By Melissa Etehad, Laura J. Nelson and Sonali Kohli / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Several homes in Los Angeles’ Bel-Air neighborhood were burning Wednesday morning as a wind-driven wildfire prompted a full closure of the 405 Freeway as well as mandatory evacuations in an area of multimillion-dollar homes.
The Skirball fire was estimated to cover about 50 acres by 8 a.m., but Los Angeles fire officials said it was being fueled by 25 mph winds and would likely grow.
Ash and smoke swirled in the sky as dozens of firefighters fought flames atop hills adjacent to the 405. Television news video showed multiple homes in flames.
“It’s been years since anything here has burned at all,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Cody Weireter. “You’ve got heavy, heavy brush, you’ve got the dryness — obviously, we haven’t had any rain at all. A lot of the fire is topography-driven, which already becomes dangerous. The wind is going to increase that twofold.”
Authorities have ordered the evacuation of all homes between Mulholland Drive on the north, Sunset Boulevard on the south, Roscomare Road on the east and the 405 Freeway on the west. Earlier in the morning they ordered evacuations along Casiano Road, Moraga Drive and Linda Flora Drive.
Officials also urged residents west of the fire — bounded by Mulholland, Sunset, the 405 and Mandeville Canyon Road — to be ready to leave, although that area is not under an evacuation order. As of 8 a.m., the fire remained east of the 405 Freeway.
An evacuation center has been established at the Barrington Recreation Center.
Winds, along with heavy smoke and ash, have impeded the firefighters’ progress in containing the fire, he said. Officials do not yet know how many homes have been damaged or destroyed.
“We’re still trying to get our arms around it,” Weireter said. “We’re still trying to get resources on scene, and still trying to get our hose line in place and get our box around this.”
Around 7:45 a.m., firefighters were using chainsaws to chop down brush near the fire. The dozen or so firefighters had hiked up a hill near the Getty Center exit, adjacent to the northbound 405 Freeway.
Shortly after 8 a.m, the orange flames had turned into gray smoke. The multimillion-dollar mansions they had threatened sat about 100 feet away from the extinguished flames, safe for now.
The fire also caused massive gridlock along one of the city’s most congested commuter corridors. Caltrans announced the full closure of the 405 Freeway between the 101 and 10 freeways. It has also closed all onramps to the 405.
Residents near Bel Terrace and North Sepulveda Boulevard raced outside Wednesday morning as flames encroached on their homes.
Beverly Freeman, 83, pulled out of her driveway ahead of the flames just before 7 a.m. She didn’t take any belongings with her.
As Freeman drove away from the two-story gray house that her husband built for her three decades ago, she was not sure if she would have a home to return to.
“I was going to die in this house,” she said as tears came to her eyes. “The flames have never come so close.”
Across the street, Ebrahim Kadkhuda ran inside his one-story home and grabbed some family pictures.
“It grew so fast,” he said, looking at the flames as he loaded up his black Toyota.
The fire, which was first reported to be in the Brentwood neighborhood, started shortly before 5 a.m. and was moving uphill, the Fire Department said.
The fire was burning on the east side of the 405 Freeway across from the Getty Center, where winds were blowing up to 25 mph.
Officials said more than 125 firefighters were on the scene and that water-dropping helicopters were being used.
The fire started near the 405 and was burning near homes at the top of a ridge.
All schools in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District are closed Wednesday, as are the following Los Angeles Unified School District campuses: Roscomare Road Elementary, Community Elementary Magnet Charter School and Kenter Canyon Elementary School.
Times reporter Kate Mather contributed to this report.