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Evacuations lifted in Station Fire

September 2, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
All residents forced to flee from the Station Fire have been allowed to return as crews gain ground on the massive blaze burning the Angeles National Forest. After a week of relentless attack, firefighters are finally seeing some success. While the Station Fire has grown to 140,150 acres by Wednesday, authorities say they have made significant progress. Officials say the fire is now 28 percent contained. Three U.S. Forest Service investigators gathered near Angeles Crest Highway Wednesday afternoon, at the spot where officials believe the Station Fire started back on August 26.

Three command-level sources told Eyewitness News reporter John North that the fire is believed to be human-caused because there was no lightning in the area, but not nessarily intentionally set. Possible human causes include arson, kids playing with matches, a thrown cigarette butt, sparks from heavy equipment in the area and an unattended camp fire.

The sources close to the investigation said it may be related to Forest Service personnel in the area.

However, the U.S. Forest Service quickly downplayed the reports, saying the investigation remains open.

"The cause of the fire has not been specifically determined at this point. All possible causes, including human causes, are being evaluated," said Judy Noiron from the U.S. Forest Service.

As officials continue to investigate, firefighters are out for the eighth day battling the Station Fire.

Firefighters took advantage of a break in the weather Wednesday to strengthen their lines around the fire. Higher humidity levels allowed firefighters to set controlled burns and remove brush with bulldozers through the night to further surround the fire.

Officials said they were pleased with the progress, but said they have much more work ahead as the forecast called for hot and dry weather in the next couple days.

"It was a good day overall and there's a lot of challenges still out there at the same time," said incident commander Chief Mike Dietrich.

"I'm extremely optimistic based on the progress that's been made today. In the same voice I'm equally guarded with the potential for the fires spread towards the southeast and the east," he added.

The latest on the fire is as follows:
  • 140,150 acres burned
  • 28 percent contained
  • 64 homes destroyed
  • 27 outbuildings destroyed (including garages, sheds, gazebos)
  • 3 commercial buildings destroyed
  • 6 homes damaged
  • 5 outbuildings damaged
  • 10,000 homes still threatened
  • All mandatory evacuations lifted
  • Cause of fire under investigation
There are more than 4,100 firefighters currently battling the blaze.

Late Wednesday night, a firefighter working the front lines in the Little Tujunga area was possibly injured and may have suffered a broken leg.

The fire has moved into the San Gabriel Wilderness and has raised concerns about a possible spread toward Altadena and Sierra Madre.

Crews focused Wednesday on Devil's Canyon in the San Gabriel Wilderness and Pacoima Canyon near the community of Little Tujunga.

"We're trying to contain that. We don't want to see this fire spread further and take out more forest watershed and impact communities," said Carlton Joseph from the U.S. Forest Service.

Crews are making progress on protecting Mount Wilson, home to TV towers and the observatory, but it remains threatened.

This is the closest fire has ever gotten to the Mount Wilson Observatory, and for staff, it has been a tense week watching the flames close in.

"Our job is to protect that billion-dollar infrastructure," said one firefighter near Mount Wilson.

The Martin Mars, a 1940s-era aircraft, greatly aided the fire fight: It is able to drop 7,200 gallons of water during each pass that it makes.

Two firefighters were killed by the Station Fire earlier this week, and on Wednesday, officials said six firefighters were injured recently. Four of the firefighters were transported to local hospitals and treated for smoke inhalation. A female firefighter who stopped breathing temporarily is still hospitalized, but she is expected to be OK. The other three firefighters were released from the hospital.

Fire officials met with community members in Wrightwood and Pasadena Wednesday night to discuss the current fire situation and possible actions as the firefighting effort continues.

Crews have been setting backfires to burn out the dry brush before the fire gets there first. Crews are also using bulldozers to build a containment line.

About 10,000 homes in the foothill communities are still being threatened by the Station Fire, but all mandatory evacuations have been lifted.

The fire has burned about 199 square miles since it broke out August 26. It is the largest fire in L.A. County history. The expected containment date is September 15.

As many evacuees returned home, some said they were glad they followed the evacuation orders.

"We believe that it's best to leave this to the experts to fight it, and they did an amazing job. You look around, and the fire came down right next to the houses, and we're all safe and we're all back," said Erin Atwater, a La Canada resident.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the command post Wednesday morning to serve up Cream of Wheat to the firefighters and shake hands with the men and women, even though some of them opted for eggs instead of the grits.

Schwarzenegger said he budgeted for fire season and will make sure resources are available.

There are still concerns about air quality.

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