Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Station Fire still burning in Mt. Wilson root system, bringing out more firefighters [Updated]

November 9, 2009 |  3:32 pm


More than a month ago, the Station fire was fully contained by firefighters.

But on Mount Wilson, it doesn’t look that way.

There, Dave Jurasevich has looked out the window of the Mount Wilson Observatory and spotted several plumes of smoke in recent weeks since the worst fire in L.A. County history was declared contained.

“We don’t see a lot of fire, but we see smoke -- and where there’s smoke, there’s fire, obviously,” said Jurasevich, the superintendent at the observatory, which was evacuated twice during the Station fire.

Firefighters have been called in. Helicopters too. They’re putting out hot spots where the fire smolders underground, burning through root systems.

If a gust of wind comes along, and there’s fuel present, those coals can become flames.

“The fire’s not out,” said Stanton Florea, a fire information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. “The fire’s not out by any means. Containment is when there’s a line around it. Control is when there’s no heat.”

And control comes much later, Florea said. “They told us it won’t really be out until the real winter rains start,” Jurasevich said.

Those rains came for two days in mid-October, but at the observatory, the rain gauge gathered only about five inches.

“It wasn’t enough,” Jurasevich said.

The region faces a sort of Catch-22 because although more rains would douse smoldering root systems, they could also cause mudslides in the foothill communities that sit below the barren hillsides of the Angeles National Forest.

The Station fire, which authorities believe was started by an arsonist in late August, burned 160,000 acres, destroyed dozens of dwellings and killed two firefighters. It has cost more than $95 million to fight.

-- Baxter Holmes

Photo: A smoky haze surrounds Mt. Wilson during the Station fire.  Credit: Los Angeles Times

[Updated at 4:56 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the last name of Dave Jurasevich, the observatory's superintendent, as Jerasevich.]