battle firefighters

Firefighters Battle To Save LA’s Historic Mount Wilson Observatory – NPR

A view facing east from the Mount Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles shows the nearby flames of the Bobcat Fire early Wednesday.

Screenshot by NPR/HPWREN

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Screenshot by NPR/HPWREN

A view facing east from the Mount Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles shows the nearby flames of the Bobcat Fire early Wednesday.

Screenshot by NPR/HPWREN

Updated at 8:51 p.m. ET

Los Angeles’ Mount Wilson Observatory, the site of major 20th century scientific discoveries, has so far survived a terrifyingly close brush with a wildfire in the hills northeast of the city. But the threat isn’t over.

The Bobcat Fire came within 500 feet of the observatory on Tuesday afternoon. Crews gathered to fight the fire, and tracked vehicles with front blades cleared fire lines to protect the area.

We give our sincerest thanks to the firefighters who are on the ground defending our observatory as well as the pilots flying aircraft for fire suppression. Here’s a picture from of firefighters crossing the “Einstein Bridge” from the 100-inch dome. #BOBCATFIRE

— Mount Wilson Observatory (@MtWilsonObs) September 15, 2020

Their efforts were successful, and on Tuesday night the Angeles National Forest tweeted: “While there is still much work to be done in southwest and in the northern sections of the fire, your firefighters did incredible work around Mt. Wilson today.”

Dramatic time-lapse photos taken from the observatory showed the fire glowing orange south and east of Mount Wilson early Wednesday morning.

Tom Meneghini, executive director of the Mount Wilson Observatory, said in an email to NPR on Wednesday afternoon that he understands there will soon be “some major retardant and water drops on the section threatening the observatory.”

Kerri Gilliland of California Interagency Management Team 1 said Wednesday morning that the lines had held against the fire overnight, but increased activity south and southeast of Mount Wilson continues to be a threat.

Authorities said that dry fuels continue to be a risk factor, and increased fire activity over the next couple days is expected. In the nearby Cooper Canyon area, air tankers have been deployed to help contain a large spot fire north of Highway 2.

The Hooker telescope dome at the Mount Wilson Observatory, circa 1921.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The same dry, isolated conditions that make Mount Wilson susceptible to wildfires are the same ones that made it perfect for stargazing, as LAist/KPCC’s Jacob Margolis reported:

” ‘Effectively [Edwin] Hubble discovered the universe in the 1920s up on Mt. Wilson,’ said John Mulchaey, director of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, which owns the observatory.

“Scientists had long believed that the Milky Way was just about all there was to the universe.

“Then, in the early 1920s, Hubble focused the Mt. Wilson telescope on what was thought to be gas or matter floating through the Milky Way. Through a series of complex calculations, he figured out that it wasn’t dust, but an entire galaxy of its own, specifically the Andromeda galaxy.

“He’d continue to discover other galaxies throughout the 1920s, eventually making another big finding in 1929: that the universe was expanding.”

As the lights of Los Angeles grew brighter, the observatory became a less ideal place for viewing the heavens.

When there isn’t a wildfire or a pandemic, the observatory is open to the public for visits and celestial viewing through its telescopes.

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cautiously firefighters

Firefighters ‘cautiously optimistic’ in battles against huge Northern California blazes – San Francisco Chronicle

Aided by more favorable weather, California officials reported progress Saturday in containing the huge wildfires that surround the Bay Area and have filled its skies with smoke for days.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said it boosted containment levels on all three of the major fire complexes in the North Bay, the South and East Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

“Conditions are looking a lot better,” said Daniel Berlant, a Cal Fire assistant deputy director. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”

Warmer and drier weather forecast for the coming days will make Cal Fire’s work more challenging, but the conditions are not expected to be nearly as bad as they were when the fires ignited during an extreme heat wave about two weeks ago.

The largest of the local fires is the SCU Lightning Complex, which had burned 376,471acres and was 45% contained on Saturday evening — up from 40% the night before.

The SCU complex is the second-largest wildfire in California’s recorded history and has burned a huge, hilly area east of Silicon Valley, tearing through parts of several counties in the South and East Bay and extending toward the western edge of the Central Valley.

“We’re still at the edge of our comfort zone,” said Jake Hess, unit chief at Cal Fire’s Santa Clara Unit, from which the SCU Complex derives its name. “We’re making some significant progress, and we’re still gaining ground every day … (but) we’re not out of the woods.”

Just behind that fire in terms of total acres burned is the double-barreled LNU Lightning Complex, composed of one area burned around Lake Berryessa and Vacaville and a second fire burning in west Sonoma County north of Guerneville. The LNU Complex had burned 373,920 acres and was 55% controlled Saturday evening —only a slight increase in size but a 14 percentage point increase in containment. It is considered the third-largest fire or complex of fires in state history.

Cal Fire was hoping to improve its grip on the LNU Complex’s eastern zone, specifically a stretch between the Calistoga and Middletown areas.

As containment on the LNU Complex improved, life began returning to Guerneville on Saturday after a 10-day shutdown. The western zone of the complex, the Walbridge Fire, did not touch the town, sticking instead to the ridges and nearby forests. But the whole place was evacuated in what is normally the busiest part of the tourist season for businesses, beaches and the meandering Russian River.

Restaurants, art galleries and the classic Five and Dime were open for business on Saturday and chairs and tables for outdoor dining popped up along Main Street. The Safeway parking lot was packed and officials from Sonoma County and state and federal governments were preparing to open an assistance center for fire victims. Most of the services were outdoors in the parking lot of a Bank of America building, to avoid people crowding indoors and possibly spreading the coronavirus.

“We’re making this space work,” said Julie Wyne, a county employee co-managing the center.

The assistance center will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Friday, Sept. 4, offering a variety of services, mainly helping them navigate bureaucracy. A few charities and nonprofits will also be there.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains and San Mateo County coast, the CZU Lightning Complex has burned 84,338 acres as of Saturday morning and was 33% contained, a 4 percentage point increase from Saturday morning.

In coming days, decreasing winds will help firefighting efforts but hinder clearing smoke from the air, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brayden Murdock.

“It’s not going to hurt, but it’s not going to help,” Murdock said, adding that no precipitation is coming any time soon.

Air quality varied across the Bay Area on Saturday, from good to unhealthy, depending on location, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District reported.

In Marin and Sonoma counties, air quality was largely good. In San Francisco and much of the East Bay, it was moderate. In an area from Vacaville to Woodland and also east of Livermore, it was “unhealthy for sensitive persons.” And in a stretch along the San Mateo County coast, it was unhealthy.

Spare the Air Alerts remained in effect through Sunday, with wood burning prohibited and nonessential driving discouraged.

Many people throughout the region remain under evacuation orders or warnings, but authorities have been gradually downgrading restrictions or lifting them entirely, a process that continued throughout the major fire complexes on Saturday.

Berlant of Cal Fire said the agency was hoping to start sending firefighters home in the coming weeks so they can rest. California is still in the early stages of peak fire season, he noted, as many of the state’s worst blazes have occurred in autumn, when vegetation is at its driest before the rainy season and fast winds blow through from the east.

J.D. Morris, Michael Cabanatuan and Steve Rubenstein are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email:,, Twitter: @thejdmorris, @ctuan, @SteveRubeSF

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firefighters wildfires

Bay Area wildfires: Firefighters fear dry lightning, erratic winds could drive blazes – The Mercury News

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Firefighters throughout Northern California raced to get a better grip on the massive wildfires burning around the Bay Area on Sunday. But the predicted evening arrival of erratic winds and dry lightning  threatened to spark new blazes, and propel the massive existing fires on multiple fronts, toward homes and communities across much of Northern California.

Forecasters warn the dangerous weather that arrived Sunday evening, a remnant of a hurricane that hit the coast of Baja California, will be much like the line of thunderstorms that sparked California’s current wildfire crisis a week ago. It was the latest way that weather conditions have confounded efforts of fire crews in the Bay Area, who had just started to make progress containing the three major fire complexes burning in the region.

“We make a gain in one place and we have a loss in another,” said Chad Costa, a battalion chief with the Petaluma Fire Department charged with holding a nine-mile line to keep the Walbridge Fire in Sonoma County from sweeping into Healdsburg.

The storm system’s winds from the southwest threatened to push the Walbridge Fire down from the coastal mountains and into more densely populated areas of Sonoma County, including Healdsburg and Geyserville, prompting evacuations west of Highway 101. Elsewhere in the North Bay, authorities worried those winds would expand the massive Hennessey Fire across vast stretches of territory north of Lake Berryessa.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, wind-driven fire threatened to over take the communities of Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond, whicht have been under assault from the CZU Complex Fire for days. Crews were also preparing for the potential of a devastating run down the San Lorenzo Valley, setting up three fire lines meant to protect Felton, UC Santa Cruz and the city beyond it.

And in the South Bay, authorities ordered new evacuations Sunday in southern Santa Clara County as the SCU Complex continued to burn in the mountains east of Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

Over the past week, firefighters have faced one challenge after another in containing the blazes — winds that pushed flames in unpredictable directions, rugged and hard to access terrain, heavy smoke that limited air support and, most crucially, a shortage of firefighters with nearly two-dozen major blazes burning all throughout California.

Costa said he had about 20 hose crews for those nine miles west of Healdsburg. In a normal scenario, one in which fires weren’t burning all over the state, there might be 20 crews on each mile of the fire line.

“All you can do is save as much as you can,” Costa said. “We’re trying to keep the fire within our box.”

Normally, when forecasts call for red flag warnings and other dangerous fire weather, departments staff extra engines and have crews ready to deploy to quickly knock down fires, said Daniel Potter, a Cal Fire CZU spokesman. Cal Fire’s stated goal is to put out 90 percent of fires before they grow to 10 acres.

But that’s not an option when you’re already pouring everything you’ve got into fighting massive fires threatening tens of thousands of homes.

“We’re maxed (out) on equipment that we can cover with our staffing,” Potter said. “Pretty much every hand crew we have available has been deployed.”

Some took a more optimistic view — the active fires mean hundreds more firefighters are in the area than might be there under normal conditions.

“The fortunate thing is we have everybody in place already,” said Fire Chief Rebecca Ramirez of the Yocha Dehe Fire Department, which serves tribal land belonging to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, as well as the broader Capay Valley and Yolo County. “So if we had new lightning strikes, we have crews all over the place that can quickly respond.”

Calm wind and cooler temperatures in the early part of Sunday helped crews working the CZU Complex Fire limit its spread into Boulder Creek, while clearer skies allowed for water drops and other air support to protect Bonny Doon. Despite the progress, authorities announced the grim news Sunday night that a person was found dead at a home along Last Chance Road outside Davenport. The person, whose remains were recovered Sunday, is the first fatality in the fire. Four more people have been reported missing, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

And still, more houses were going up in flames even before the more intense fire weather arrived; officials said 163 structures have been destroyed, as of Sunday evening.

Flames were encroaching on Boulder Creek from the west and the north, tongues of wildfire flaring down from the main body of the blaze and torching homes within a few hundred yards of the historic downtown strip along Highway 9. The situation for Boulder Creek and the towns south of it along the San Lorenzo Valley on Sunday was “critical” and fire crews were racing against time, said Battalion Chief Rich Durrell, leading a California Office of Emergency Services strike team in Boulder Creek.

While in previous days fire crews took a defensive approach, playing “whack-a-mole” to save homes as the fire erupted in one area after another, and ensuring residents got out, Durrell said, “We’re more offensive than defensive today.”

Boulder Creek resident Gordon Rudy had evacuated to his boat in the Santa Cruz Harbor, but snuck back to his home just above town because of a premonition, he said. “I woke up at 1 a.m. and I drove here,” said Rudy, 61, a real estate agent. Flames reached to within 100 feet of his wooden house, built in 1937 and used as a vacation home by original Oakland Raiders owner Wayne Valley. But fire crews put them out. “I’m very relieved,” Rudy said.

Saturday night was fairly quiet in Sonoma County, and firefighters succeeded in keeping the Walbridge Fire — part of the the LNU Lightning Complex from making any significant new pushes toward Healdsburg, CalFire officials reported Sunday, and did the same with the Hennessey Fire to the east. High on a ridge west of the town, two inmate work crews marched out of the brush about 4:30 p.m., many of the men collapsing to the ground after working on the fire line most of the day with hand tools.

Because of the coronavirus and early release programs, the number of crews and the size of them are down as California faces the worst fire crisis in its history, said Calfire Capt.Tim Erinse, a crew commander. Crews normally have 27 members, he said, a number that has now dropped to 24.

Nearby Kelly Dicke looked out from Chamise Road across a ridge line where smoke rose into the air. The home where she’s lived for 30 years -“a 120-year-old logging shack” was below under a canopy of trees. Each night for nearly a week, she said she’s assumed it would be lost.

“Every evening you go, “she’s gone,’ but it isn’t.”

On the eastern side of Lake Berryessa, most members of Ramirez’s 33-person fire department are taking turns rotating on and off the fire line, building a decent containment line on their side of the ridge, and few structures have been lost on tribal land, Ramirez said.

Still, Ramirez said the lightning expected to arrive late Sunday was her top concern.

“We’re all very wary because we are spread so thin right now,” she said.

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California firefighters

California firefighters face flames, heat and a bull – NBC News

A group of Southern California firefighters had their hands full with triple-digit temperatures, unpredictable flames and wild brush that blocked their path.

Then a bull came for them.

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As about a half-dozen firefighters worked Friday to clear a remote road for engines working on the Lake Fire, about 63 miles north of Los Angeles, a bull chased them away. No one was injured.

“The bull was in the bushes and came out to challenge the firefighters,” said Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Andy VanSciver. “Like, ‘This is my dirt.'”

Video showed the firefighters running down a road with the bull and its horns quickly following. Crews had seen the bull earlier in the morning, VanSciver said. They believe his name is Maxwell or Ferdinand, Ventura County Fire Department officials said.

As many as 30 firefighters were in the area, but video shows only about five or six being chased down the road, VanSciver said.

The Ventura County crews were helping Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters working on the blaze in the Angeles National Forest.

By Saturday the fired had burned 14,714 acres and was 12 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Investigators were trying to determine what caused the fire to start Wednesday.

Image: Dennis RomeroDennis Romero

Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.

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battling firefighters

Firefighters are battling a 4-alarm fire on Pier 45 in San Francisco – CNN

(CNN)More than 125 San Francisco firefighters are battling a four-alarm warehouse fire Saturday on Pier 45, the city’s fire department says.

A quarter of the pier at Fisherman’s Wharf “has been lost to the flames,” according to the San Francisco Fire Department PIO.
No injuries have been reported. The pier has been fully evacuated, the department says.
Flames could be seen in the early morning darkness in photos tweeted by Dan Whaley.
The blaze was first reported at 4:17 a.m. local time (7:17 a.m. ET) and has been contained to a section of the pier.
The Fire Department tweeted a link to live updates.
Officers report the fire caused a partial building collapse on the southern part of the pier, spread to two buildings on the pier and is in danger of spreading to a third, the Fire Department says.
There is no word yet of a cause.
Fireboat St. Francis was put in position to protect the historic SS Jeremiah O’Brien ship built during World War II, and it successfully saved the ship from damage, said Jonathan Baxter, the department’s spokesman.
Several fireboats are positioned around the wharf and helping fight the fire.

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firefighters injured

11 firefighters injured battling blaze caused in hash oil production facility – ABC News

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Published on 17-May-2020

An explosion in the building left three firefighters critically injured, but all are expected to survive.


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