With temperatures expected to reach the mid- to high 90s today in the fire areas, officials said they were expecting extreme fire conditions, mirroring Saturday’s, when flames leapt as high as 80 feet and spread at a rate of about 2.5 miles an hour.
More than 2,000 fire personnel now are deployed fighting the Station Fire.
In the Acton area, mandatory evacuations have been ordered along the 14 Freeway from Soledad Canyon Road to Crown Valley Road and along Aliso Canyon Road from Soledad Canyon Road to Angeles Forest Highway.
The California Highway Patrol has also closed the on and offramps to the 14 Freeway at Soledad Canyon Road, Agua Dulce, Escondido Canyon Road, Red Rover Mine Road and Crown Valley Road. They said that they were concerned that fire behavior in the area could become extreme as they were expecting the wind to shift around 10 a.m.
At its eastern flank, officials said that the fire was about two miles from Mt. Wilson, site of a number of important communications towers and an observatory. Ground crews are cutting back vegetation and brush in the area to arrest the fire’s progress.
At its southwestern flank, the fire is spreading actively in the foothills above the 210 Freeway, from Altadena to Little Tujunga. Officials said they had four control objectives for the day:
— Keep the fire west of Mt. Wilson Road
— Keep it south of Highway 14.
— Keep it east of Interstate 5.
— Keep it north of both Foothill Boulevard and Altadena Drive.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Bill Sanchez said fire crews needed to cut about 110 miles of fire line to stop the fire’s trajectory.
He said the wind changed direction overnight, particularly in the mountainous areas of the Angeles National Forest, to a down-canyon wind, which pushed it toward some residential areas.
“Due to the volatility at the top of some of the areas, it is going to be really challenging,” Sanchez said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. There is quite a bit of instability at the top of the fire.”
Weary firefighters were hoping for slightly cooler weather and more resources today as they battled the Station Fire.
The fire marched north overnight through remote mountain ridges toward Acton. The U.S. Forest Service was sending firefighters into those areas, which have become the northern edge of the blaze. Mandatory evacuations were in effect in La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena, La Crescenta, Altadena, Glendale and Big Tujunga Canyon.
Today is supposed to be the last day of a five-day heat wave that has brought triple-digit temperatures along the fire lines. Forecasters said temperatures will drop a few degrees today and that lower temperatures, morning clouds and more humidity are on tap for the next few days.
But even with no winds in the forecast, firefighters said the conditions remain highly dangerous.
Forest Service officials said three civilians were burned and airlifted from rural Big Tujunga Canyon, where at least three to five homes were destroyed. One fire official, after surveying the canyon, estimated that the toll may be much worse.
Officials also are deploying at least one DC-10, one of the largest and most expensive pieces of firefighting equipment in the world.
August 30, 2009
Waiting and worrying as flames toy with a town
My town on the edge of the hill is fearful and a little forlorn. For four days, the flames have crept across the mountain. There’s been barely a wisp of wind to feed it or hurry it along. So it chews its way slowly through the scrub oak, the manzanita, the buckwheat. I look up at the ridge, lighted like a candelabra, and think: Now it’s our turn. Dante’s California.
Saturday, there was a sense of relief, then more concern as the fire fattened itself on neighboring communities. At this point, it could explode, or it could mostly smolder till cool weather comes.
In the news business, they say no one cares about wildfires except the folks amid them. Well, those folks really, really care. Here in La Cañada Flintridge, there is talk of calling the TV stations pleading for more coverage and information. There is talk of calling Sacramento to release those ginormous water-dropping planes. The rest of us, we watch the hillsides, we wait. The smoke is surreal, a curtain that just won’t fall.
Even in the best of times, La Cañada Flintridge can be an odd place — afraid of change one moment, dynamic and progressive the next. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory lives here, as do countless entertainment execs. The Dodgers’ Rafael Furcal lives here too, up the hill, near the candelabra.
La Cañada is known for its wealth and its schools, but like every small town, it has its quirks and its kooks. When we moved here 15 years ago, the John Birch Society had a booth at the Memorial Day picnic. When the pols recently wanted to tap families $150 to help education, a reasonable sum in a town of million-dollar homes, they had a fight on their hands, believe you me.
And now they have these fires.
They are intense but, until Saturday, were moving mercifully slow. Their slow pace was better for everybody — firefighters, evacuees — but draining nonetheless. It reminded me of awaiting a hurricane, the way we did in the South. As you may know from sweaty Robert Mitchum movies, hurricanes are dastardly things; they hold you hostage.
Same with these blazes, which began Wednesday and just seemed to loiter. Most wildfires, you don’t dare turn your back. On this one, most of my neighbors went to bed like always Thursday and Friday, figuring it’d still be where it was by morning. It was moving slowly all right. But it wasmoving.
By late afternoon Saturday, damage reports were remarkably low, considering the acreage burned. Firefighters made a stand on the hillsides, yet the fire seemed to mock them by spreading east, then west, toward Altadena and La Crescenta.
La Cañada, a town of 20,671, has always been a potential tinderbox. Fire officials have pleaded with residents for years to cut back the giant deodars that bridge the roadways. County firefighters have done controlled burns in the area for the last five years, hoping to prevent the worst-case scenario: a fire barreling down the crest, pushed by the ferocious Santa Anas, into the bull’s-eye that is La Cañada.
But this has been a more subdued storm, if such things can ever be that. As the fire inched slowly down the hill Friday night, what winds there were pushed it back up, slowing it even further. As it reached the edge of town Saturday, it seemed to rebound and spread. So, we watch. We wait.
"Happy Valley," I call it, for, despite its provincial nature, La Cañada is still a remarkably comfortable suburb, stubbornly traditional and relentlessly earnest. The moms basically run the place. The dads show up on weekends.
No surprise, the most timely news on these fires has come from Facebook, that province of the modern mother.
"The parts of the mountain that burned last night look like they’ve had a buzz cut," Kathy Hernandez wrote Friday. "The fire’s definitely spread out since yesterday. I was down at the high school for the back to school teacher luncheon. . . . They’ve got the North Gym all set up with cots in case people need a place to sleep."
Ash is everywhere, SoCal snow — on the rooftops, on the cars. The Pasadena Humane Society is standing by, ready to help care for pets. One of the insurance companies has already set up shop.
School opens Monday. Maybe.
At JPL, helicopters refuel on the mesa, then dip their buckets in the ponds at the country club. Everywhere, smoke and flames. And 5% containment.
So the evacuations, and the worry, continue. The dads clean the gutters of leaves and other potential fuel, load the car and point it toward the street for a quick getaway.
As for those Super Scoopers, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino says he and others have been working on it. He says the government contract with the Canadian firm that supplies the planes doesn’t start till Sept. 1 (Tuesday). The firm agreed to send them early, but they are grounded by the weather up north. And it usually takes two days to get them here.
Till then, we watch the hillsides. At night, they look like lava.
And we wait.
We ALL wait…
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today urged residents in fire evacuation zones to flee as firefighters predicted another difficult day battling a wildfire that has burned 35,000 acres and threatened more than 12,000 homes from Acton to Altadena.
Schwarzenegger noted at a morning press conference that three residents in Big Tujunga Canyon suffered serious burns trying in vain to save their homes Saturday.
"There will be people who don’t listen," the governor said at the fire command post in Lake View Terrace. ". . . Move as soon as [firefighters] say to move."
Although thousands of homes are covered in the evacuation orders, many residents have stayed behind, with some vowing to fight to protect their homes from the Station fire.
The fire line now extends about 19 miles east to west. The governor and other elected officials praised firefighters for successfully protecting subdivisions in the foothills.
Thank God we don’t have Santa Ana winds!!
Have a nice Sunday and a Great week