Three men in bright yellow firefighting jackets lean against a banister at the Getty Center, monitoring the landscape to the south

October 28, 2019: staff from the Ventura County Fire Department act as lookouts as part of the multi-agency response against the #GettyFire. Photo: Christopher Sprinkle

Thanks to heroic efforts of first responders, the Getty Center is safe from a brush fire that raced north and west of the main Getty Center complex starting in the early morning of October 28.

At the fire’s height more than 1,100 firefighters from throughout the region were on the scene of the Getty Fire, so named for the fact that it originated off the 405 Freeway near the Getty Center Drive exit. The fire prompted widespread neighborhood evacuations and charred 745 acres.

The Getty Villa, 10 miles west of the Getty Center, was also safe during the fire. Both sites reopened on Saturday, November 2, 2019, after having been closed throughout the week. Scheduled events at both locations were cancelled through Friday and resumed on Saturday. School-group visits resumed as usual on Monday, November 4.

Getty extends immense gratitude to the emergency responders from agencies near and far for their heroic efforts against the fire. We also thank our friends around the world who have extended messages of care and concern.

Getty Center was closed to employees throughout the week, although about 50 staff in our security, grounds, custodial, and facilities departments responded to manage fire suppression systems and assist fire crews. Getty scholar housing on Sunset Boulevard was inside the evacuation zone, and its 35 residents were temporarily evacuated to other temporary housing.

Getty Center served as a rest area for fire crews, as well as an observation area from which they directed the air attack. Fire trucks were parked on the Tram Plaza during the week.

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“The dedication of our staff and the professionalism of our region’s first responders has been nothing short of heroic,” said Getty president Jim Cuno. “We are deeply grateful for their courage and hard work.”

The Course of the Fire

On Monday, the fire reached hillsides above the Getty parking structure and the shuttle turnaround, but didn’t come closer than half a mile from the northern edge of the Getty complex. Throughout Tuesday into Wednesday, hot spots were identified and quickly extinguished.

On Tuesday, U.S. Forest Service crews worked on the Getty property to identify any smoldering vegetation, dig up stumps, and create fire breaks. Dozens of members of strike teams from the U.S. Forest Service Sequoia National Forest unit spent Tuesday night at the Getty Center.

On Wednesday and Thursday, fire agencies and equipment continued to be staged throughout the Getty Fire zone and at Getty Center. Heavy equipment, including tanker trucks and fire engines, continued to use Getty roads. The skies were clear and windy. Fire officials were on high alert through Thursday morning, when the strongest Santa Ana winds began to subside.

On Friday, evacuation orders for all nearby residents were lifted, and both Sepulveda Boulevard and the 405 freeway were free to traffic in both directions. On Saturday, both Getty sites reopened.

Panoramic image to the north of the Getty Center, showing distant charred hillsides as the result of the Getty Fire

October 31, 2019: Panorama from the Getty Center Restaurant terrace, showing the hillsides north and northwest of Getty Center. Charred hillsides are visible to the north, at center—the aftermath of the extinguished fire. Photo: Sergio Torres. See this pano larger.

Early Response

Shortly before 2am Monday morning, Getty security officers opened the Emergency Operations Center at the Center minutes after hearing on emergency radios that a fire had begun in the Sepulveda Pass. Fueled by winds blowing from the northeast, the fire spread quickly into Brentwood canyons visible from Getty Center, sadly consuming several homes in streets above Bundy Drive.

By dawn, helicopters and large air tanker planes were dousing the flames and making significant progress on knocking down the blaze. At one point, more than 12 fire trucks, including tankers, from departments as far away as Orange County and Ventura, were on site at various points on Getty roads and gates to assure the safety of the more than 600 acres of grounds.

Dozens of news media reported on the fire, taking particular interest in Getty fire prevention measures. The Getty Center is well protected from fire due to its construction and architecture, with our 1.5 million feet of travertine stone walls and floors, cement and steel construction, and stone on rooftops that prevents wind-blown embers from igniting.

Additional fire-prevention measures include water storage on-site to provide for grounds irrigation. We deployed irrigation throughout the grounds immediately Monday morning. Also immediately, we sealed off museum galleries and the library archives from smoke by state-of-the-art air systems. The double-walled construction of the galleries, which are literally buildings unto themselves within the bigger building, also provided significant protection for the collections.

Grounds crews provide brush clearance throughout Getty lands all year, and grounds are managed for fire protection with continual tree pruning.

The fire prevention measures were in place in December 2017, the last time the Getty Center faced a brush fire. That fire, known as the Skirball Fire, burned on the opposite side of the 405 Freeway from Getty Center, and did not come as close to Getty property as the Getty Fire.

We once again thank emergency responders for their service and our colleagues and communities around the world for their words of support and concern.