is threatening Ventura. And between now and the weekend, the entire southern coast of California is facing elevated fire risk:
Simply put, the LAFD is equipped to manage emergencies, but it has no fewer than three major emergencies to contain all at once. Firefighters have to put human life ahead of homes, museums, and landmarks, and as painful as the loss of history might be, people have to come first.