So, the observatory Towercam is back online, and the summit of Mount Wilson is looking decidedly un-charred and… peaceful. This means the fire crews did an outstanding job of removing vegetation and the aerial water attack obviously paid off. The Hooker Telescope dome is also looking fine.
But it’s the scene to the east of Mt. Wilson (the Towercam has been turned around), showing fires burning in the valley and in the hills (the nearest fires still burn in the West Fork of the San Gabriel River Canyon near Shortcut Saddle), that reminds us that the fire fight is far from over, and the fire men and women are putting their lives on the line day and night.
Update (Aug. 31st, 15:00 PDT): The situation has taken a turn for the worse it appears. Ground crews have been pulled off Mt. Wilson and the fire is approaching the observatory rapidly. The fire will now be fought from the air. The Towercam is no longer accessible (although it is probably overloaded with traffic):
Monday, 31 Aug 09, 2:46 pm PDT – CHARA Array operator PJ Goldfinger reported that at about 2:00 pm she monitored an LA County Sheriffs Department transmission advising a pullout from Red Box, the major staging area near the mountain. I just spoke with Sherry Roman, Public Affairs Officer of the Angeles National Forest. She could give no updates as to the status of the fire in the Mount Wilson vicinity except that the USFS still considers that passage of fire across Mount Wilson is imminent and will be fought aerially rather than with ground personnel. Once the fire is through the area, they can assess the damage by air after the event before they can send in ground personnel. She also confirmed what PJ’s monitoring implied, that firefighters have been removed from Red Box.
August 31st, 10:00 PDT: Well, last night was a rather dramatic night for the Mount Wilson Observatory. During the seemingly relentless charge of flames pushing dangerously close to the summit, news came in that it was very likely the Station Fire would arrive at the observatory some time last night. However, due to the brave efforts of fire crews who camped out on Mt. Wilson through the night, the observatory and telecommunication masts look like they’ve been saved, for now.
“At this point, I don’t think [the observatory] suffered any serious damage. We’ll probably get some flare-ups or threatening flame activity, but we don’t think it’s going to be a major problem,” Inspector Edward Osorio of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said this morning.
Aggressive brush clearance and fire retardant appear to have helped, slowing the advance of the flames. However, the observatory and critical communications equipment are not out of the woods quite yet. The threat of flare-ups could still pose an issue. Another cause for concern is the fact that fire crews have been ordered away from the observatory earlier this morning, possibly to relocate north of the fire, the direction it appears to be heading.
Monday, 31 Aug 09, 7:50 am PDT – At 6:25 this morning, fire crews were instructed to withdraw from Mount Wilson. Larry Webster and Dave Jurasevich left the mountain with them. I have just spoken with Larry and Dave when they reached the bottom of the Angeles Crest Hwy in La Canada, and they report minimal fire activity in the immediate vicinity of Mount Wilson. It is not clear why the withdrawal decision was made nor whether or not the fire crews will return. Those fire fighters joined other crews deployed at the Red Box turnoff to Mount Wilson, five miles from the Observatory. So, they are still within close proximity for redeployment. Thus, the good news is that the fire in the Observatory’s vicinity seems to have diminished. The bad news is that there are no fire fighters presently on the scene. —Mt. Wilson Observatory.
The Station Fire has claimed the lives of two fire fighters and caused nearly $8 million of damage. The fire is now 85,000 acres in size and continuing to spread in hot, dry conditions. Here in the San Fernando Valley, west of the Station Fire, the air is full with the smell of smoke and numerous poor air quality warnings have been issued.
Update: Monday, August 31st, 05:45 PDT: In the early hours of Monday morning, it would appear the situation atop Mt. Wilson remains the same. The Towercam is showing smoke and fires to the West of the summit, but there is no further breaking news from the Observatory:
Monday, 31 Aug 09, 4:50 am PDT – No reports from the mountain yet this morning. Towercam shows new fire encroachment. The Inciweb update is eight hours old – 42,500 acres, 2,575 personnel – and two fire fighters lost. —Mt. Wilson Observatory
Sunday, August 30th, 20:30 PDT: According to the Mt. Wilson Observatory fire updates, fire crews have decided to remain at the summit of Mt. Wilson to fight the Station Fire blaze overnight.There were concerns this evening that the conditions would be too treacherous for the fire fighters to remain behind, but it would appear this has changed.
Sunday, 30 Aug 09, 8:07 pm PDT – A critical aspect to the survivability of the Observatory should the fire sweep across it is whether or not fire fighters will be on site during such an event. The U.S. Forest Service continually assesses the danger to fire fighters in any scenario and will withdraw fire crews in situations that are particularly precarious. Such an evaluation took place on Mount Wilson in the last half hour with the decision for the fire crews to remain in place tonight. That’s very good news. —Mt. Wilson Observatory
But the fire continues and Mike Brown, an astronomer who lives near (but doesn’t work at) Mt. Wilson, tweeted his eye witness account of his view of the fire: “Holy smokes; massive glowing plume tonight just west of Mt. Wilson is scarier than last nights 50 ft flames. #stationfire.”
Unfortunately, in another location, two fire fighters have tragically lost their lives fighting a blaze in Acton. According to reports from @CalFireNews and the LA Times the fire fighters were involved in an accident where their vehicle apparently rolled over a mountainside. The accident happened during a period of intense fire fighting.
This is a horrific reminder that hundreds of brave men and women are currently out there battling against hellish heat and poisonous air. My thoughts are with the lost fire fighters families and the fire fighters that continue to push on through the night atop Mt. Wilson and the areas hit hard by the Station Fire.