L A Fires – Day 8…. Looking a Little Better Today

 
 
September 3, 2009 | 11:26 am

Encouraged by improving conditions, firefighters battled to halt the spread of the Station fire on its western and eastern flanks.

The biggest priority today was the fire’s southeastern boundary, which was headed toward Devil’s Canyon. Firefighters have been trying to keep the flames north of communities such as Monrovia and Sierra Madre.

A large map of the fire at the command center showed black containment lines around the blaze’s northern boundary, the southwestern boundary and parts of the western and eastern borders.

But large swaths remained open on the eastern and southeastern edges in the San Gabriel Wilderness and on the west near Mendenhall Peak. The area of Mt. Wilson, home to an observatory and communications towers that serve about 50 radio and television stations, appeared to be holding.

"We believe the results will be positive in the Mt. Wilson area," said Incident Commander Mike Dietrich. "Overall, crews have made excellent progress the last couple of days and we’re beginning to reap those benefits."

The fire is now 38% contained and has burned more than 144,000 acres.

On the western flank, 11 homes — roughly 25 residents — were evacuated in the Dillon Divide area. Last night, a firefighter on the front lines suffered a broken leg.

Meanwhile, officials are trying to figure out what caused what has grown into the largest fire in L.A. County history.

Investigators hunched under a scorched, 20-foot oak tree off Angeles Crest Highway on Wednesday afternoon, using wire mesh sifters to search through the ash in an attempt to determine whether the Station fire was deliberately set.

Near Mile Marker 29, authorities were treating the fire’s suspected ignition site as a crime scene. Yellow tape cordoned off the area and authorities blocked the highway, turning away even Caltrans workers and earth movers. Members of the bomb squad also arrived at the scene but officials declined to say what their role was in the probe.

"We believe it is the point of origin," said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mike McCormick. "They are doing a finely detailed, serious, serious search and investigation. We lost two firefighters in this."

At a news conference Wednesday evening at the Station fire command center, fire officials were circumspect, saying only that they had not determined the cause of the blaze. They said, however, that they were not aware of any lightning in the area, eliminating one possible explanation.

 
I just hope this nightmare ends soon..

By Wednesday night, the fire had claimed 64 homes, three commercial buildings and 49 outbuildings and cost more than $27 million to fight.

Despite hard slogging on the fire lines, firefighters claimed some victories Wednesday. The vast majority of evacuated homeowners, including those in areas of Acton, Sunland, Tujunga, La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge, have been allowed to return home.

The threat to the historic observatory and crucial TV and radio transmission towers atop Mt. Wilson had also lessened after intense brush-clearing and back-burning efforts.

Two blazes that had threatened Oak Glen and Yucaipa in San Bernardino County were also closer to reaching full containment.

In La Cañada Flintridge, where residents had settled back in, the sign in the frontyard of one Ocean View Boulevard home said it all: "Thank you for saving Paradise Valley."

At one end of the street, Lillian Guarino’s daughter and two granddaughters washed the soot off the backyard patio furniture. Guarino, 89, said she wanted everything clean before she brought her two dogs, cat and cockatiel back home.

The longtime resident had survived another large fire that swept through the area in the 1970s.

"Yeah, we were very fortunate," she said. "This is the second fire we’ve had to go through. And hopefully this is the last one."

Skeet McAuley ignored the evacuation order to protect his Paradise Valley home and witnessed first-hand the firefighters’ bravery.

When he awoke early Sunday morning he thought it was daytime because so much light shone into his room. Then he realized it was fire from the slope right behind his house. When he peered outside he spotted the firefighters’ silhouettes, not 50 feet from his backyard fence.

"The firemen are my heroes," McAuley said. "They saved me, they saved my house."

For all the successes, officials were quick to point out that the fire remained out of control on its eastern flank. Because of smoky conditions, officials could not fly fixed-wing aircraft into the southeastern area of the fire, relying instead on helicopters and ground crews to save portions of Santa Anita Canyon, Chantry Flats, Devil’s Canyon, Sturtevant’s Camp and other areas.

Encouraged by improving conditions, firefighters battled to halt the spread of the Station fire on its western and eastern flanks.

The biggest priority today was the fire’s southeastern boundary, which was headed toward Devil’s Canyon. Firefighters have been trying to keep the flames north of communities such as Monrovia and Sierra Madre.

A large map of the fire at the command center showed black containment lines around the blaze’s northern boundary, the southwestern boundary and parts of the western and eastern borders.

But large swaths remained open on the eastern and southeastern edges in the San Gabriel Wilderness and on the west near Mendenhall Peak. The area of Mt. Wilson, home to an observatory and communications towers that serve about 50 radio and television stations, appeared to be holding.

"We believe the results will be positive in the Mt. Wilson area," said Incident Commander Mike Dietrich. "Overall, crews have made excellent progress the last couple of days and we’re beginning to reap those benefits."

The fire is now 38% contained and has burned more than 144,000 acres.

On the western flank, 11 homes — roughly 25 residents — were evacuated in the Dillon Divide area. Last night, a firefighter on the front lines suffered a broken leg.

Meanwhile, officials are trying to figure out what caused what has grown into the largest fire in L.A. County history.

Investigators hunched under a scorched, 20-foot oak tree off Angeles Crest Highway on Wednesday afternoon, using wire mesh sifters to search through the ash in an attempt to determine whether the Station fire was deliberately set.

Near Mile Marker 29, authorities were treating the fire’s suspected ignition site as a crime scene. Yellow tape cordoned off the area and authorities blocked the highway, turning away even Caltrans workers and earth movers. Members of the bomb squad also arrived at the scene but officials declined to say what their role was in the probe.

"We believe it is the point of origin," said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mike McCormick. "They are doing a finely detailed, serious, serious search and investigation. We lost two firefighters in this."

At a news conference Wednesday evening at the Station fire command center, fire officials were circumspect, saying only that they had not determined the cause of the blaze. They said, however, that they were not aware of any lightning in the area, eliminating one possible explanation.

By Wednesday night, the fire had claimed 64 homes, three commercial buildings and 49 outbuildings and cost more than $27 million to fight.

Despite hard slogging on the fire lines, firefighters claimed some victories Wednesday. The vast majority of evacuated homeowners, including those in areas of Acton, Sunland, Tujunga, La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge, have been allowed to return home.

The threat to the historic observatory and crucial TV and radio transmission towers atop Mt. Wilson had also lessened after intense brush-clearing and back-burning efforts.

Two blazes that had threatened Oak Glen and Yucaipa in San Bernardino County were also closer to reaching full containment.

In La Cañada Flintridge, where residents had settled back in, the sign in the frontyard of one Ocean View Boulevard home said it all: "Thank you for saving Paradise Valley."

At one end of the street, Lillian Guarino’s daughter and two granddaughters washed the soot off the backyard patio furniture. Guarino, 89, said she wanted everything clean before she brought her two dogs, cat and cockatiel back home.

The longtime resident had survived another large fire that swept through the area in the 1970s.

"Yeah, we were very fortunate," she said. "This is the second fire we’ve had to go through. And hopefully this is the last one."

Skeet McAuley ignored the evacuation order to protect his Paradise Valley home and witnessed first-hand the firefighters’ bravery.

When he awoke early Sunday morning he thought it was daytime because so much light shone into his room. Then he realized it was fire from the slope right behind his house. When he peered outside he spotted the firefighters’ silhouettes, not 50 feet from his backyard fence.

"The firemen are my heroes," McAuley said. "They saved me, they saved my house."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the fire area Wednesday and dished out both praise and ample helpings of hot cereal.

 
Arnie!  Where is Obama????

"I hope it really makes you strong," he told one fireman.

The Governor was confronted by angry homeowners who accused the government of pulling out needed resources to fight fires in more affluent neighborhoods.  Schwarzenegger  told his aides to get ‘those people’ away from him but didn’t deny it.

For all the successes, officials were quick to point out that the fire remained out of control on its eastern flank. Because of smoky conditions, officials could not fly fixed-wing aircraft into the southeastern area of the fire, relying instead on helicopters and ground crews to save portions of Santa Anita Canyon, Chantry Flats, Devil’s Canyon, Sturtevant’s Camp and other areas.

Lost Everything…

Clearing Debris

Resting!!

R

********************************************************************************************************************

Firefighters wage 5-day battle to save Mt. Wilson Observatory

In a mile-high duel, driven firefighters are determined to keep flames from the historic facility.

It was near midnight Monday, and Larry Peabody looked toward a leading flank of the giant Station fire as it advanced over a ridge in the Angeles National Forest, marching toward the Mt. Wilson Observatory.

"We can’t stop the head of the fire," said Peabody, a fuels battalion chief for the U.S. Forest Service, as he stood in the darkness on the bottom of Mt. Wilson Road, a narrow switchback off the Angeles Crest Highway that is the only paved road into and out of the peak-hugging observatory compound.

The battle for Mt. Wilson was fully engaged.

To one side of the firefighters were multiplying ranks of snarling flames that already had turned miles of centuries-old trees to charcoal. To the other side were a hundred years of astronomical history and hundreds of millions of dollars in communications towers, treasures to the city below.

Over five days and four nights, the fight would be waged on the ground and from the sky, and the odds of saving the legendary observatory and its neighboring thickets of broadcast spires often seemed slim at best.

Peabody and his colleagues were already exhausted. In oven heat, they had hacked away brush around Mt. Wilson’s structures, and taken chain saws to low-hanging limbs of oak and pine, in hopes of starving the main body of the fire. As they toiled, smaller but growing flare-ups climbed the mountain like a procession of candle-bearers.

Now, some of the firefighters were trying to steal a few hours of sleep, or at least a few minutes, in bedrolls on a turn-off from the highway. Clogging the narrow lanes were boulders loosened from the braces of trees that had been felled by the fire.

On Mt. Wilson itself, two-dozen firefighters stood overnight sentry, positioned along the gloomy perimeters of the observatory and towers. A greater number might have been deployed, but there were more pressing priorities in the urban elevations — the protection of hillside homes.

The domed observatory and its companion installations — including the towers that serve broadcast outlets and a variety of law-enforcement and national security functions — had been evacuated. The resulting scene was as otherworldly as Mt. Wilson’s place in Los Angeles lore, as the 105-year-old science marvel whose 100-inch Hooker telescope had proved the existence of other galaxies flung across an expanding universe.

Columns of smoke turned the moonlight orange, and the flurries of ash mimicked the 5,710-foot mountain’s winter snowfall. Sound came only from the wind, with some gusts created by the fire churning in sea-deep canyons.

At daybreak Monday, things had become worse. Twin fronts of the blaze drew closer, and the danger posed to the crews staging a last line of defense was suddenly a matter of moral imperative.

Firefighters were ordered off Mt. Wilson, and there were prayers for a change in the weather — a shift in the winds, a burst of rain, anything that might make a return to the observatory less than suicidal.

"It’s not worth dying for," said Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Martin.

He spoke even as the elements abided. Temperatures cooled a bit, the humidity rose, the wind died down, and firefighters pushed the flames back from the slopes of La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta, in Mt. Wilson’s shadow.

By Tuesday afternoon, the crews were back at the observatory, and an intensified aerial assault was under way. Helicopters bombarded the canopies of trees with fire-retardant gel and foam. A pair of 18-wheelers angled up Mt. Wilson Road to deliver two house-sized earthmovers, which were put to work scraping the hillsides clean of brush.

And then backfires were set under the oaks within a few feet of the observatory’s gleaming white dome, triggering a skull-rattling alarm that blared from large horns on the building.

By dusk, all that could be done had been done to gird for the arrival of the flames, which were expected to scale the mountain by 2 a.m. Wednesday. A backup contingent of 18 fire engines lined Angeles Crest Highway at the turn-off, five miles down the road. Aircraft were on standby.

If the fire overran the compound, a last-resort measure would be taken to spray the technology-packed structures with foam. "We do not plan to cover everything with a gooey mess," said county Fire Deputy Chief James Powers, who was supervising the operation from his improvised headquarters in an observatory office.

About 100 firefighters were dug in, waiting. Two a.m. came and went, and the fire stayed below the observatory perimeter.

At dawn, it had retreated to a less-threatening distance, but not far enough for comfort. The same was true at midday.

"We’re still fairly concerned," said Paul Lowenthal, a spokesman for the fire teams. "This fire is constantly changing and moving in different directions."

It wasn’t until late afternoon that the die-hard crews were feeling good about their prospects of winning, even though scattered hot spots continued to menace the observatory.

"We’re pretty confident," said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Edward Osorio. "Mt. Wilson is going to be OK."
 

Neighbothood Gone!

 

Looking for anything

… anything at all

No mail today…

Just Exhausted

*********************************************************************************************************************

O.C. firefighters faced wall of flame

 Firefighter who battled Station fire says it’s one of scariest he’s seen.

The burn rate was fast – as fast as Mike Rohde has seen in 37 years of fighting fires.

Batallion Chief Rohde

So fast that, on Saturday, Rohde and other firefighters watched in awe and fear as the Station blaze put on a show that was as rare as it was horrifying.

The scene was simple. A cloud built by drought, heat, aridity and, above all, a rapidly burning fire rose as high as 30,000 feet into the sky, as tall as Mount Everest. Then, as the fire beneath it continued to gobble down fuel and oxygen, the cloud did what firefighters usually see only in their worst dreams – it collapsed from its own weight.

"When it collapses, it pushes the wind to the ground and causes the fire to blow up," said Rohde, a battalion chief with the Orange County Fire Authority and one of more than 50 O.C. firefighters who joined an army of 4,700 firefighters battling the Station blaze.

The cloud’s collapse set off a 2-mile front of 100-foot flames that, in 15 minutes, reached toward Rohde and his crew. They were forced to retreat to a parking lot until the fire passed.

"We had our backs to each other, with hoses out," Rohde said.

The Station fire is still uncontained, and it’s being described by longtime fire experts as one of the biggest blazes to hit the Angeles National Forest in more than a half century. But on Saturday, when Rohde and his 16-man team were starting to beat back the fire in the Big Tujunga Canyon area, a community much like Silverado Canyon, events unfolded that will last in some memories for a lifetime.

"I’ve been to hundreds of fires and this is, in my mind, one of the top three most dangerous fires I’ve experienced… The fire is moving so fast and explosively," Rohde said.

"I don’t think I’ve had a more challenging day in my entire career."

Rohde isn’t alone in saying so.

"The whole canyon was orange, coming straight for you," said OCFA Capt. John Lamb, of the Trabuco Canyon station.

The flames lit up trees, cars, power lines.

That it did not also take the firefighters is a matter of skill, courage and, perhaps, fate.

"We were in the eye of the storm," Rohde said.

As houses went up like kindling, the crew’s biggest concern was to find and rescue residents who refused to leave their homes.

One of those residents quickly emerged unhurt in the parking lot. Rohde and his partner, Capt. Ric Schultz, went looking for the rest, but they soon were cut off by explosions of about a dozen propane tanks.

"It was difficult to get back in there," Rohde said.

Shortly before 1 p.m., Saturday, with the canyon still burning, Rohde went to one of the hardest hit areas. Two residents who earlier had jumped into a Jacuzzi seeking refuge from the flames, waved at the firefighters and got into the back of a pickup truck.

"They were seriously burned," Rohde said. "And they were the same individuals we begged earlier to leave."

The men were treated by paramedics and soon airlifted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s helicopter to a burn center.

As the crew fought a number of structure fires, a third man emerged. He too was badly burned.

"He had three dogs and a bucket with kittens," said Bret Clark, of Station 47 in Irvine, who helped treat the patients.

Clark, who has 14 years of firefighting experience, described Saturday as "crazy."

Firefighters weren’t safe. Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 35, of Palmdale and Tedmund Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, died when their vehicle rolled down the side of a treacherous mountain road.

Rohde said he and other firefighters were shaken to hear of their deaths.

"It’s a dangerous business, but we gotta focus on what we are doing until this is done."

Melted car

All Alone

What words can’t describe, numbers can.

So far, the Station fire has consumed 140,150 acres and, as of Wednesday was 28 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

More than 4,700 firefighters have been deployed to fight the fire, along with 17 helicopters, 10 tanker planes, 488 fire engines and 64 bulldozers.

The cost to fight the Station Fire is now $27 million, officials said Wednesday.

The Orange County Fire Authority so far has dispatched Rohde’s crew, a Type 3 strike team, a Type 1 strike team and other personnel to assist in overhead operations. Fire agencies from Anaheim, Garden Grove, Laguna Beach and Fountain Valley also have sent teams, including 16 firefighters, four engines and a battalion chief. Another 25 firefighters from the county have been sent to battle other fires in the state.

On Wednesday morning, OCFA’s Type 1 strike team was released and allowed to stand down.

"These guys did a spectacular job, and Orange County can be proud that they have highly trained and highly skilled firefighters that were able to pull off some very difficult work in very dangerous situations," Rohde said.

The crew was able to save the Big Tujunga Ranger Station and several homes.

One of the houses that burned was a modern 5,000 square-foot home. Lamb said it took 12 firefighters about 30 minutes to control the blaze, which damaged part of the home.

"It’s a very rare thing to have this kind of fire behavior," Rohde said.

Rohde and his team will return to Orange County on Friday and another strike team is expected to be sent up to replace them. The Station fire is projected to be contained by Sept. 15

********************************************************************************************************************

Our orange sun has turned a little more yellow today and the temps should be in the 70’s this weekend with fog, so I think we’re coming out of this.  The Station fire is still out of control, moving eastward, so who knows.

Change of subject tomorrow but I’ll keep you updated.  Weekend SOON!!!

 

 

 

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6 Responses to L A Fires – Day 8…. Looking a Little Better Today

  1. Fizz says:

    Keep safe, my friend!

  2. CAROL says:

    GEEEEEEEEZ I hope someone thinks now on how to improve the PROTECTION OF MT WILSON.. something proventative should be done so fires NEVER get close to it again. How many people RUN INTO A FIRE instead of away from ONE. as far as I am concerned those are true HEROES! Take care Hope the weekend is clearer and a lot less fires : )

  3. Grandma's says:

    We get extensive news coverage up here on the fires down there….but I really appreciate all the pictures you post….how frightening and heartbreaking.There are still many blazes being battled in our province too….the interface fires (ones where homes are at risk) are well contained but we are losing a lot of pristine forest.I have to admire the courage of ALL firefighters that risk their own lives to protect lives and property of others. They are the true heroes.Hope you guys are staying safe!!Yup weekend is almost here. Gonna be a busy one for me. My son and his wife are flying to Toronto in the morning so I have my one year-old grandson until Monday.

  4. ♥ Aimee says:

    that is just super crazy…~*:.♥.:*~ because you shared a smile :o) someone’s day got brighter… ~*:.♥.:*~

  5. Sue says:

    Will keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t hit anymore residential areas. Stunning pictures—thanks again for keeping us up-to-date on this one! Have a good weekend. Are you having people over or are you going someplace on Monday???

  6. Ann says:

    Your photos are outstanidng,

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