1933 Griffith Park fire

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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.

Griffith Park Fire
LocationGriffith Park, Los Angeles, California
Coordinates34°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
Date(s)October 3, 1933 (1933-10-03) – ?
Burned area47 acres (19 ha)
Non-fatal injuries150+[1]
1933 Griffith Park fire is located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
1933 Griffith Park fire
Location of Fire in Los Angeles


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]


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]


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 afterwards.[2][4] The Griffith Park fire remained the single-deadliest fire in California history for 85 years until being surpassed by the Camp Fire in 2018, which killed at least 83 people.[5] The cause of the fire was never fully determined.[6]

To commemorate the fallen 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] The courts ruled that victims were not eligible for civil compensation due to their unofficial employment by a 'straw boss' (Ca. Public Resources Code)


  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 "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. ^ "Camp Fire Incident Information". CalFire. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  6. ^ "Top 20 Deadliest California Fires" (PDF). CAL FIRE. 2017-11-29. Retrieved 2018-03-06.