Monday, August 31, 2009
California Firefighters continued to beat back a blaze that threatened 12,000 homes in the Los Angeles area on Monday, just one day after two colleagues were killed as they headed to battle the Mount Gleason wildfire in the Angeles National Forest.
More than 2,500 firefighters were battling flames that threatened homes, a communications center and astronomy facility on top of Mount Wilson. Families in at least 6,600 homes were ordered to evacuate Sunday night.
Fire Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, and firefighter Specialist Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 35, of Palmdale, were killed when their vehicle rolled down a mountain near the town of Acton on Sunday, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said in a statement.
In a prepared statement, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Californians appreciated the sacrifices made by firefighters. "Our hearts are heavy as we are tragically reminded of the sacrifices our firefighters and their families make daily to keep us safe," he said.
The fire has raged since Wednesday, when it broke out near a ranger station. The blaze has burned more than 42,000 acres and at least 18 homes, according to a statement on the fire department's Web site Monday.
Thousands of people were evacuated, but a few remained and were overtaken by the flames, including two people who were critically burned while they tried to hide in their backyard hot tub. The wildfire was threatening to destroy more houses, as well as transmitters for many radio and television stations that broadcast to Los Angeles.
"More crucially, perhaps, is that communications from here could be interrupted for the FBI, CIA and the Secret Service," NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports. There are also fears that the communications for Los Angeles International Airport could be disrupted.
The historic Mount Wilson Observatory, which houses two giant telescopes and multimillion-dollar astronomy projects for local universities, is also in danger. In the 1920s, the observatory was home to Edwin Hubble, who trained his telescope on distant galaxies.
An enormous mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke and vapor covered the area much of the weekend, and people across the region were struggling to breathe through the smoke and ash.
Officials said they might not be able to contain the fire until Sept. 8. Early Monday morning, the department said the fire was only 5 percent contained.
From NPR staff and wire reports