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Caltrans workers angered at loss of their homes near Mt. Wilson [Updated]

September 1, 2009 |  7:37 pm


For decades, an enclave of Caltrans workers has lived in a group of 80-year-old homes alongside Angeles Crest Highway, about 10 miles northeast of the Mt. Wilson Observatory. It is their job to keep the highway free of debris, rocks and snow for the benefit of thousands of people who travel to the top of the Angeles National Forest year round.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, those residents –- who include four families, some of whom have lived here for more than a quarter century --- were taking stock of their losses. Three of four historic homes were destroyed adjacent to a relatively new $4-million Caltrans maintenance center. [Updated, 8:41 p.m. The center, which was constructed with fire-resistant materials, was largely unscathed.]

The California Department of Transportation employees who lived at the remote location known as Chilao were deeply embittered by having been, as they put it, abandoned by firefighting crews as flames bore down on them Monday afternoon.

Some  were too angry to talk about it. But equipment operator Robert Torres, whose home was the only residence spared, offered a few comments on their behalf.

“We were left on our own here,” he said. “At one point, there was a helicopter flying overhead with a bladder full of water and not dropping. What does that tell you?”

“Before we evacuated, we were waiting for a strike team to arrive or an aerial drop of water or fire retardant,” Torres said. “That never happened.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, it seemed especially upsetting to the residents that an extraordinary amount of attention was being paid to saving property at nearby camping facilities and the Mt. Wilson complex.

“The U.S. Forest Service knows we’re here,” Torres said. 

-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: A state forestry department crew sets back-burns to remove possible fuel for the approaching Station fire around the Mt. Wilson Observatory and radio towers. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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L.A. County Fire Department: The latest

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