Friday, May 11, 2007

Fire in Griffith Park, Bambi in Los Angeles

From: May 9th, 2007

Once again, fire is burning the hillsides of Los Angeles.

Once again, smack dab in the middle of the city, in Griffith Park; near the much-hyped Hollywood fire from a month ago.

I saw it live before I heard it on the radio. I got on the 101 and saw the smoke towering over Burbank and got a whiff of deja vu big time. There was no doubt about it: that smoke, tall and billowy as it was, was being caused by brittle, tinder brush going up in flames, and fast, a lot of it.

Four measly inches of rain this year. That’s all we’ve gotten. Scary.

Those hillsides must be like matchsticks, so dry and flammable, just waiting to explode.

It’s time for a massive rain dance, Los Angeles.

Where a month ago they threatened the Hollywood sign, the flames this time raced towards the Griffith Observatory, iconic landmark that was the location for such classics as Rebel Without a Cause staring the inimitable James Dean and Paula Abdul’s video reinterpretation, “Rush Rush”, featuring the insult-to-actors-everywhere Keanu Reeves.

The park and observatory is named after, no joke, Griffith J. Griffith, a real estate mogul who owned it and most of Los Feliz, a man also convicted for shooting his wife. At first the city turned down the donation on ethical grounds.

In 1912 he offered to donate $100,000 to the city of Los Angeles to build an observatory, but the city refused the offer and responded, in part “On behalf of the rising generation of girls and boys, we protest against the acceptance of this bribe … This community is neither so poor nor so lost to sense of public decency that it can afford to accept this money.”

Then again, this is Los Angeles.

However several years after his death the city did accept the offer and the Griffith Observatory was built.

It’s not something they put on the trail maps.

The fire only got worse at night. Instead of dying down the fire jumped canyons and began to spread down the hillside towards Los Angeles.

They had to evacuate parts of Los Feliz.

Orange flames roiling from the rugged wilderness in the midst of the nation’s second-largest city eerily lit up the night sky as winds suddenly stoked the blaze at dusk, hours after it erupted in the hills above Hollywood.

Helicopters flew dangerous water-dropping missions after dark and no homes had been lost by late evening.

Police officers drove through the parkside Los Feliz district ordering people out. “You need to evacuate, you need to evacuate your houses immediately,” one said. “The fire is coming toward the neighborhood.”

Tom Lebonge, city councilman for the district, was on the television with tears in his eyes. He lay witness to a deer running across the hills with a look of panic and terror in its eyes, he said it reminded him of Bambi. The reporter then spoke of a coyote fleeing across a golf course.

I once saw a coyote running through West Los Angeles, far away from any mountains or canyons. Already a strange occurrence, I followed the coyote for a few blocks until it stopped to rest on none other than the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury’s lawn. He lived in the neighborhood I grew up in and I knew his house from trick-or-treating. (yes, it’s a lucky kid who gets to trick-or-treat at Ray Bradbury’s house) I pulled the car over and sat there watching the coyote watch me. I had the very real sensation that I was a character in a story and so was the coyote and this meeting meant something profound, something life-changing.

I stayed in my car for five, ten, twenty minutes trying to figure it out. The coyote laid down with its nose between its front paws and stayed like that, too, the two of us taking notes on the other.

Then I got bored first and drove off.


Life is.

As is Los Angeles.

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