Skirball Fire caused by illegal camping fire, officials say

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Authorities are nearing full containment Wednesday of the week-old Skirball Fire, which was determined to have been caused by "an illegal cooking fire'' at a homeless encampment in a brush area next to where Sepulveda Boulevard crosses under the San Diego (405) Freeway.

The fire, which was 85 percent contained as of Tuesday, scorched 422 acres since it broke out shortly before 5 a.m. on Dec. 6, the Los Angeles Fire Department reported. No one was at the scene of the fire's origin when firefighters arrived, and no one has been arrested.

The flames destroyed six homes and damaged 12 others, and at one time prompted the evacuation of about 700 homes and an apartment building in the Bel-Air area.

"It's distressing and it makes a tragic event even more tragic. We've been trying to keep homeless encampments out of the hillsides, particularly during this period, because we knew we had the worst conditions that were the most supportive of wildfires that we have had in decades, with very low humidity and very high winds,'' L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz told City News Service Tuesday.

"We were not aware that there was this encampment there. If we were, we would have been encouraging them to move,'' he said. ``But what makes this even more tragic is the tragedy of homelessness, and the fact that we've got tens of thousands of people living on the streets and it means things like this will happen until we get more of a handle on the problem.''

One firefighter suffered neck burns and was treated at a hospital. Two other firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Nearly 70 firefighters were still working Tuesday to douse hot spots.

The initial acreage was adjusted downward from 475 acres due to more accurate mapping, LAFD officials said. The fire was kept on the east side of the 405 Freeway.

Some evacuees were allowed to return home Friday, and all remaining evacuation orders were lifted Sunday. All road closures have been lifted, with no restrictions in place.

Evacuation orders covered a 3.2-square-mile area bounded by Mulholland Drive to the north, Sunset Boulevard to the south, the San Diego Freeway to the west and Roscomare Road on the east. The exception to the evacuation order was the Bel-Air Crest housing development, which was not threatened, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The Getty Center and the nearby Skirball Center, both on the west side of the freeway, closed in the immediate aftermath of the fire but re-opened Friday, and classes at UCLA, Cal State Northridge, Los Angeles Valley College and Santa Monica College also resumed.

All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley and some on the west side of Los Angeles -- a total of 265 district schools and charter schools -- were closed Thursday and Friday. The schools reopened Monday.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District closed all of its schools Wednesday and Thursday. Schools in Santa Monica reopened Friday, but Malibu schools remained closed until Monday.

The fire burned in the same general area as the devastating Bel-Air Fire of 1961. That blaze destroyed about 500 homes and led to various policy changes, including a prohibition on wood-shingle roofs and a strict requirement to clear brush around properties.

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