What a difference five years makes.
Under a clear sky with pristine weather, a cadre of uniformed Los Angeles police and firefighters as well as representatives from city offices gathered for dinner to remember a tragic day in Griffith Park's history Tuesday evening.
The sat around picnic tables in front of Greek Theatre reminiscing over a dinner of salad and lasagna. They all came together to remember the fifth anniversary of a fire that burned 800 acres in the park.
Griffith Park Services Supervisor Joe Salaices told Patch the aftermath of the fire was far-reaching.
"Some of the areas were still smoldering weeks after the fire," he said. "We closed off access to hiking trails because of safety conditions. There were several months before anyone could enter parts of the park."
A significant number of wildlife was lost due to the fire, and there was a lot of tree trimming and removal of trees as a result, Salaices said. In addition, there were steps taken to protect the burned areas from rain and erosion following the fire, he said.
Honoring first responders
At Tuesday's gathering organized by Councilman Tom LaBonge, he aimed to spotlight the hard work of those who put in overtime to put out the fire. He highlighted the efforts of General Services police officers and referred to the fire as an event that “could have been a tragedy” had it not been for “our brothers and sisters in blue.”
LAFD Battalion Chief Joe Castro, who spoke during the event, said what the park endured five years ago was unimaginable.
“I think the recovery is actually remarkable,” Castro said. “The scope of the destruction was pretty startling.”
He and others used the word, “moonscape,” to describe what the effected parts of Griffith Park looked like after the fire.
“Without a doubt it was one of the saddest moments that ever took place in my entire life,” said Louis Alvarado who is also known as the “Mayor of Griffth Park.” “You could actually see animal wildlife dying right in front of your eyes.”
Alvarado walks trails in the park most days as does Councilman LaBonge.
“There’s something about this park that makes you fall in love with it,” Alvarado said.
Patrol officer Justin Tombar from the LAPD General Services Division also remembered responding to the fire. He said he is grateful to be honored in such a way.
“It’s great,” Tombar said. “It’s nice he’s recognizing everyone involved. It was a long day, busy.”
Moments of sacrifice and close calls were rehashed throughout the evening. Marcellino Berrones, senior gardener at the park, remembers helping the park rangers keep trespassers out of the park.
“I didn’t want to leave the park,” he said.
He stayed until around 3 a.m. Kevin Regan, assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, spoke of the first night of the fire and how unified the LAPD, LAFD, Los Angeles City Park Rangers and the Los Angeles Office of Public Safety were.
“They were doing everything that needed to be done,” Regan said. “It was a tough couple of days and some scary nights.”
Bernie Grijalva, a Los Angeles Park Maintenance Supervisor, was impressed by the LAFD in particular.
“The way the fire department orchestrated everything was just awesome,” he said. “I can’t describe it. It was like magic.”
Park restoration efforts
Since the fire, erosion control has been one of the top priorities in the restoration of the park as well as planting trees, Grijalva said.
“It was all about control of the rain water, sandbagging areas with major erosion,” he said. “It’s all coming back together.”
Volunteer Julie Soto is also doing her part to restore the park she loves. She has spent the past four years helping out, she said.
“I wanted to help bring the garden back,” Soto said. “It was really a lush area.”
She plans to spend part of this weekend painting benches in the park and assisting with “general maintenance.”
“Just to see things come back is amazing,” Soto said.
Members of city agencies along with the Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Five with stations 56, 35, 82 and 27 included, as well as the LAPD, including the Northeast Division, and representatives from the Greek Theatre and community groups, among them the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council, the Friends of Griffith Park, the Autry National Center and the Los Feliz Improvement Association were also on hand to mark the occasion.