L.A. Fire Forces Evacuation of Getty Center, Mount St. Mary's College

The world-famous Getty Center art complex and nearby Mount St. Mary's College were evacuated Wednesday as a fire burned in thick brush on the steep slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The fire erupted at 12:44 p.m. and quickly grew to 80 acres above parking facilities for the Getty, which has a collection ranging from European paintings to illuminated manuscripts and photographs, including works by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.

About 350 firefighters worked on rugged slopes and seven helicopters pounded flames with repeated water drops. Some of the helicopters were able to reload from nearby Stone Canyon Reservoir.

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Fire Chief Douglas Barry said the fire began about three-quarters of a mile from the Getty and was moving away to the east as winds blew out of the west. The country club community of Mountaingate was notified of potential evacuations, but officials were optimistic.

"We feel very confident we'll have this fire under control very shortly," Barry said.

The fire was 50 percent contained shortly after 6:30 p.m. and officials expected increasingly favorable conditions because of rising humidity. A firefighter suffered a foot injury.

Fire Department spokesman Lauren deRosier said equipment used by a brush clearance crew sparked the fire.

The origin of the blaze was not known, said Battalion Chief Patrick Butler.

About 800 employees and 1,600 visitors to the J. Paul Getty Museum and other parts of the hilltop complex were shuttled to the center's south building as a precaution, Getty Center spokesman Ron Hartwig said.

A tram took people down the hill to parking lots so they could drive out the south gate, he said.

The center would be closed for the rest of the day, he said.

The Getty's ventilation systems also were shut down to prevent smoke from damaging the priceless artwork, he said.

"The Getty Center was built with a great deal of safeguard," Hartwig said. "You can never be overly confident, but we're certainly prepared to handle fires in this area."

To the north, Mount St. Mary's College was evacuated as a precaution even though the fire was a mile away and a canyon lay between it and the school, spokeswoman Sarah Scopio said.

College was not in session but 100 staff members were being evacuated along with about 200 other people attending a conference, Scopio said.

The school used campus shuttles to take them out until the all-clear was given, Scopio said.

"Right now the fire is not threatening the college directly," she said.

City Fire Department spokesman Erik Scott said residents of the area also were being urged to leave, but no homes were immediately threatened.

The Getty and Mount St. Mary's are prominent landmarks on the rugged mountains above Los Angeles' tony western neighborhoods.

The 100-acre blaze in October burned up to the backyard patios of multimillion-dollar homes before it was extinguished seven hours later.

The Getty Center opened in 1997 on ridges above Interstate 405, which runs through the Sepulveda Pass. It is world-famous for its gardens, conservation and research work and its museum, which holds a number of famous works, including Vincent Van Gogh's painting "Irises."

Mount St. Mary's campus was damaged by the disastrous Bel Air-Brentwood wildfire of November 1961, which destroyed 484 homes and 21 other buildings.