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Station fire pushes farther east to above Sierra Madre; cost of battle pegged at $21 million [Updated]

September 2, 2009 | 12:22 pm

The Station fire, which continued to push southeast into the mountains high above Pasadena and Sierra Madre, has cost more than $21 million to fight, officials said today.

Firefighters continued to make progress on the 140,000-acre blaze, but officials said it continues to expand. The eastern flank is burning in the San Gabriel Wilderness Area near Devil's Canyon, said Nathan Judy of the U.S. Forest Service.

[Updated at 1 p.m.: In Altadena, the fire was burning in the forest at the top of mountains but was not visible from the foothill community. At the top of Lake Avenue, U.S. Forest Service strike team leader James Park said hot shot crews are looking for places to tie in the fire, where it can be blocked between areas with no fuel, such as rock outcroppings. If the weather holds, they should be successful, he said.

Down the mountain, in such locales as the top of Lake and around Eaton Canyon, contingency work is underway. In addition to firebreaks and bringing hose lines in, plans are being drawn for firefighting action at various points if the fire moves down the mountain. There are no evacuation orders in the area that he knew of. Firebreaks are visible above the old Cobb Estate northeast of Lake and Alta Loma. Crews have laid hoses.]

Firemap

On the west, officials are worried about the fire encroaching on Little Tujunga Canyon. Firefighters have been having trouble getting into the area because of rugged terrain, Judy said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, though officials are looking into whether it was sparked by a person, either on purpose or by accident.

"Right now, there is no definitive cause," said Steve Whitmore of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which is monitoring the investigation.  "It could be natural, lightning, undetermined or it could be human. We don't know."

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 brought in to crush much of the brush surrounding the peak and that more fire-resistant gel was used to protect structures.

Temperatures continued to drop slightly, aiding firefighters on a massive blaze that has 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 "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 wildlife 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, acres 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." Read more about the Station fire here.

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz at Hansen Dam and Roger Smith in Altadena

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Photos: Southland wildfires  | High-res Interactive map: The Station fire

Amid progress, concern about Station fire's southeastern edge

In Big Tujunga Canyon, fire leaves behind mourners and miracles

San Gabriel Mountains a daunting place to fight fire

L.A. County Fire Department: The latest

Twitter: Follow @latimescitydesk | @latimesfires

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