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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not "If" But "When" - the 30th anniversary of the Mandeville Canyon Fire

photo credit:

On this day thirty years ago, October 23 1978, a fire broke out at 9:41am near Mulholland Drive and the 405 Frwy in the Santa Monica Mountains. Stoked by Santa Ana winds and very hot, dry conditions within a few minutes a large brush fire started moving westward.

photo credit: Julie Keese 

This is one of the very few color photos I was able to find of the fire. Looks like it was taken from the roof of what's now the CVS pharmacy in the Palisades. The old RTD bus is at the intersection of Sunset Blvd and Swathmore.

photo credit: Palisades Post

Via de la Paz, looking north from the business district. 

I was a student at Palisades High School. I pulled this and the next few photos from our school yearbook.

Thirty homes were destroyed in
Brentwood and Pacific Palisades - it could have easily been over 200. 

Here's another color photo. It was actually a postcard, and was for sale for several years afterwards.
The back of the postcard reads: "Santa Monica Mountais on fire-Fall 1978. The fire is nearly 10 miles wide in this photo taken from Venice, Calif. Photo and copyright by Jeffrey Stanton." 

photo credit: Karl Edward Dean

Every year Southern California deals with brush fires. In fact, as I write this yet another fire broke out this morning (below) next to the 405 Freeway - very close to where the Mandeville Fire began 30 years earlier. Fortunately, this morning's fire was put out quickly.
photo credit:

My family's home on Lachman Lane came very close to being destroyed in the
Mandeville fire. A few things I remember:

1) the
speed of the fire. When I got home from High School, I literally thought the fire might be near our home sometime in the next day or two. It was more like 4 hours.

2) the
size of the fire. There is something terrifying about a 50-60 wall of flames several miles wide coming towards you. Trying to defend your home with a garden hose felt like a joke.

3) the
smell of the fire. I get an awful feeling everytime I smell a fire - bad memories of October 1978.

SOUND of the fire. This was perhaps the scariest thing of all. I still remember the low, loud roar. It was surreal.

Our family was very fortunate that the winds shifted just was the fire approached our street. Other families were not so lucky - loosing not only their homes, but everything inside.

photo credit:

The Marek fire (above) in the San Fernando Valley last month was a reminder that brush fires in Southern California are not a question of "if" ... but "when."

As a Christian, I'm reminded that brush fires involve issues of environmental stewardship, protection of lives, protection of property, understanding the specific climate (Mediterranean) and topography (mountainous) of Southern California. Brush fires are NOT forest fires. Remember Smokey the Bear? Not the same here. In Southern California several of the native plants are designed to burn (there's that pesky "design" again).

One of my professors at UCLA stated that a fire every ten years is significantly less dangerous, less intense than one every fifty years. I have to now agree that it would make sense to have controlled burns of uninhabited mountainous areas every 10-12 years - but it will never happen (political suicide).

A brush fire is a sobering reminder how brief our stint on earth really is. "Teach us to number our days aright so we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12

© 2008


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yikes, moving into fire season again!