Firefighter Josh Balboa monitors the Harris fire in southern San Diego County. Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
Meanwhile, at Griffith Park...
As Griffith Park begins its recovery, city officials are debating the timetable for reopening sections of the flame-ravaged park. As of Friday, the process seemed a little confused. City Councilman Tom LaBonge and city recreation and parks chief Jon Murki, within five minutes of each other, offered differing estimates of what would be open this weekend.
LaBonge, speaking at a news conference with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said that the zoo and the park's iconic merry-go-round would both be open to the public on Saturday. Murki, who attended the same conference but didn't speak publicly, later said that merry-go-round definitely wouldn't be open, and the zoo was unlikely.
Responding to historically dry conditions, the city's parks department is considering a ban on all grilling at parks. Officials said they are working with the L.A. City Council to draft an emergency order, which would need to be passed by the council.
The Griffith Observatory offered a view like no other in the wake of the fire.
To the north and east, hills yesterday covered with trees and brush had been transformed into a barren landscape. The eastern half of Mt. Hollywood burned, but the western side was still an olive green. The view down to the Roosevelt golf course offers another lesson. Tree along course that received irrigation remain strong and bright green. Trees closer to the hills were blackened.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed frustration at homeowners who refused to evacuate the endangered Los Feliz neighborhood Tuesday night. About 25 homeowners defied an evacuation order after shifting winds left firefighters scrambling to save houses in Los Feliz. "They put our fire fighters and police officers in jeopardy when they do that," said Villaraigosa. "We know why they don’t want to leave. They’re very emotional about their homes."
Some animals died, but most animals left the burn area.
"Almost all animals are hard wired to find where there is a safe place is to go," said Marty O’Toole, fire education and prevention specialist for the National Park Service. "By and large, birds are going to fly away, mammals are going to run away and reptiles are going to bury themselves."
The animals may make their way down to people’s homes in the next day or two, but will probably head back to the park once the fire is out and the firefighters are gone. Once there is rain, there will be new and tender plant shoots for the animals to eat.
The Griffith Park fire will help fire-prevention in the short term because there is less vegetation - or fuel for future fires, said Marty O’Toole, fire education and prevention specialist for the National Park Service.
"But it won’t take more than a couple of years for the plants and grasses to grow back," he said.
The best way to prevent damage to people and homes is to clear the vegetation around their houses and to replace wood roofs.
"That is more effective than just burning big swabs of open space," he said.
"The ecosystem is designed to bounce back very quickly," O’Toole said. "The challenge is when we put people next to open spaces. Then their lives and property are in danger. … We are most concerned about public safety."
On Wednesday, the day after Los Angeles Zoo animals were hustled to their off-exhibit enclosures with a fire bearing down not far away in Griffith Park, the animals were returned to their outdoor exhibits. The zoo, however, remained closed to the public as were all the access roads.
With veiled plumes visible in the hills, zoo staffers said animals were calm and seemingly unbothered by the faint smell of smoke wafting on the breeze. "Even along the edges" of the zoo, said principal keeper Jeff Briscoe, "the animals seem oblivious." Briscoe, who stayed at the zoo until 3 a.m. Wednesday, checked on the zoo's TWO high-profile elephants through the night. "They're fine. They're not even aware of it."
With the zoo devoid of noisy patrons and screaming children, animals luxuriated in the unusual quiet.
The fire took a toll on the park’s ecosystem. Many old growth sycamore and oak trees were burned and native chaparral throughout the park was scorched.
Rangers plan to reforest parts of the park, but the challenge will be to keep out the nonnative and invasive species, such as the yellow mustard grass and Indian tree tobacco. "Overnight, the park has changed dramatically," said William Ramirez, park ranger for 19 years. "Areas that had trees and had chaparral are gone."
Ramirez said he worries about what is going to happen when it starts raining. "When the rains come, erosion is going to create havoc in the park," he said. "A lot of mud is going to come down onto the roadways." (LAT photo)
LAFD chief Doug Barry said the 20-year-old man burned in the fire "is not considered a suspect" but that he is still being questioned. Barry said the man "is not fully cooperating," and investigators have more questions for him. Officials have not determined the exact point of origin for the fire -- and that is hampering efforts to determine the man's involvement. The fire started somewhere north of the Roosevelt golf course.