Raging Wildfire North of Los Angeles Kills Two
LOS ANGELES, California, September 2, 2009 (ENS) - The Station Fire, burning for a week just north of Los Angeles, has consumed nearly 219 square miles or 140,150 acres within the Angeles National Forest and near the surrounding foothill communities of La Canada-Flintridge, La Crescenta, Acton, Soledad Canyon, Pasadena and Glendale. The fire has also consumed more than $21 million as more than 4,100 firefighters try to slow its southeast spread.

Capt. Ted Hall (Photo courtesy LACFD)

Two firefighters have died battling the blaze and six others have been injured. Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, of San Bernardino and Firefighter Specialist Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 35, of Palmdale were killed Sunday when their emergency response vehicle went over the side of a mountain road and fell 800 feet into a steep canyon during fire suppression activities protecting Camp 16 in the City of Palmdale. The men both were members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The Station Fire has forced the evacuation of many neighborhoods in the foothill communities. To date, 62 homes have been destroyed and so have three commercial buildings and two communications sites. Fire officials say 12,000 homes and 5,000 commercial buildings are still in harm's way. Some evacuation orders are still in effect, although some neighborhoods are being reopened to residents. Dial 211 for current evacuation information.

Firefighters are struggling to save Mt. Wilson, site of a historic observatory as well as television and radio transmission towers. Officials say water and gel drops from aircraft have helped to keep the flames in check, but Mt. Wilson is still at risk as fire moves up on the north side.

Fire officials say they are worried about the possibility of thunderstorms "as strong downdrafts can push the fire around the mountain creating a couple of fire fronts. They describe the fire as "extremely active with rapid rates of spread and flame lengths up to 80 feet."

They said, "Crews are committed to doing all they can to keep the fire from dropping down into the foothill communities around Sierra Madre."

Firefighter Specialist Arnaldo Quinones (Photo courtesy LACFD)

Fire officials are closing the entire eastern main body of the Angeles National Forest effective 6:00 pm tonight until the fire is fully contained. The fire is just 22 percent contained today, and incident commanders estimate the containment date to be Tuesday, September 15.

The closure area includes California State Highway 2, Big Tujunga Canyon Road, Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, and San Gabriel Canyon, where some of California's most beloved hiking trails are located.

Before the fire swept through the San Gabriel Canyon, the undeveloped areas of the river's flood plain created corridors of wetlands for wildlife and fish. Tributary streams were lined with willow, cottonwood, sycamore, and alders, and higher up were mountain forests, inhabited by bobcats, mountain lions, and bears.

The U.S. Forest Service is the lead agency fighting the fire with support from Los Angeles County Fire Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, California State Highway Patrol, Cal Trans, and the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

The crews on the ground are working with the help of 11 air tankers and nine helitankers dropping water and fire retardant on the flames. There are 488 fire engines working various points of the enormous fire, which continues to burn actively in three specific areas.

The eastern flank of the fire has moved into the San Gabriel wilderness and has been making active runs through various drainages in the area.

On the western area of the fire, there continues to be very active burning in the Little Tujunga canyon area with rapid uphill runs.

Station Fire threatens transmission towers on Mt. Wilson (Mt. Wilson tower cam image)

The southwest areas of the fire continue to calm down. Most evacuations in the area have been lifted as the fire activity abates. Lots of good fireline has been cut south of Highway 14, that will minimize any potential fire growth along this front.

The northeast area of the fire is tough to fight. The terrain is rough and access is limited. Crews will continue though to cut line in to tie in with preparation work that is being conducted along San Gabriel canyon. San Gabriel Canyon continues to be the contingency point to stop the westward migration of the fire.

The fire is feeding on very heavy fuels of brush, scrub oak and manzanita across the entire fire area, 15 to 20 feet in height with big cone Douglas fir in the drainage bottoms. These fuels have not been burned over in the past 40 years.

The Station Fire started August 26, near the 29-mile marker on Angeles Crest Highway near a Forest Service fire station. The cause is still under investigation. One fire official said Tuesday the fire was started by human activity, but that statement has been retracted as premature.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, on his second visit to the Station Fire this week, said the state has the financial resources to address fire threats this season, including a newly created $500 million firefighting reserve.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger serves breakfast to firefighters on the Station Fire. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

"Even though we have a budget crunch and a financial crisis ... we always have the money available to fight fires," the governor said at a news conference after he served breakfast to firefighters and was briefed by incident commanders.

Still, the governor urged passage of the Emergency Response Initiative, "because it will give us an extra more than $100 million for fighting those fires," he told reporters. "I urge the legislators to go and to pass this bill and send it to my desk."

Earlier this week, the Governor signed an Executive Order to waive fees and help recovery efforts for the victims of wildfires in Los Angeles, Mariposa, Monterey, Placer, San Bernardino, Santa Cruz and Yuba Counties - all victims of recent fires.

Across the state, approximately 150,123 acres have burned since August 25. About 8330 fire personnel are on the job supported by 835 fire engines, 40 helicopters and 13 fixed wing aircraft.

There have been 21 firefighter injuries so far this season, as well as the two fatalities on the Station Fire.

"Our thoughts and prayers and our condolences go out to the families and the friends of those firefighters," said the governor on Tuesday. "These were really the best of the best firefighters that we lost yesterday, two of them; it really saddens me to hear those stories."

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.