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A little bit of fire perspective

November 16, 2008 | 11:19 am

Firefighters keep watch over a brush fire, one of several in the area, during the second day of fighting a fire that has already claimed several homes in Orange County, Ca.
 

When it comes to bad fires, the series of blazes that hit Southern California in October 2003 are considered perhaps the worst. Those fires ate up 740,000 acres, burned more than 3,000 homes and killed more than 20 people. This weekend's fires were bad -- but not that bad. For a full list of major fires, check out Times librarian James Kim's rundown after the jump.

This weekend's fires will set some records. Paul Rogers of the San Jose Mercury News says that experts note that this year is shaping up to be a bizarre one for California wildfires:

Through last week, 1.24 million acres [had] burned in California, the most since 1970, when consistent, modern records were first kept. Yet in a rare turnabout, most of that land didn't burn in Southern California during autumn, a common pattern for the state. Even counting this weekend's fires in Montecito and Sylmar, nine out of 10 acres that have burned this year were in Northern California, from Monterey County to the Oregon border, and most burned early in the season, thanks to a freakish dry lightning storm. Given the lack of rain over the past two winters, things could have turned out much worse, experts say.

Of course, Santa Ana wildfire season is far from over.

Southern California has seen many devastating fires. Times librarian James Kim researched the worst of the blazes to hit Los Angeles County over the last 75 years:

November 2007 – A blaze broke out from an illegal late-night campfire near a cave in Corral Canyon in Malibu, consuming 53 homes and 4,900 acres.

October 2007 – Sparking power lines ignited the Witch Fire, which killed two people, burned nearly 200,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 homes in north San Diego.

(Many more after the jump)

May 2007 – A brush fire ravaged 817 acres in Griffith Park and threatened some of L.A.’s most famous landmarks, including the Griffith Observatory, the L.A. Zoo and a landmark merry-go-round.

October 2006 – An arsonist was suspected of starting an Esperanza fire in Riverside County that killed five firefighters and burned 40,000 acres.

September 2006 – The Day Fire, which started on Labor Day, burned more than 160,000 acres in Los Padres National Forest and took almost a month to contain.

October 1996 - A brush fire ignited by an arcing power line destroyed 10 homes in Malibu, Calabasas Canyon and Corral Canyon, and burned close to 14,000 acres.

October and November 1993 - Runaway brush fires carved a swath of destruction through six Southern California counties. It took the work of more than 10,000 firefighters over six days to subdue the flames.

June 1990 - The College Hills brush fire in Glendale destroyed or damaged 67 homes. It was started by one of Southern California's most notorious firesetters: John Leonard Orr, a firefighter and Glendale arson investigator. Orr is serving a life term for a series of structure and brush arsons that ended with his arrest in 1991, including a fire at a South Pasadena hardware store in which four people died.

July 1989 - A brush fire in Turnbull Canyon in Puente Hills destroyed 13 homes.

December 1988 - A 3,000-acre fire in Granada Hills and the Porter Ranch area destroyed 15 homes and damaged 25 others.

July 1985 - An arson fire swept up a slope in Baldwin Hills and killed three people, destroyed 48 homes and damaged 18 others.

October 1982 - A wind-driven fire raced from Dayton Canyon, in the western San Fernando Valley, to the Malibu coast, destroying 97 homes and burning 54,000 acres.

October 1981 - Santa Ana winds sent flames from a Chatsworth Reservoir blaze south toward the Ventura Freeway, destroying six homes and damaging eight.

September 1979 - A fire in Kirkwood Bowl in Laurel Canyon burned 120 acres and destroyed 24 homes.

October 1978 - A juggernaut of flame and smoke from eight almost-simultaneous fires destroyed 230 homes and a church in blazes from Malibu to Agoura to Mandeville Canyon. One man was killed.

September 1970 - Ten people died and 403 homes were damaged or destroyed when several blazes combined into a single wall of flames 20 miles long, stretching from Newhall to Malibu. The conflagration charred 435,000 acres.

November 1966 - A faulty power line near Pacoima Dam sparked a fire that trapped and killed 12 firefighters. Fueled by 60 mph Santa Ana winds, the blaze blackened 2,000 acres around Loop Canyon.

November 1961 - The Bel-Air/Brentwood Fire began in a trash heap. Within minutes, Santa Ana winds swept burning embers from roof to roof, spreading fire across the affluent enclaves of the Santa Monica Mountains. Nearly 500 homes were destroyed. The blaze, which left hundreds of the rich and famous homeless, prompted brush clearance laws.

July 1959 - Fire consumed a large swath of Willow Glen in Laurel Canyon, destroying 38 houses.

December 1958 - Gale-force winds pushed fire through Malibu, destroying 36 homes. On New Year's Eve, fire consumed 71 additional homes in Topanga and Benedict canyons.

June 1957 - A brush fire burned 1,000 acres in Griffith Park, injuring two firefighters and two teenage volunteer firefighters.

December 1956 - A Malibu-Zuma fire that also moved into the Lake Sherwood area of Ventura County destroyed 99 homes.

November 1945 - A fire in the Malibu hills destroyed 150 homes.

November 1938 - A Thanksgiving Day fire in Topanga Canyon burned 350 buildings, many of them shacks on the then-rural and sparsely populated hillsides.

October 1933 - Twenty-nine firefighters from the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration died when flames trapped them in a ravine as they fought a blaze in Griffith Park.

- Shelby Grad

Firefighters keep watch over a brush fire, one of several in the area, during the second day of fighting a fire that has already claimed several homes in Orange County, Ca. Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

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