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GRIFFITH PARK REOPENS VISITORS SLOWLY RETURN AFTER LAST WEEK'S FIRE.

Byline: ERIC LEACH

Staff Writer

GRIFFITH PARK -- Hundreds of visitors flocked back to Griffith Park on Saturday, the first day that attractions including the Los Angeles Zoo, the observatory and pony rides were open to the public after a massive brush fire scorched the area.

Several park employees said there appeared to be fewer than half as many visitors as on a normal Saturday, possibly because many residents didn't realize the park had reopened.

"It looks very stark, like a bomb went off," said Sue Conway of Burbank, who rides her bicycle in Griffith Park every week but found her usual routes closed off Saturday because of the fire damage.

"I usually go up into the hill area. I can get on my bike and disappear into the wilderness," she said. "Today I almost didn't come because I was worried about the air quality."

While the area slowly began returning to normal Saturday, stark signs of the fire remained as the smell of ash hung in the air and the once densely wooded hillsides above the zoo were charred black and grey.

Attractions near the most badly burned sections of the park also remained closed, including the Merry-go-Round and Crystal Springs picnic area, the Vermont Canyon picnic area and tennis complex, the bird sanctuary and Roosevelt Golf Course.

Officials said they hoped most of the park could be reopened by Monday.

On Saturday, attractions on the northeast side of the park were mostly open, including the two big golf courses, Wilson and Harding, the Autry National Center and the zoo across the street.

"It's good to see people are able to overcome it and come back to the park to enjoy it," said Nick Tejeda of Agoura Hills, who was at the zoo with his friend Molly Mejia.

The fire broke out Tuesday afternoon and burned more than 800 acres before it was contained Friday.

Marathon runner Anne Dailey of Glassell Park said she frequently trains in the park, but found her normal routes still blocked Saturday. Instead, she ran back and forth on Zoo Drive.

George Angulo of Glassell Park was at Travel Town on Saturday, holding a birthday party for his sons Tobias, 3, and Lucas, 1.

"I hear they have eight birthday parties today," Angulo said. "I'm sure a lot of folks are relieved the park reopened today. When we heard it might be closed, Tobias was pretty upset. We have 40 guests, with about 20 kids."

Eric Kintz of Hollywood was at Travel Town with his wife Soline, and their children Benjamin, 2, and Alexa, 1, and his mother, Mira.

"He loves trains," Kintz said of Benjamin. But he said it was sad to see so much of the park destroyed. "We hike a lot in the park, to Dante's View," he said. "It's really too bad."

Michelle Wood of La Crescenta was there holding a birthday party for her 5-year-old son Anthony and his sister Allison, 2. "This is Anthony's favorite place on earth," she said.

A few miles down the road, the crowd was less than half the normal size for the pony rides, which have been a Griffith Park attraction since 1948.

Flames burned within about 100 yards of the pony-ride area Tuesday night and the 75 ponies were moved to a corral down Crystal Springs Drive closer to Los Feliz Boulevard.

"This whole area was unbelievable. The flames were shooting up hundreds of feet in the air. The embers were coming down like rain," said Nick Bronk, general manager of the Griffith Park pony rides.

"The ponies were pretty worked up. They're all fine now," he said. "The Fire Department did a great, great job."

eric.leach(at)dailynews.com

(805) 583-7602

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Photo:

Sue Conway of Burbank prepares for a bike ride in Griffith Park, where several areas have reopened after the brush fire.

Evan Yee, Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 13, 2007
Words:649
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