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Amid progress, evacuations considered for Altadena [Updated]

September 2, 2009 |  8:09 am

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Despite significant progress in containing the Station fire, officials said this morning that they are still concerned about the massive blaze's fast-moving southeastern flank.

That edge of the fire is burning in the mountains above Altadena and Pasadena. Officials are trying to cut fire lines in the area, hoping to block the fire from moving farther east toward Sierra Madre and Monrovia. No evacuations have been ordered in those areas.

[Updated, 9 a.m.: Fire officials said they are considering evacuating Altadena residents who live north of Altadena Drive as the fire continues to move southeast.]

The Station fire grew to more than 140,000 acres overnight, but officials said they continued to make solid progress. Evacuation orders have been lifted in La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and other foothill communities.

Firefighters have worked hard to save Mt. Wilson, home to a historic observatory as well as crucial TV and radio transmission towers. Officials said this morning that aggressive water and gel drops from aircraft helped prevent the mountain from taking a direct hit from the flames.

But Mt. Wilson is still in danger, and the fight there will continue. Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Mark Whaling said machines were used to crush much of the brush surrounding the area there and that more fire-resistant gel was used to protect structures on the peak.

Temperatures continued to drop slightly, aiding firefighters on a massive blaze that killed two firefighters and destroyed 62 dwellings. But the weather conditions are still far from ideal for firefighters. Whaling said high levels of humidity helped firefighters overnight, but said "there will be a more intense fire" today because of lower humidity and temperatures reaching into the 90s.

A total of 4,128 personnel are working to stop the blaze. About 12,000 structures are threatened.

Although the number of structures razed is small compared with other recent wildfires, this one has ripped an enormous hole in one of Southern California's most treasured wild-land areas, a fact that was particularly evident along Angeles Crest Highway, which remained closed to the public.

Under skies tinged coral and gray by dense smoke, mile after mile of slope once covered with manzanita, sumac, sycamore and pine trees looked like black dunes.

Charred remains of squirrels and other rodents lay by the road.

Joe Young, 63, who has hiked the San Gabriel Mountains for 39 years, said the burned area contains many of Southern California's most popular hiking trails.

"It's very sad," said Young, a member of the Sierra Club's Hundred Peaks group. "In just the burned area so far we have about 40 peaks that the club goes to regularly, if not every week."

Meteorologists said the humidity should continue to rise over the next few days, with temperatures dropping -- but slowly. Fire officials don't predict full containment until Sept. 15.

"This was like the Jabba the Hut fire," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. "It's menacing and big, but it definitely can't move that fast."

Patzert said the foothill communities "dodged a bullet" in that this fire didn't erupt during Santa Ana winds.

"This could have been like the conflagration of the century with the Santa Anas," he said.

On Haines Canyon Avenue in Tujunga, Lisa Martin stood in front of her house, chatting with neighbors as ash rained down and flames scoured the hill above. She was actually happy to see the foliage burn before the Santa Anas come.

"Let it burn. Get rid of the fuel," she said.

The outlook also improved Tuesday in San Bernardino County, where firefighters gained the upper hand on the Oak Glen III and Pendleton fires.

"If it stays like this, I expect an easier day tomorrow," said Bill Peters, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "We may be able to release some of our resources."

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz at Hansen Dam

Photo: Smoke from the Station fire obscures sunrise along Angles Crest Highway Wednesday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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