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Fire grows to more than 122,000 acres; officials hope for improved conditions [Updated]

Fire The Station fire grew to more than 122,000 acres overnight and continued to burn out of control despite some signs of improving weather conditions.

The massive blaze, which has burned more than 50 structures, killed two firefighters and caused thousands of evacuations, grew by about 15,000 acres over the last 12 hours. That's a smaller rate of growth than Sunday or Monday, but officials are still on guard.

[Updated at 7:20 a.m.: At a briefing this morning, officials said they were growing more optimistic about the fire. They said firefighters were set backfires overnight in areas of Glendale, Tujunga and the Santa Clara ridge. More moisture in the air was slowing the blaze. Although temperatures are cooling, officials said they worried about the possibility of gusty winds and dry lightning. No new structures were burned overnight. The fire is 5% contained, but officials expect that number to grow significantly today.]

The fire this morning was bearing down on neighborhoods in Tujunga, where homes have been evacuated.

After a six-day heat wave, forecasters say an onshore flow will return today, dropping temperatures on the fire lines to the low 90s, with some gusty winds at mountain peaks. Humidity is also expected to increase.

In the once-threatened area of Briggs Terrace, firefighters using flares set backfires from the top of the ridge gradually down toward the homes. The burnouts neutralized the danger of the wildfire coming down, said Nathan Judy of the U.S. Forest Service. 

Statfire "Everybody in that neighborhood has nothing to worry about," he said."There's no fuel to burn. We took it away." 

Firefighters cut a break between the homes and the burnout nearest them, but the winds were blowing upslope during the operation anyway, Judy said.

The Station fire, the largest of several in the state, was plowing through dense hillside vegetation along the San Gabriel Mountains, cutting a remarkable swath that extends from Altadena into the high desert.

Despite the fire's sprawling dimensions, stretching up to 25 miles from east to west and 18 miles from north to south, aggressive ground and aerial assaults managed to confine the blaze to largely undeveloped areas.

And on the fire's eastern flank, officials were still hoping a concerted effort to hack away tree limbs, cut fire breaks and lay down fire retardant would spare the Mt. Wilson Observatory and a key complex of communications towers used for over-the-air broadcasting by nearly 50 radio and television stations.

"There have been hundreds of homes saved in this effort," said Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant.

But the outlook for the coming days remains "treacherous," said Mike Dietrich, incident commander for the U.S. Forest Service. "This is a very angry fire. Until we get a change in the weather conditions, I am not overly optimistic. The fire is headed just about anywhere it wants."

Dangerous conditions were expected to increase the risk the blaze could reach new communities in the Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel valleys. More than 6,000 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders, and full control of the blaze was not expected until well after Labor Day, even as the number of firefighters on the lines swelled to more than 3,700.

Losses from the fire rose Monday when officials learned that more than 30 cabins, homes and other structures were destroyed in the remote Big Tujunga Canyon area. Officials estimated multimillion-dollar losses but stressed they were still tallying the destruction as inspectors reached burned areas.

Weary fire crews trading 12-hour shifts had little time Monday to mourn the deaths of two L.A. County firefighters killed Sunday when their truck overturned on a mountain road.

Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, and firefighter specialist Arnaldo Quinones, 34, were part of a team of 65 firefighters -- mostly jail inmates -- trying to defend a camp when flames made a sudden run at their positions, said County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman. An investigation is continuing, but preliminary indications are that Hall and Quinones were trying to reposition a fire truck, which then tumbled 800 feet down a steep slope. Other firefighters suffered minor injuries in a rescue effort, Freeman said.

At Mt. Wilson, the intensity and unpredictability of the blaze, which continued shifting directions, forced fire crews to pull back from the mountaintop. With the blaze burning on both sides of the only access road to the complex, firefighters could become trapped if the inferno suddenly raced up the canyon walls.

The drama of families having to flee their homes -- or risking all to try to defend their property -- played out repeatedly as searing heat and a generation of accumulated hillside growth fed the fires.

There was confusion and concern when six people refused to evacuate from Gold Canyon near Little Tujunga, officials said. Conflicting reports through the day said the group wanted to stay, or be rescued, after firefighters lighted backfires to battle the blaze in the area. Sheriff's deputies returned to the area three times, officials said, but it appeared the group was not leaving.

As billows of white and black smoke danced ominously close in the Sunland-Tujunga area, Chuck Horn ushered his family and his two prized classic automobiles away from his home.

"We took pictures, tax returns, insurance forms, the dog, the chicken, and that's it," Horn, 61, a retired L.A. County public works employee, said as he prepared to drive away in his baby blue 1931 Plymouth coupe. Next, he planned to move a black 1911 Buick Model 33.

--Hector Becerra at Hansen Dam

Top photo: Los Angeles city firefighter Thomas Rindge takes a break from battling the Station fire in La Crescenta. Aggressive ground and aerial assaults have managed to contain the huge blaze to largely undeveloped areas. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Second photo: Fire crews work to contain the Station fire, burning in the hills above La Crescenta, California, August 31, 2009. Credit: Michal Czerwonka / EPA

Fire300
Firemap295
Interactive map: The Station fire

Huge wildfire shows little sign of slowing down

Firefighters died in effort to escape

Evacuee who may have lost home awaits word on animals left behind

Mt. Wilson webcam: The 150-Foot Solar Tower

L.A. County Fire Department: The latest

Twitter: Follow @latimescitydesk | @latimesfires

 
Comments () | Archives (16)

Great story from a great writer! Keep it up!

From the San Francisco Bay Area, we are keeping all of those affected by these fires in our prayers during these trying times. Hang in there!

I get so angry about people who stay behind after mandatory evacuation orders. Do you think you are that tough? That you have that much control? That "no darn fire's gonna take my home"?? A fire does not give one hoot about how angry or determined you are. Natural disasters do not care.

My uncle is a firefighter, so I know firsthand how those who stay behind make it worse for everyone else. Not to mention the emotional stress it puts on firefighters -- of course they'll want to save you even if they're not allowed, and when they can't, it is very stressful.

Staying behind also sucks up resources when firefighters have to save your stupid ass because you thought that somehow your dinky garden hose would make a difference. Firefighters that could be using their energy to cut more line breaks waste it on you, thereby letting the fire grow more than it would have if you weren't so arrogant.

Your decision to stay behind DOES NOT ONLY AFFECT YOU. Think about whether you believe that your house is worth putting others in danger over.

I grew up in La Crescenta and experienced many fires. This is the worst and one that my late father always predicted. Does anyone remember the one in 1973 or '74? If you do, you will remember the horrific floods/mudslides that followed. It saddens me that LA just forgets and keeps building. Pray for the firefighters!

I agree with Laurie. My neighbor not only refused to evacuate, he left the
next day for a vacation, and left behind his dog and cat locked in, betting
that the fire would not reach them and that the mandatory evac would
be lifted in time for a caretaker to bring them water. People like that cause
others to be injured or killed.

If they want to stay, then its their life they are risking: but I don't think people realize when they refuse to evacuate that every visit those firefighters make, every helicopter that is on standby, every phone line tied up results in less resources to fight the fire and someone else may lose their home.
I think a neighbor who loses their home should be allowed to sue the residents wasting the resources.

Could not agree more with Laurie. My husband is a firefighter and I think those that stay behind after being told to evacuate are selfish.

I just want to send a quick thank you to all of the fire-fighters. Stay safe.


OPERATION WILDEFIRE

A PROPOSED, MULTI-STATE AIR NATIONAL GUARD, C-130 AIR-TANKER, FOREST FIGHTING TASKFORCE

A new fire-fighting concept, Operation Wildefire had been presented to the commanding Generals of the Air National Guard of five western states. While this letter does not presume to ultimately speak for the Guard, there has been a most favorable cooperative and positive response from Major General Frank Scoggins (since retired) Washington State, Air National Guard and others in leadership who had reviewed the initial concept including the then Major General of California. General Scoggins immediate first comment, was, “either you are coming here to Fort Murray or I am coming to meet you in Los Angeles, but we need to talk.”

While millions of acres of our valuable forestlands are destroyed yearly by fire, it seems we are forced to accept what may be an antiquated fire containment protocol. It has been an example, of a “too little too late” policy. We the public have come to accept the current process as normal, but with all due respect, without an all out “first strike” air tanker capability, the current process may in fact be anything but normal. Operation Wildefire may therefore, be a concept, borne out of necessity as the history and recent fires mandate.

THE PROBLEM

The current approach often surrenders valuable time of containment in which a fire gains commanding and unrelenting control. Is it not here at the outbreak, (particularly in those states with the smallest resources) that critical time and advantage is lost? At this early point of containment, too few aircraft are organized and engaged in water and retardant drops. The situation is compounded when the limited number of aircraft is forced to depart the fire scene for refueling or reloading. Is it not here at this early critical stage where common sense would dictate an all out effort be deployed? An effort with adequate resource to seize the advantage? Can we as a nation continue to abide the utter destruction of millions of acres of oxygen emitting forestland and the subsequent pollution, loss of timber, private property, human and wildlife? The intent of this proposal is not to diminish the efforts of dedicated men and women of forestry who literally and heroically put their lives on the line year in and year out. Their task is becoming overwhelming and the object here is to seek a solution involving their continued contribution in conjunction with an earlier response from the military. Continuing to lose millions of acres of valuable forestland is not an option.
THE PROPOSED SOLUTION

A MULTI-STATE JOINT AIRBORNE C-130 TASKFORCE

There are many modified retrofitted tanker aircraft positioned on tarmacs of the Air National Guard units in several western states. Certain of these units could be mobilized and assigned to perform as part of a combined multi-state airborne taskforce of 8-16 aircraft (to be determined) with crews trained, rehearsed and prepared, to engage a fire or multiple fires in one or more states–not unlike the way they would approach a routine bombing mission in time of war. Think of the possibilities if the strike force were comprised of two air tanker squadrons, one from the military and another squadron consisting of civilian air tankers. The Air National Guard aircraft could depart from neighboring states to rendezvous with other Guard planes and arrive at most fires within 2-3 hours. It has also been proposed that a contingency of aircraft could be on loan by the various states and positioned and at the ready at an independent base during the fire season. Is it not conceivable this type of orchestrated force could bomb a fire into retreat if not complete submission at the earliest possible time? These planes at the various western states are already owned maintained and paid for. As the General has suggested, this advantage could also be taken to any state in the US within hours. Major General Scoggins also “brainstormed” the concept with fellow C-130 commanders and crews at an annual meeting at Scotts Air Force Base in Missouri prior to 9/11. The support for the concept was (according to the General) very encouraging however:

AIR NATIONAL GUARD

Several leaders have expressed a keen interest in the project’s soundness and potential. It would appear from the preliminary discussions, that if they were asked by forestry to perform more of an initial role, in concert with the private sector and funding were made available, they appear to be agreeable to opening dialogue with the governing agencies as to how they might be helpful in providing more tanker support at an earlier point in the process. The Guard serves at the will of the government and as such can not take the lead in proposing such a plan.

I agree with Laurie and would take it a step further. A lot of these homes should have never been built in the middle of a natural fire zone.

The worst thing is that our colorful City Council representatives are not helping the situation because they have water rationing in the hills. I wonder if any of them are aware that lack of water makes plants dry out? Probably not. If my place burns down, the tax payers will hear from me because I will sue the City council members for their negligent decision. Any others in the hills should do the same. My council person is Geuel. When I recieved the water restriction notice, I e-mailed her my concerns. Did she even have the decency to contact me? No. Why would we want someone like her who is not looking out for our interests? Sounds like they bungled this one big time.
Any comments?

If anyone is reading these comments to firefighters, I hope you are in some way encouraged to know that Angelenos who are living overseas are watching your efforts - watching you with admiration, gratitude, some tears and hope for your safety. We owe you!

Where is our illustrious mayor?

Just want to say thank you to all the firefighters for doing a great job fighting an extremely dangerous wildfire.
My condolences to the families of the two firefighters who lost their lives protecting the lives and homes of others.

Two years ago my home was threatened by the Ranch Fire and our ranch (about 600 acres) was destroyed but thanks to the incredible efforts of firefighters, our house itself was saved. I understand the concern and stress involved in evacuating without knowing if you'll see your home again and the frustration of not being able to bring everything with you. But we never hesitated when they said to leave. As devastating as it would have been if my house had burned, it would have been worse to have a firefighter die trying to save it or us. No possession is worth the life of another person.
If you ignore the orders in place to SAVE YOUR LIFE and refuse to evacuate, and then ask to be rescued, and any person in uniform (firefighter, deputy, paramedic) is injured or killed trying to save you, you should be charged with assault or negligent homicide. You have deliberately and unnecessarily endangered the lives of the people who are trying to protect you. We need to extend the "mandatory evacuation" order to include handcuffing and jailing those who refuse to leave. It is your "choice" to stay but when you decide finally that you need help, the brave people in uniform have no choice--they HAVE to risk their lives to save you.

The reason California fires have been so lethal the past few years is because of the highly flammable chemtrails they are spraying overhead. These chemtrail aerosols contain highly flammable heavy metals including aluminum oxide and barium. This is the real cause of the drought and has affected California rainfall. In 2006, we only had 3 inches of rain all year. The lowest rainfall since 1870. For more information and proof, go to www.californiaskywatch.com , www.losangelesskywatch.com, and www.aboutthesky.com


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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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