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

September 2, 2009 |  6:55 am


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