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Station Fire forces more evacuations

August 29, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A broad swath of the northern Crescenta Valley was evacuated today, as the Station Fire rocketed across 20,000 acres and burned down towards homes from Pasadena to the San Fernando Valley. Residents in the northern-most reaches of Glendale and La Crescenta were told to get out of their homes Saturday afternoon, as the mandatory evacuation zone reached the eastern city limits of Los Angeles, just north of the Foothill (210) Freeway.

In the burning mountains themselves, one person was severely burned when powerlines fell on a ranger station in Big Tujunga Canyon. Initial details were scant, but the victim was helicoptered out of the freshly-evacuated canyon, home to 75 cabins and numerous group campgrounds.

Weather radar screens as far away as San Diego could spot the 25,000-foot-high cloud of smoke and water vapor towering over the northern side of Los Angeles

Firetrucks were stationed below the fire, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, and above it, at the hundreds of broadcast and communications relay facilities lining a threatened ridgetop culminating at Mount Wilson.

Firefighters from Sacramento to San Diego rushed to the mountains above the La Crescenta Valley today, as a raging fire threatened hundreds of foothill houses.

"This is a very dangerous situation that we are in right now," said U.S. Forest Service fire boss Mike Dietrich. "We had overnight growth up towards the La Canada area, which has prompted additional evacuations there."

Low humidities, high temperatures and heavy, thick brush caused the fire to push towards foothill homes above the Jet Propulsion Lab. "If there was one silver lining, there are no Santa Ana winds predicted at this point,"Dietrich said.

"But this is extremely steep, 100 percent growth, and the fuel conditions are such that it hasn't burned in 60 years and the brush is between 20-30 feet tall."

The Station Fire, which broke out about 3:20 p.m. Wednesday along Angeles Crest Highway north of La Canada Flintridge, was just 5 percent contained as of 6 a.m. today. At noon, officials in that city estimated the fire had grown to 7,000 acres, and by 3 p.m. the estimate was 20,000 acres burned and hundreds of thousands of acres threatened.

One firefighter has been injured, but officials could not provide any further details.

The blaze threatened about 1,800 homes and 52 other buildings by Friday night, and fire officials issued early-morning evacuation orders for the area east of Angeles Crest Highway on Greenridge Drive, Forest Green Drive, Ridge Court, and Starlight Crest Drive, said Kevin Chun, Director of Administrative Services for La Canada Flintridge.

At midmorning, the Canyon Crest Road neighborhood was ordered evacuated. Several dozen homeowners were directed to leave their homes and stay beyond a roadblock set up on Lincoln Avenue near Loma Alta Drive, a major intersection in nearby Altadena.

"Our emphasis is on the front country: La Canada and La Crescenta,"said Los Angeles County Fire deputy chief Jim Powers at a midmorning news conference. But he asked residents to understand that sending fire crews up state Route 2, to battle the fire in the mountains, is very important.

"That watershed and all that brush absorbs in the wintertime that rain, and keeps it away from our homes," he said. "That's not so say that we're disregarding our residences but we have multiple priorities happening at the same time."

The fire burned south overnight and came within five miles of the steel forest of mountaintop antennae on Mount Lukens, Disappointment Peak and Mount Wilson.

Loss of communications facilities there would cripple fire and police departments across Southern California, which not only use mountaintop transmitters to communicate in the field but in many cases relay signals from other mountaintop sites back to dispatch centers via microwave facilities that are now threatened.

"These are extremely-crucial to the infrastructure and public safety protection, and the daily lives in the L.A. basin," Dietrich said.

Nearly all of the 22 Los Angeles TV stations transmit from those sites, and more than two-thirds of the region's FM radio stations broadcast from there as well.

"If Mount Wilson goes out, this news conference is done, because we won't have any telecommunications," Powers said.

Fifty sheriff's deputies patrolled the area overnight, and ordered some neighborhoods evacuated at 10:30 p.m., and others at 2 a.m. Another 40 deputies were deployed today to man roadblocks, patrol for looters and keep roads clear for fire trucks, said David Fender, incident commander for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office.

Evacuations also were in place north of Vista del Valle Road and east of La Canada Boulevard, including the La Canada Country Club area. Near Mount Wilson, evacuations were ordered at Camp High Hill near the Red Box Sheriff's Station and the Clear Creek Outdoor Education Center, according to the forest service.

A shelter was set up at La Canada High School, 4463 Oak Grove Drive.

One county supervisor bemoaned the fact that the fire, which was burning next to dozens of homes, was not being broadcast live by local television stations.

"I'm very sorry to say that much of the local television news coverage, that used to be covering fires live, is not covering this fire necessary to inform our people," said Supervisor Mike Antonovich at the morning news conference, which was carried by one radio station and no TV stations.

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