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Fire Within 500 Feet Of Mt. Wilson Observatory

Firefighters battling to protect historic site

Published on Tuesday, September 15, 2020 | 11:45 am
 

[UPDATED] The Mount Wilson Observatory was still standing as of Tuesday morning. 

“The observatory boundaries are still secure at this time and we have 12 companies of professionals from L.A. County Fire intending to keep it that way,” the site posted on its Facebook page Tuesday morning. “It’s shaping up to be a good day for aerial action, too.”

However, by the afternoon the fire was still moving toward the observatory.

According to Angeles National Forest, the #BobcatFire is within 500 ft of the Mt. Wilson Observatory. Crews are in place ready to receive the fire.
“Strategic firing is taking place in the south where air operations are strengthening dozerlines. Crews are working a spot fire that crossed Hwy 2 near Buckhorn,” according to the Angeles National Forest Facebook page.

Firefighters worked Tuesday morning to protect the infrastructure around Mount Wilson as the Bobcat Fire, which has scorched 41,231-acres, crept closer to the historic observatory and broadcast towers, which are valued at more than $1 billion. However, containment of the blaze dropped from 6 percent to 3 percent Monday night, after the fire had grown in size.

The fire is currently “creeping” toward the observatory, said an official with the U.S. Forest Service.

“Strategic firing operations (backfires being set by firefighters) are taking place to protect the infrastructure around Mount Wilson,” the Angeles National Forest tweeted late Monday night. “Firefighters are taking advantage of favorable weather conditions. Crews and equipment will be staffing the Bobcat Fire” through the early morning hours.

On Monday, employees were evacuated as the fire approached the site.

The Bobcat is knocking on our door. Fire officials predicted that the fire would approach Mount Wilson from Echo Rock. It looks like they are correct. Note: All mountain personnel have evacuated,” stated an update Monday.

In a letter posted on its website Monday morning, officials with the observatory said the fire was “rapidly” heading toward the facility.

“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.”

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 would be on hand to assist firefighters until ordered to leave. 

Workers at the site have been preparing for a fire by cutting trees. New high-flow water hydrants were installed a few months ago to help replenish fire tanker trucks.

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

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