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Mt. Wilson Observatory: ‘Fire Will Probably Be Upon Us Today’

Historic site threatened by Bobcat Fire

Published on Monday, September 14, 2020 | 10:38 am
Mt. Wilson Observatory

In a letter posted on its website, officials with the Mt. Wilson Observatory said the Bobcat Fire is “rapidly” heading towards the observatory and could reach it today.

“As of Sunday night, it has crossed the river at the bottom of the canyon, passed Chantry Flats, and is headed rapidly upslope towards Mount Wilson. The fire will probably be upon us today.”

Nearly 900 firefighters backed up by nine water- and retardant-dropping aircraft are battling the 33,312-acre Bobcat Fire to protect communities in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, including Arcadia and Sierra Madre where some residents were evacuated as flames burned downhill closer to their homes, according to a story posted by Pasadena Now on Monday.

With the fire only 6 percent contained, residents of Pasadena were advised to be ready to evacuate if flames spread their way.

According to the letter written by Sam Hale, chairman of the board of trustees at the Mount Wilson Institute, a skeleton crew of four maintenance staff members will be on hand to assist firefighters until they are ordered to leave. Sam Hale

“They have been working all week in extremely smoky conditions readying hoses on all the hydrants, lowering metal shutters on building windows, and countless other critical fire-safety preparations,” the letter reads.

A small landslide that has been blocking the Old Mount Wilson Toll Road has been cleared to will provide additional access for fire crews and a second escape route.

“We find ourselves in an extra tough place this year, with fires raging across the western United States, all competing for limited firefighting resources. The weather conditions have created the perfect storm, with exceptionally dry vegetation. And the pandemic has undoubtedly added another level of difficulty to these efforts.”

Workers at the site have been preparing for a fire. Trees have been cut and new high-flow hydrants have just been installed a few months ago to help replenish the fire departments tanker trucks with water.

A giant 530,000 gallon reservoir has just been topped off and is ready to supply 33 hydrants across the Observatory. Another 270,000-gallon tank, belonging to the U.S. Forest Service and maintained by the Observatory, lies just outside our main gate to help defend the Observatory and the broadcast towers which provide radio, television, and communications to most of the LA Basin.

“While we hope the Observatory makes it through relatively unscathed, the battle could go either way,” the letter reads. “The sun will be heating the forest tomorrow and winds will pick up in the afternoon. Our thoughts are with the firefighters who will defend the Observatory against the approaching blaze. We know they will give it their best. We cherish the historic telescopes on the mountain that revolutionized humanity’s understanding of the Cosmos and hope they will be safe. That is the most important thing.

“With so much going on around us throughout the state, little attention has been paid by the media to what is at stake on this unique mountaintop above Los Angeles. But we will know the outcome soon enough. For those who wish to follow the events, as best we can convey them, please go to our website at  where there are links to our Facebook and Twitter feeds, to our live tower cams, and to the U.S. Forest Service twitter page on the Bobcat Fire.

“The Observatory thanks all of our many supporters, and now more than ever, we hope to see all of you looking through our telescopes and enjoying our special events someday soon!”

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