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Firefighters slowly gain on Station Fire

September 1, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The numbers continue to grow in the relentless Station Fire on Tuesday, which has charred 127,513 acres, destroyed at least 62 structures and killed two firefighters. More than 12,000 homes are threatened in communities near the Angeles National Forest.Officials are unsure how many of the 62 structures are homes. "One of the issues we're running into is, clearly, some of the structures have been completely destroyed, where they're down to the foundations," said fire spokesman Paul Lowenthal.

"We've been holding off on giving the numbers out as far as whether they're residences, outhouses, garages, because just looking at a concrete slab doesn't really give us a good idea," he said.

The commander of the vast firefighting operation expressed a positive outlook for the first time in the week since the blaze erupted in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles and grew into a giant.

"I'm feeling a lot more optimistic today than I did yesterday and the crews are doing fabulous work out there on the grounds but the bottom line is that they're fighting for every foot," said Mike Dietrich of the U.S. Forest Service.

The latest on the fire is as follows:
  • 127,513 acres burned
  • 22 percent contained
  • 12,000 homes threatened
  • 62 structures destroyed
  • Approximately 4,000 people evacuated
  • 4,128 fire personal on scene, 399 fire engines
The Station Fire was 22 percent contained on Tuesday. Fire officials said Monday they hope to have the fire contained by September 8, but later pushed back the expected containment to Sept. 17.

The fire has burned through the Angeles National Forest from Acton over the San Gabriel Mountains, south to Sunland-Tujunga, and east above La Crescenta, La Canada and Altadena toward Mount Wilson.

Firefighters started backfires to deny fuel to oncoming flames Tuesday, which kept many Glendale homes safe.

Backfires were also set to prevent the blaze from reaching homes in the Riverwood, Alpine, Sunland, Tujunga, Hans Canyon and Lancer Canyon areas.

At a community meeting at High Desert Middle School in the Acton area, officials gave residents good news. Officials said Acton evacuees in the Soledad Canyon, Agua Dulce, Bootlegger and Crown Valley area would get to go home Tuesday night. All remaining evacuees would likely return home Wednesday evening.

Lowenthal said the blaze had movement to the east and to the northeast overnight Monday.

Fire officials have been saying this fire has a mind of its own, and with plenty of dry brush around, more evacuation orders have been issued.

More than 300 homes in a neighborhood in Tujunga were ordered to clear out on Monday night, as flames danced around hillsides in the city.

At least 13 homes were destroyed in Big Tujunga Canyon in the Rancho Ybarra area.

"We're all in this together, and I'm ready for this to be over," said Tujunga resident Vince Valdivia. Some residents scrambled to pack up their valuables and headed to an evacuation center, while others opted to stay in their homes.

"I'm pretty much gonna wait until the end until it's really, really bad. I shouldn't stay here, but I'm gonna," said Tujunga resident Gayane Gevorkyan.

"We just want to stay until probably the last minute," added Tujunga resident Helana Gevorkyan.

According to fire officials, more than three dozen cabins, homes and other structures were destroyed in the big Tujunga area over the weekend.

"I think the hardest part is we know we can't get back in, which is why we haven't left yet. Otherwise, we would have left," said Tujunga resident Jan.

Tujunga resident Scott Frastaci has lived in the area for more than 30 years and remembers the fires coming toward his house in 1975.

"We had huge black smoke blowing over the neighborhood, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, had to have headlights on, and they're evacuating everybody then, but my father and I refused to leave because we wanted to water the old shake shingle roofs that you had back then," he said.

Officials warned that those who don't follow mandatory evacuation orders are putting their lives at risk.

"As the Sheriff said, he'll take their next of kin and ask where their dental records are stored, and we'll go back in after it. We can't be their guardians or parents," Dietrich said.

Fire crews set backfires and sprayed fire retardant at Mount Wilson, home to at least 20 television transmission towers, radio and cell phone antennas, and the century-old Mount Wilson Observatory. It also houses two giant telescopes and several multimillion-dollar university programs in its role as both a landmark for its historic discoveries and a thriving modern center for astronomy.

The Martin Mars, a WWII-era amphibious air tanker, worked to extinguish flames from the Station Fire Tuesday.

The seaplanes were built for the Navy and are now in used as a firefighting aircraft.

The four-engine airplane has a 200-foot wingspan and can scoop up more than 7,000 gallons of water from a lake or the ocean.

If the fire damages the ABC7 tower, fire coverage will be streaming live on abc7.com.

At least 3,600 firefighters are on the fire lines. Crews on Tuesday will have the assistance of a 747, which is able to drop about 20,000 pounds of retardant onto the fire.

Dehydration is a concern for firefighters, as they work 12-hour shifts. One firefighter was treated for kidney failure, but he is expected to be OK.

Firefighters are not getting much help from Mother Nature. The relative humidity is up, but the heat lingers.

"The heating from the ground will actually push the hot air up into the clouds and that's what produces the potential for cumulus clouds, and that's the potential for the dry lightning," Dietrich said.

Mandatory evacuations issued for the following areas:

North side:
Acton:
  • Soledad Canyon Road between Agua Dulce Canyon Road Road to Bootlegger Canyon Road
  • Angeles Forest Highway south of Aliso Canyon
National Forest:
  • Soledad Canyon Road/Bootlegger Canyon Road area
  • Little Rock Recreation Area
  • Mount Emma Road
  • Cheseboro Road
  • Cima Mesa area northwest of Juniper Hills
South side:
National Forest:
  • Big Tujunga Canyon Road from Mount Gleason to Angeles Forest Highway
  • Chantry Flats
  • Little Tujunga Canyon Road north of the Little Tujunga Ranger Station and Gold Creek Road
Altadena:
  • Prieto Fire Road and Millard Canyon north of Rising Hill Road
  • Chaney Trail and Alzada Drive north of Jaxine Drive
  • Areas east of Fair Oaks and north of Loma Alta Drive
Tujunga:
Northwest of Day at Blue Gum Canyon Road, to Glory Avenue, to westbound Apperson Street, to northbound Fairgrove Avenue, to westbound Summitrose Street, to northbound Pinyon Avenue, to westbound Hillrose Street, to northbound Sevenhills Drive, to Lonzo Street.

Glendale:
  • South side of Markridge
  • Skyridge
  • Skyview
  • Brittany
  • Arnell
  • Top of Boston, north of Markridge
  • Top of Dunsmore, north of Markridge
Voluntary evacuations are issued for the following areas:

North Side:
Juniper Hills
  • South of Fort Tejon Road from Mount Emma Road to Longview Road
Littlerock
  • Littlerock Recreational Area, Mount Emma Road and Cheseboro Road
South Side:
Glendale:
  • North of Santa Carlotta Avenue, between Lowell Street and Pennsylvania Avenue
Evacuation shelters:
  • La Canada High School, 4463 Oak Grove Drive
  • Crescenta Valley High School, 2290 Community Ave., La Crescenta
  • Golden Valley High School, 27051 Robert C. Lee Parkway, Santa Clarita
  • Verdugo Hills High School, 10625 Plainview Ave., Tujunga
  • Marie Kerr Park, 39700 30th Street West, Palmdale


Animal Evacuation Centers:
  • Antelope Valley Fairgrounds; 2551 W. Avenue H, Lancaster (Large animals)
  • Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, 11127 Orcas Ave., Lakeview Terrace (Large animals)
  • Pierce College, 6201 Winnetka Ave. (Horses, donkey and mules only)
  • Loma Alta County Park, at Lincoln Avenue and Loma Ala Drive, and La Canada High School
  • Lancaster Animal Shelter and Agoura Animal Shelter (Small animals)
  • Pasadena Humane Society (Small animals)
  • Baldwin Park Shelter (Small animals)
  • Los Angeles County Animal Shelter (Small animals)
  • Agoura Hills Animal Shelter (Small animals)
  • Sunland Park, along Foothill Boulevard near Sherman Grove Avenue (Small animals)


For more information on evacuation centers, the U.S. Forest Service urges residents to contact the American Red Cross at (888) 737-4306.

Evacuations are lifted for the following areas:

La Canada-Flintridge
  • Highrim Road
  • Manistee Drive
  • Derwood Drive
  • Bristow Drive
  • Normanton Drive
  • Earnslow Drive
  • Fairhurst Drive
  • Rock Castle Drive
  • Canalda Drive
  • Ocean View north of Canalda Drive
  • All areas west of Arroyo Seco Road at Ocean View Boulevard, south of Canalda Drive, and Briggs Terrace.
La Crescenta
  • Ocean Boulevard north of Canalda Avenue
  • Briggs Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue North of Orange Avenue
Altadena
  • Fair Oaks Avenue west to Arroyo Seco Road


Fire officials say they are looking to lift evacuations in the Alpine Village area and the community directly to the south in the near future.

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this story.

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