Brush fire prompts evacuation of landmark Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, July 10 (Reuters) - The landmark Griffith Observatory, a popular tourist attraction in the hills overlooking Los Angeles, was evacuated on Tuesday due to a brush fire near the facility in a corner of the surrounding park, authorities said.

The blaze erupted shortly after 2 p.m. PST (2100 GMT) and quickly charred at least two acres of drought-parched chaparral and grass in the southeastern section of Griffith Park at the edge of the observatory grounds, fire and museum officials said.

The flames posed no immediate threat to the historic observatory building, situated on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, or to any nearby homes, according to city fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey.

But he said authorities decided to evacuate the site "out of an abundance of caution." A pall of smoke from the blaze was visible throughout much of the surrounding metropolitan area.

About 600 to 700 visitors and staff were in the building at the time, observatory museum guide Juan Gutierrez told Reuters by telephone.

Gutierrez said he saw flames burning "pretty close" to outdoor restrooms located near the parking lot outside the main observatory entrance and along a road leading up to the facility.

He said it marked the third time the observatory had been evacuated in the past two months because of a fire, adding that he overheard one park ranger say to another that the latest blaze appeared to have been ignited by a careless smoker.

Humphrey said the cause of the fire had yet to be determined.

No injuries were reported from the fire, which followed a weekend heat wave that baked Los Angeles and much of the rest of Southern California, causing widespread power outages and contributing to a destructive wildfire in Santa Barbara County.

The observatory, dedicated to astronomy for public viewing and education rather than research, was opened in 1935 and draws about 1.5 million visitors a year to Griffith Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the United States.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)