Actress Kim Novak uses a garden hose to wet down the roof of her home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles on November 6, 1961, as a raging brush fire swept within 100 yards of the mansion. The house was saved, at least temporarily, but the homes of many other Hollywood celebrities were destroyed. (Photo: AP/Wide World/Ellis R. Bosworth)
Hollywood received a wake-up call in November, 1961, when a wildfire burned 16,090 acres (6,511 hectares), destroyed more than 484 homes, and caused an estimated $50 million in damage in the tony Brentwood and Bel Air sections of Los Angeles. Among the homes destroyed were those of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Burt Lancaster, according to the November 17 issue of Life magazine. Other celebs, including Kim Novak, Maureen O’Hara, Fred MacMurray, and Richard Nixon, took to their wood-shake roofs and hosed them down, saving them from windblown embers. Life dubbed the event "A Tragedy Trimmed in Mink."
What became known as the Brentwood-Bel Air Fire began on November 6 in a pile of rubbish in Sherman Oaks and was spread by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 60 mph (96.5 kph). It advanced with "nasty capriciousness," according to Life, "sometimes spilling into ravines, sometimes leaping from ridge to ridge."