Teens Admit to Starting Brush Fire Near Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles

A wildfire that authorities say was ignited by two teenagers tore through the brush-covered hills surrounding the famous Hollywood sign Friday, putting a scare into the city but doing little damage other than coating the area in a thick blanket of smoke.

The fire was relatively small — only 150 acres — but it attracted attention as smoke roiled into the sky behind the sign. At the height of the blaze, dozens of people gathered at the foot of the hills to take pictures of the landmark surrounded by smoke.

"If it burns, we would be losing an icon," said Russ Mitchell, a Los Angeles resident.

The fire began shortly before 1 p.m. next to the Oakwood Toluca Hills, a corporate housing complex northwest of downtown, and spread rapidly up the hillside before being contained about three hours later.

Authorities said two boys, ages 16 and 17, from Illinois later walked into a police station and acknowledged causing the fire. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told reporters the two, who were visiting Los Angeles with their parents, had been staying at the Oakwood complex.

Both boys were later booked for investigation of reckless setting of a fire, said Ron Myers, a fire department spokesman. They were released to their parents, and the case will be sent to county prosecutors Monday for possible charges, Myers said.

One building at the Oakwood housing complex, a popular place among aspiring child actors and other entertainment professionals, was evacuated at the request of firefighters.

Nathan Stevenson, a 20-year-old actor from Toronto in town for the TV pilot season, was in nearby Universal City when he got a call about the fire and rushed home.

"I wanted to make sure to get my clothes out of the apartment. I brought my entire wardrobe here. I've got a lot of money in this place," Stevenson said.

Some 200 firefighters and five helicopters battled the flames. There were no reports of structural damage.

"I don't know the exact last date we've seen a fire in this particular area but the hills are prone to fires throughout the year," said Myers, the fire department spokesman. "This is just a little bit earlier than what we normally see."

Southern California is parched after an extremely dry winter that left rainfall levels more than 11 inches below normal. Just 2.47 inches has fallen since July 1.

Humidity also was low, about 10 percent, which makes vegetation burn more easily.

The Hollywood Hills bisect Los Angeles, forming the southern side of the San Fernando Valley. The blaze started east of Universal City, south of the Warner Bros. studios complex in Burbank and to the west of 4,200-acre Griffith Park and Forest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery.

At one point, smoke filled the Warner Bros. complex, said Scott Rowe, vice president of corporate communications for Warner Bros. Entertainment.

"It's at our back door," he said.

Precautions were taken at Sunset Ranch, which offers horse rides from the south side of the hills over to the San Fernando Valley. Manager Jason Marchant, 34, said three scouts were sent out on horseback to make sure the fire didn't move toward the ranch.

The flames erupted just about a block from the 60-year-old Smoke House restaurant in Burbank. John Black, a cashier at another historic eatery, Miceli's Italian restaurant in Universal City, said most of the skyline was thick with black, gray and orange smoke.

Late Friday, firefighters contained a one-acre brush fire in the City of Industry, about 20 miles east of Los Angeles. The cause of that fire was under investigation.