1933 Griffith Park Fire

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Griffith Park Fire
Location Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California
Coordinates 34°8′32.66″N 118°17′36.28″W / 34.1424056°N 118.2934111°W / 34.1424056; -118.2934111Coordinates: 34°8′32.66″N 118°17′36.28″W / 34.1424056°N 118.2934111°W / 34.1424056; -118.2934111
Statistics
Date(s) October 3, 1933 (1933-10-03) – ?
Burned area 47 acres (0 km2)
Fatalities 29
Non-fatal injuries 150+[1]
Map
1933 Griffith Park Fire is located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
1933 Griffith Park Fire
Location of Fire in Los Angeles

The 1933 Griffith Park Fire was a brush fire that occurred on 3 October 1933 in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, resulting in the deaths of at least 29 civilians who were trying to fight the fire. It was one of the deadliest firefighter disasters in United States history.

Background[edit]

During the dry summer and fall of 1933, thousands of workers financed by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation were hired to clear dry brush and to build trails and roads in Griffith Park.[2][3] On October 3, 1933, an estimated 3,780 men were working in the park, for a pay of 40 cents an hour.[2][4] More than 100 squads of 50 to 80 men were at work in the park, each supervised by a foreman or "straw boss".[2]

Fire[edit]

A little after 2 p.m., a small fire started in a pile of debris in Mineral Wells Canyon. Many of the workers volunteered or were ordered to fight the fire, but it spread up the canyon. Because there was no piped water in the area, the men tried to beat out the fire with shovels.[2] Foremen with no knowledge of firefighting initially directed the effort, setting inappropriate back fires and sending hundreds of workers into a steep canyon. The fire department arrived at 2:26 p.m. but found it hard to fight the fire because of the presence of thousands of untrained people.[2] When the wind changed direction at about 3 p.m., the fire rushed up Dam Canyon, jumped a hastily constructed firebreak, and advanced on the workers, killing dozens and injuring more than 100.[2] By nightfall the fire was under control, after burning about 47 acres (19 ha) of the park's 4,200 acres.[2][1]

Aftermath[edit]

Because of the disorganized nature of the deployment and the often inaccurate recordkeeping of the work project, it took weeks to establish the exact death toll and identify the bodies. A month after the fire, the District Attorney's office put the official death toll at 29, with 27 dead at the scene and two dead in hospitals afterward, although other groups claimed the number was 52 or higher.[2][4] The Griffith Park fire remains the single deadliest fire in California history, although the October 2017 Northern California wildfires were collectively more deadly.[5][6] The cause of the fire was never fully determined.[7]

An epitaph for the lost lives was written in spools of microfilm containing the Oct. 4, 1933 issue of the Los Angeles Herald-Express.[2] To commemorate the dead workers, a deodar tree was planted at the entrance to the park along with a memorial plaque. The plaque can no longer be found.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Griffith Park Fire Stirs Visions of 1933 Destruction". NPR. 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2018-03-06. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The Griffith Park Fire". Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive. Retrieved August 27, 2014. 
  3. ^ Dolan, Jack (July 1, 2013). "29 L.A. firefighters lost in 1933 in Griffith Park blaze". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 27, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Vargas, Theresa (2017-12-15). "'Oh God! Help me!': In California's deadliest fire, survivors watched co-workers die". Retrieved 2018-03-06. 
  5. ^ https://calfire.ca.gov/communications/downloads/fact_sheets/Top20_Deadliest.pdf
  6. ^ "The Fire of '33". Glendale News-Press. October 1–4, 1993. Retrieved May 8, 2007. 
  7. ^ "Top 20 Deadliest California Fires" (PDF). CAL FIRE. 2017-11-29. Retrieved 2018-03-06.