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Fire grows to 140,000 acres, but officials report progress. Mt. Wilson danger lessens


The Station fire grew to more than 140,000 acres overnight, but officials said they continued to make solid progress and now believe Mt. Wilson is out of immediate danger.

Temperatures continued to drop and humidity continued to rise, aiding firefighters on a massive blaze that killed two firefighters and destroyed 62 dwellings.

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.

The biggest concern now is the eastern flank of the fire, which is moving in the mountains north of Altadena and Pasadena. Evacuation orders were lifted in La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and other foothill communities.

The fire is still 22% contained and 10,000 homes remain 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: Burbank firefighters Daryl Isozaki, left, and Edmondo St. Cyr scan maps as the day begins at the Station fire command post at Hansen Dam. The blaze in the Angeles National Forest had burned more than 140,000 acres by early today. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (18)

The citizens of California should be outraged over the fact that the USFS and CALFIRE have, for 15 years, kept the largest and most effective firefighting air tanker OUT of service to your state. The incomparable IL-76 Waterbombers have, since 1995, been successfully stopping the world's largest and most dangerous wildfires, quickly, safely and cost-effectively. Hailed as "Miracles" by media and government leaders worldwide, these gently giants can stop a raging wildfire over an area equal to 12 football fields in only 10 seconds! They have been offered to California each year, and each year the offers of service have been denied by the USFS, CalFire and the Governor. Take a look at www.waterbomber.org and form your own opinion.

"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."

With rainfall, in a matter of months, the area will be greening up and will have improved in biodiversity. Fire is natural and beneficial.

I just read on yahoo that a Glendale home owner left their animals behind: In one of the cages, the remains of three small dogs were found.

Was there no time for the home owner to open the cage door in order to give the animals a chance to escape?

"The citizens of California should be outraged over the fact that the USFS and CALFIRE have, for 15 years, kept the largest and most effective firefighting air tanker OUT of service to your state. The incomparable IL-76 Waterbombers have..... blah, blah, blah"

perhaps there should be a charge for this advertisement post --- as it certainly isn't a simple comment describing different resources available

Fire may be beneficial to some forests and grasslands if they aren't burned too frequently -- but it is no friend to chaparral. It does NOT increase biodiversity there; it only does damage. Chaparral, which some in Southern California take for granted, is one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. For scientific info on chaparral, check out the Chaparral Institute's Web site: http://www.californiachaparral.com/. Chaparral is more like a desert than a forest when it comes to fire -- and the Mojave can take 200 years to biologically recover from a fire.

#1 Given the annual expectation of wildfires in CA, it is idiotic for people to invest in a hillside home without anticipating for the cost of maintaining an appropriate buffer zone to protect their LIVES- and their investment.

#2 It is irresponsible that these people might consider beguiling volunteer firefighters, who fly in from all over the country and risk their lives, for not saving the owner(s) investment from fire damage.

#3 Perhaps it is a mistake to allow such selfish individuals to be allowed to obtain a motor vehicle driver's license and be permitted to drive amongst us on our public roadways.

#4 Given the increased expectation of annual wildfires, the State of California should have already been better prepared to deal with this! This is not the same as budgeting for a once in a generation MAJOR earthquake. Renting "Super Scooper" aircraft from Canada is NOT a fiscally responsible alternative!

I was disgusted to see the networks getting hysterical over their transmitters.
Good heavens, some moron might miss their daytime soaps! Hardly any mention of the historic, much-beloved Observatory! Only certain radio hosts, more intelligent and better informed, went into the background of the solar observatory that has been at the heart of discoveries in cosmology!!!

Second: On NPR there was discussion of whether firefighters should rescue some idiots who had at first refused to be evacuated, then changed their minds and called a TV station (giggling was heard in the background). Fire officials spoke of the "sanctity" of human life, but danced around the question of whether firefighters' lives should be risked to rescue these )*&*&^%$. I say "let 'em burn"! The firefighters are more valuable. Triage
dictates THEY be kept out of harm's way, and let the idiots live with their choice!

Yes, California citizens should probably be outraged over this commercial protectionism, but you have to realize 2 things: 1) IL-76 waterbombers would (not maybe) require an extensive retrofit and lengthy approval and commissioning process for use at low altitude over residential sectors, along with the capital cost of actually purchasing the aircraft, all of which requires money. But of course, from what I've heard, California has tons of money doesn't it? They are just rolling in the dough, what with their budget crisis and everything...

2) If we do become more effective at firefighting, we are just going to end up having more apocalyptic fires as the years go on. Leaving all that ground fuel everywhere by protecting it results in huge fires later on. We need to allow burns to happen or else we will be destroying the ecosystem. Native americans were in fact setting fires throughout their history up until the first settlers came and killed them off by plague, and these fires were what caused the east coast (and in similar fashion, the west coast) to look like sweeping meadows with trees dotted here and there--essentially paradise to the european explorers.

Plus, until an outside consulting company actually does a study on this and presents their findings in a non-biased fashion, I will disregard it. www.waterbomber.org is not where I go for an unbiased view of the topic, just like I don't go to www.fordmotors.com for an unbiased car performance comparison.

Tom Robinson,

Keep your commie plane.

We don't want you or your LLC here.

from Inciweb --- aviation resources available:

In addition to these resources we also have available an unprecedented number of additional aviation resource that can be deployed. These include the DC-10 and 747 aircraft that have a capacity of 12,000 gallons and 20,000 gallons respectively. We also have the Martin Mars and 2 Canadair 415 water scooping aircraft available with a 7,200 gallon and 1,600 gallon capacity respectively.

I'm so tired of the refrain: "Don't build in fire zones!!!" The entire US West is fire-prone. If no one is to live in fire-prone zones, then *everyone* in the US West needs to move out. Then we could go play elsewhere with hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms. Face it, choosing where to live is choosing what natural disaster to deal with some time in your life.

In anticipation of this years fire season the local officials and residents of the communities did a robust job of brush/fuel removal. This was in April 2009. The lands controlled by the Feds did nothing and had to set-up reports, committees, findings; essentially nothing! Leave it up to government to screw everything up.

Time for California to begin controlled burn programs.

The Evergreen, retrofitted Boeing 747 was put into action by the state this week, Tom. It has the ability to hold more payload than the IL-76. 135,000 lbs of fluid = 16187 gallons of the IL-76 vs. the 20,000 gallons the 747.

Richard--The Forest Service does have controlled burns in California. I don't know much about their policy in the Angeles Crest; I guess this should be revisited, eh?

There is a good correlation between tax money spent on firefighting and fire prevention, unsurprisingly. LA County does better than San Diego County, which has fewer firefighters and fire fighting resources, and also has more relaxed development laws, allowing more people to live in remote, hilly, flammable areas.

Peter, I think you have it wrong and Lawrence is right.

Catastrophic fires are normal for chaparral, by which I mean that, in order for most of the species to complete their life cycles, they need to burn no more often than every 50 to 100 years. However, these rare fires will be catastrophic.

The native Americans in the LA area burned grasslands, because that is where they obtained most of their food plants. Chaparral isn't grass, and you can convert chaparral to grassland pretty easily by burning it every year.

Unfortunately, the native grasslands were shaped by perhaps 15,000 years of Indian fire, but the Mediterranean weeds that now dominate our grasslands experienced something like 40,000 years of European fire, and that's one reason they dominate our grasslands now.

Bottom line is, if we are willing to live with chaparral in the landscape, we need to expect that there will be Station-type fires every 50-100 years, as a normal part of the cycle. There will be people and houses lost in every one.

If we continue with clearing and frequent, human-set fires, we will have a weedy landscape that burns every few years. While the fires will not be so big, they will burn faster, and there will be people and houses lost in every one.

Personally, I'd rather deal with rare, catastrophic fires, but it's hard to stop people from lighting things off, accidentally or otherwise.

In any case, my sympathy goes out to those who have lost their loved ones, homes, pets, and possessions in the Station Fire. Even a normal fire, like this one, is destructive, and the fact that fires are unavoidable in wild California doesn't blunt the loss.

I only know this fire from Mount Wilson's perspective, but that is: this is the biggest fire in the entire history (104) years of the Observatory and beyond!

It seems inevitable that all resources would be consumed by an Inferno like the one the Summer of 2009!

My family used to live in this area in the 60's and early 70's. I've been following the story with some concern, and I really appreciate the quality and completeness of the LA Times' coverage. The interactive fire map is a particularly good tool for tracking the fire and related stories.

Great job, L.A. Times--glad to see somebody out there understands what good old-fashioned reporting is, and how to translate it to the Web.


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