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Palisades fire grows to 1,325 acres; 1,000 residents evacuated in Topanga Canyon
Firefighters work the fire line in canyons between Pacific Palisades and Topanga Canyon.(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)
By ALEX WIGGLESWORTHLAURA NEWBERRY
MAY 16, 2021 UPDATED 8:07 PM PT
Los Angeles fire officials said Sunday evening that they were questioning a possible arson suspect in connection with the Palisades fire, which continues to threaten homes in Topanga Canyon despite cooler, moist weather that could help firefighters get the upper hand.
Another suspect who was detained earlier for questioning has been released, they added.
Though investigators are considering arson, the cause of the blaze is still under investigation.
The fire, which began Friday night and had grown to 1,325 acres with 0% containment by Sunday afternoon, forced evacuations for about 1,000 people who live near Topanga Canyon Road, authorities said.
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An additional evacuation warning was issued for a portion of the Pacific Palisades Highlands neighborhood around 2 p.m., with residents north of Chastain Parkway and Calle Del Cielo told to prepare to leave.
The fire was burning through dense, old-growth chaparral that hadn’t burned in more than 50 years, authorities said. The vegetation was very dry due to a lack of recent rainfall, as well as longer-term drought.
Skies were cloudy, and there was some drizzle Sunday morning. Firefighters were racing to make progress on the blaze before the marine layer lifted in the afternoon and winds picked up.
Still, the winds weren’t expected to reach above 10 mph, maybe 18 to 20 mph in higher-elevation areas, said Kathy Hoxsie, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
“In the mountains, you will get some funneling, but it’s no screamer,” she said. “It should be more manageable than most fires.”
May 17, 2021
Fire officials said there was some concern the onshore wind could push the fire northwest, toward homes, but said resources were in place to defend the structures.
A helicopter battles a brush fire in the Pacific Palisades area. Nearby residents were ordered to evacuate.(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)
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“Dozers are working to improve access for firefighters on the ground, but much of the area remains inaccessible. This is primarily an air-based operation, with both fixed wing and rotary working together,” Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said.
The residents ordered to evacuate Saturday night were those living east of Topanga Canyon Boulevard between the Topanga Community Center and Viewridge Road, as well as those north of Entrada Road, south of Oakwood Drive and east of Henry Ridge Mountain Way.
Topanga Canyon Boulevard was closed at Pacific Coast Highway and Mulholland Drive, the L.A. County Fire Department said.
The Palisades wildfire burns out of control in rugged terrain near homes above Topanga Canyon Boulevard on Saturday.(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
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A large-animal evacuation center was set up at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. A small-animal shelter was set up at Agoura Animal Care Center.
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Some residents who awoke to orange skies and falling ash found it surreal that the scenes, which have become fairly commonplace in August and September, were playing out in the spring.
“If you look out any window or if you step outside, all you see is just billowing smoke everywhere,” said Jessica Rogers, president of the Pacific Palisades Residents Assn. As she spoke with a reporter, she received a notice that the upper portion of Pacific Palisades Highlands was being evacuated due to shifting winds.
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“My daughter said, ‘Mommy I’m very scared,’” Rogers said, adding that the noise of the helicopters was unnerving. A couple of hours later, her children and their father evacuated, opting to stay with family in Santa Monica, she said.
The blaze marked the dawn of a fire season that has been starting earlier each year, thanks to warmer temperatures and longer, drier periods of drought with briefer, more intense bouts of precipitation between them.
Times staff writer Soumya Karlamangla contributed to this report.
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Alex Wigglesworth
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Alex Wigglesworth is an environment reporter who covers wildfires for the Los Angeles Times. Before joining the newsroom in 2016, she was a general assignment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. A Philadelphia native, she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Inglewood.
Laura Newberry
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Laura Newberry is a Metro reporter at the Los Angeles Times.
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