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L.A. County fire doubles in size; more homes destroyed; Mt. Wilson threatened [Updated]

151680.ME.0830.Fire.17.RL A fire in the Angeles National Forest that is threatening homes from Acton to Altadena and has killed two firefighters doubled in size to 85,000 acres overnight and destroyed more structures.

The exact number of homes consumed by the Station fire remains unclear, but officials said several homes south of Acton, on the fire's northern flank, were lost last night and this morning. Earlier, 18 homes in the Tujunga Canyon area were lost, but officials expect the number to rise.

More neighborhoods were evacuated overnight as the fire pushed in three directions. Officials said the blaze had not yet burned to the top of Mt. Wilson, where critical communications centers are located, but they said that area remains highly vulnerable. Firefighters remained atop the mountain this morning, trying to protect the TV and radio transmitters. 

"We are making progress. But it is very slow and very dangerous," incident commander Mike Dietrich of the U.S. Forest Service said at a news conference this morning. "We have to wait for the fire to come to us." [Updated at 8:15 a.m.: A previous version of the post misidentified Dietrich as working for the L.A. County Fire Department.]

At the bottom of Mt. Wilson Road early this morning, firefighters bedded down in the ash-flecked open air, the forest pitch black except for the flames lighting ridgelines in the near distance. The head of the fire appeared to be across a broad and deep canyon from the Mt. Wilson compound. 

Smaller flare-ups could be seen closer to the thicket of communications towers alongside the observatory, where five engine crews were posted overnight. 

The blaze already had raced up to the winding stretch of Angeles Crest Highway that leads to Mt. Wilson Road, and the lanes remained barely passable in sections. Road signs had melted, guardrails were burned free of their wood moorings, and the switchbacks were choked with fire-loosened boulders and scorched tree limbs.

Two firefighters were killed when they drove off the side of a treacherous road in the Mt. Gleason area, south of Acton, around 2:30 p.m. Sunday, said Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant. They were later identified as Arnaldo Quinones, 35, of Palmdale and Tedmund Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County.

"This accident is tragic," Bryant said, choking up as he spoke Sunday evening. "This is a very difficult time for L.A. County Fire Department and the men and women that serve day in, day out."

More than 12,500 homes were threatened, and 6,600 were under mandatory evacuation orders Sunday night. Eighteen residences have been destroyed, fire officials said, mostly in the Big Tujunga Canyon area.

The fire was 5% contained, officials said, and at least temporarily had eased off in foothill communities from La Cañada Flintridge to Altadena.

Much of Sunday turned into a blistering-hot waiting game for firefighters, who were trying to determine where the fire would move next. Rather than battling the flames in the sheer granite canyons of the interior, with heavy vegetation more than 40 years old in many areas, they cut fire lines near threatened neighborhoods.

"In this rugged, steep terrain, with this brush as thick as it is, we are having difficulties establishing containment lines where we can make a stand," said Capt. Mark Savage, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. "This fire is still very much out of control."

Fire was burning all around Angeles Crest Highway near Mt. Wilson on Sunday evening. Earlier, hand crews cleared brush to protect the historic observatory and critical transmission towers for local television and radio stations.

By 9 p.m. a strike team was positioned to protect the observatory and transmission towers, but the flames had not reached the site at the top of the 5,710-foot peak above Pasadena.

Standing at the base of Mt. Wilson Road, U.S. Forest Service Fuels Battalion Chief Larry Peabody said five fire engines would be at the peak throughout the night. "Their mission is to defend the antennas, the observatory and the buildings," he said Sunday night.

The century-old observatory holds what was for decades the largest telescope in the world; it was instrumental in many of astronomy's biggest discoveries, including research that led to the "big bang" theory.

"It's a serious situation. Is the observatory going to make it? We're doing everything in our power. But I wouldn't be surprised if it is impacted by fire today or tomorrow," Bob Shindelar, operations branch director of California Incident Management Team 5, said Sunday afternoon.

More than 2,800 fire personnel from around the state have converged to battle the Station fire, along with 12 helicopters and eight air tankers.

They had hoped that the day would bring cooler, more humid air. But the red-flag fire alert was extended through today as the fire grew in all directions and sent a column of smoke high into the air -- mushrooming into a towering pyrocumulus cloud that could be seen across the Southland.

Meteorologists predicted that hot, dry conditions would continue without relent until at least Tuesday.

-- Paul Pringle at Mt. Wilson and Hector Becerra at Hansen Dam

Photo: The Station fire burns down a ridge toward Sunland on Sunday evening. The wildfire has doubled in size to 85,000 acres and destroyed more structures.

Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

More photos Photos: Southland wildfires

Related articles: 

Two L.A. County firefighters killed in vehicle accident near Station fire

Comments () | Archives (30)

Current map please?

Has anyone seen specifically where the 18 homes in the Station fire were lost? My sister-in-law's family has been waiting to find out whether their home near the Big Tujunga Ranger Station at Vogel Flats is still there.

Where are all the helpers from other states?? California is always first to help them - are they here or have they not been called??
Get some more planes in the air, more people and equipment on the ground - how tragic for the LA firefighters. Let's go USA!

There are many crews from other states already fighting this fire. My husband has been there since early Saturday.

There are many crews from other states already fighting this fire. My husband has been there since early Saturday.

Thank you L.A. Times for the concise reporting, great photography and maps keeping us informed.

I didn't know about the fires until Friday night, when my flight from China banked over East L.A. and I saw the three sided fire line. On board video monitors reported air speed, time, etc and the outside temperature. The temperature at 3000 feet was about ten degrees warmer than on the ground at LAX. Must be from the fires.

Stay safe.

Very well written article L.A. Times! Keep 'em coming.

Fires within 1/4 mile of Mt. Wilson towers according to Mt. Wilson Institute. Web cam can be seen at: http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~obs/towercam.htm#imagetop. Firefighters from Utah sighted in Altadena, so we're getting lots of help from neighbors.

Obama is relazing in Martha's Vinyard while this area is distroed. Talk about Bush and Katrina.

Obama - get the military equipment needed here to resolve this fire.

Let's be wise in the use of personal. We should not be fighting the fire in the mountains, but should do everything possible to save communites and other critical areas. Let the fire clean the Bark Beatle and give way to new growth that is badly needed. Our back yard in Dimaond Bar burned down lat year, and this year grew new plants. The area that did not burn down is still brown and ugly.

we are miles away in Beverly Hills and the smoke kept us up all night. The smell is unbelievable. I can't imagine what it's like for the people closer to the fire. We are thinking of you and hoping for the best.

Does anyone know when the last fire in the Angeles was?

I agree with Jim's comments about the President's seeming lack of priorities - this is a national disaster, which requires national assistance. Some of the greatest firefighting planes around are Lockheed's C-130's, built right here in Georgia; but it will take high and intermediate level orders to commission them to action. I know and love the area that is burning - prayers and blessings to the brave firefighters, the citizens, and the flora and fauna of this beautiful land.

As a retired firefighter, my concerns for the men and women on the lines, and my sympathy for the families of the victims of that tragic accident. I think they're probably using the best strategy in this case, constructing containment lines around subdivisions as a priority over direct attack in such heavy brush.

Once the fires are out, we must not let our guard down. More proactive action is needed to prevent future fire emergencies. Fuel loads in much of our local mountains are artifically high due to decades of fire suppression, and need to be reduced.

While it is all tragic, the past few years have been a culmination of the horrid policy of extreme fire suppression and encroachment on wild areas.
We need to let nature clear the fuel that build up. If we had done it during more preferable weather conditions, we would not be hacking on smoke all summer and fall for the past 5 years.
The building in the rugged foothills has been a huge obstacle to proper fire prevention. Developers and owners in these areas should be asses a huge tax for the billions spent every year to protect their investments and lives.

There is no indication that the federal government's response here in inadequate. The Governor just declared the state a disaster area yesterday. The problem with this fire is not the lack of assistance from other stats or the feds, it is the terrain and the fact that this area has not burned in such a long time.

Please don't taake every excuse to bash Obama. If he were on the fire lines with a shovel digging a fire break, you would complain the shovel wasn't big enough.

As far as helpers from other states comments, my son, an Elko Nevada resident, has been on scene since Saturday. He is a fire fighter with the Bureau of Land Management. I do not know why the local news is not including this information but there are may other non-California resources on scene.

Dangerous Conditions at Huntington Hospital:

Our family has a loved one with a heart and lung condition at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena. We are shocked and appalled by how unhealthy the air quality is right now at this medical facility. Over the last two days the air quality has become worse and worse. Each time my wife and I visit the older wing, in particular, we have difficulty breathing ourselves. I can only wonder about the serious effect this is having on patients and employees.

Jim, LA burns down every year... this is nothing new... I don't think the fire is exactly a state of emergency yet for the country. An 8.0 earthquake hitting LA would be more equiavalent to the damange done by Katrina.

My condolences and prayers for the two firefighters family. My nephew, also a hotshot firefighter, is at the Station Fire. My prayers for all firefighters and their safety.

There was a crew from Nevada on my street in La Canada. They are there. It has been mentioned many times in the news. Please do at least 3 seconds of research before you post.

Are you joking Jim. Comparing this to Katrina. I guess you hate Obama but this is nonsense. And its the governors job to call in the guard.

Anyone know where to go to volunteer to help the people of the affected communities?

The Obama bashers never miss a beat. I live in the area affected by the station fire. Although I am obviously concerned about the fire, I would not expect the President to be out here dealing with it. It is no where near the scope of the destruction wrought by hurricaine Katrina.

The president of the United States has many bigger problems than fighting a local fire. As to his being on vacation, good for him. We all (hopefully) get vacations from our jobs. As long as he doesn't spend 33% of his presidency on vacation like Bush did I have no complaints.

Any news of Big Tujunga Ranger Station at Vogel Flats?

Where where are the Super Scopers from Canada?

Why are they still unavalaible ?

This makes no sense.

Seems the authorities were under prepared and worse off have respomdent very slowly to this inferno.

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