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Backfires hoped to contain Station Fire

September 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
If the weather cooperates, firefighters will try a series of backfires on Wednesday to contain the Station Fire.While 60 percent surrounded, the fire has scorched 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest. Firefighters want to light those backfires in the Mount Wilson area, which is still in danger from the flames.

Strong winds, high temperatures and low humidity have made backfires impossible on the eastern flank of the fire.

"The entire rest of the fire, all the around to the west to Pacomia, Big Tujunga, Acton, that is still very good and holding very well," said U.S. Forest Service Incident Commander Chief Mike Dietrich.

There were controlled burns planned on Monday, but a flare-up in the San Gabriel Mountains changed those plans.

The command post has moved from Hansen Dam to Santa Fe Dam recreation area in Irwindale, some 30 miles east. It has been a long 14 days for fire crews, and the move east will put them closer to the fire and will shorten commute times.

"This is one of the huge fires where we're looking at hundreds of square miles. The traveling distance for the crews are hours not minutes so we're able to shave off about an hour driving time for the fire crews by moving down here," saud Capt. Mark Whaling of the L.A. County Fire Department.

The command staff and crews remain in Irwindale for the duration of the fire, which is expected to be fully contained by Sept. 15.

The 160,357-acre fire continues to push east along the San Gabriel Mountains. About 4,500 firefighters were still battling the blaze.

The Station Fire is the largest fire in L.A. County history, with a price tag of nearly $60 million to fight it.

Meanwhile, the primates at the Wildlife Waystation in Tujunga Canyon returned home Tuesday. On the backs of flatbed trucks, 10 chimpanzees made a safe return to their home in the Angeles National Forest.

It's been almost two weeks since the bears, lions, chimps and other exotic animals were evacuated from the Wildlife Waystation. The fire threatened to destroy the facility that was cofounded by Martine Colette.

"The evacuation was an extreme, stressful, fast, hazardous circumstance. The recovery is much better, but it's a much longer, very, very costly process," said Colette.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has issued a boil water order for evacuees returning home.

The southern portion of the Angeles National Forest is closed until further notice. The closure will affect the use of all national forest recreational facilities, roads and hiking trails.

The closure area consists of all National Forest System lands within the Angeles National Forest south and east of State Route 14 and State Route 138.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, it is just too dangerous to allow visitors to roam around or set up camp in these areas.

"We just want to keep people out of that area, keep them safe," said Nathan Judy of the U.S. Forest Service. "We have trees that are standing that might be dead and can fall over, a rock fall out that could roll down and fall on top of people so we don't want to open those areas until it's safe to do so. The guard rail is gone so until we get that guard rail put back in, we don't want to insert people in there."

If you are caught in a closed-off area, you can be cited and face a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in jail.

Arson investigators believe the fire was intentionally set in an area near the Angeles Crest Highway. A $100,000 reward from the state and $50,000 from the county have been offered to find whoever started the fire.

The arsonist could face murder charges after two firefighters were killed. Capt. Ted Hall and firefighter Arnie Quinones both died Aug. 30 when their vehicle went over the side of a steep mountain road. Investigators said the vehicle was airlifted off a mountain Monday and taken to a secure location for analysis.

Ten firefighters have also been injured in the fire fight.

Authorities are asking for the public's help to find the person or persons responsible for starting the Station Fire. Anyone with information is asked to call L.A. County Sheriff's homicide detectives at (323) 890-5500.

A public memorial is set up for the firefighters on Sept.12 at Dodgers Stadium.

People wishing to donate money to help the families of the two fatally injured firefighters can send donations to:

Memorial fund at the F&A Credit Union
P.O. Box 30831
Los Angeles, CA 90030-9972

The Station Fire broke out Aug. 26 at mile marker 29. The heavy brush and low humidity caused the fire to spread rapidly.

Road closures

  • Santa Anita Canyon Rd. to Chantry Flats
  • Aliso Canyon Rd at Angeles Forest Hwy
  • Big Tujunga Rd at Angeles Forest Hwy
  • Big Rock Creek Rd at Big Pines Rd
  • Hwy 39 between San Gabriel Canyon Rd and East Fork Rd
  • Soledad Canyon Rd at Indian Canyon. Trail Head
  • Angeles Crest Hwy. between Big Pines Hwy. and mile marker 26.7 north of Altadena
  • Big Pines at SR-2 (Antelope Valley)
  • Cheney Trail at Angeles National Forest gate (Loma Alta)
  • Little Rock Reservior Gate
  • Big Tujunga Cyn. and Mt Gleason

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