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Wildfire in L.A. Threatens 12,000 Homes, and Still Growing

Above: Flames approach homes in La Crescenta, California. The out of control Station Fire has burned more than 105,000 acres and has forced thousands of evacuations as nearly 12,000 homes are threatened.

Audio

Aired 9/1/09

What are the latest details on the Station Fire burning in Los Angeles? We speak to KPCC reporter Molly Peterson about the latest evacuation orders, and the firefighting efforts that took place over night.

A Los Angeles County fire fighter monitors hot spots as he fights the Station Fire August 30, 2009 in Acton, California.
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Above: A Los Angeles County fire fighter monitors hot spots as he fights the Station Fire August 30, 2009 in Acton, California.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): A little bit of humidity has made its way up to Los Angeles, and firefighters are grateful for it. The humidity boost has slowed the expansion of the Station wildfire but the 121,000 acre blaze is still growing and it's the biggest and most dangerous wildfire burning in California. For an update on that fire, I'd like to welcome KPCC Reporter Molly Peterson. Molly, welcome.

MOLLY PETERSON (Reporter, KPCC Public Radio): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And you are, I believe, at a command center?

PETERSON: Yes, I'm at the Hansen Dam Recreational area. It's a staging area that they commonly use for fires in the northern part of Los Angeles County and around Angeles National Forest.

CAVANAUGH: Well, what is the latest news on the fire this morning?

PETERSON: Well, the update this morning was that the growth overnight was, as you mentioned, just to – just under 122,000 acres, only about 16,000 additional acres overnight. We frequently shorthand that in the – in media reports to 164 or so square miles. But really what they're talking about, according to the incident commander is something more on the order of 50 miles they're working actively back and forth. And the incident commander, Mike Dietrich, who yesterday characterized the fire as angry, today says it's cranky.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I guess that's a little bit better. How many homes are – have been evacuated?

PETERSON: So there are mandatory evacuation orders for 2,000 homes. They're guessing that it's about 4300 people though they – it's impossible to quantify that or check it out. There are about 12,000 homes they say are under threat of fire so everything they're describing about the fire this morning indicates that it's moving more into these steep canyons and into these places that are in the center of this very large national forest, the Angeles National Forest, and away from homes in some places. It is – There are communities to the northeast of the forest that are very much under threat.

CAVANAUGH: Now there was a report yesterday that a few people were trapped in a canyon near Gold Creek. Do you know what happened with those people? Were they rescued?

PETERSON: There have been conflicting reports about them this morning. Everything that these folks here are able to tell me indicates that while they've been in contact with them, that they are still there. I don't know what the immediate threat is in the area of those five people, all adults. But I know that they have been in additional contact and they're believed to still be in the same place.

CAVANAUGH: And another concern, yesterday and I believe today, as well is Mt. Wilson. That's where all the – all those 20 television transmission towers are. Is – What's the latest about fire consuming Mt. Wilson?

PETERSON: Yes, and, in fact, our transmission tower, though we have a backup plan like many of the other broadcasters. The incident commander here basically said there is a website that UCLA has for a solar observatory. They have the longest records of solar observation…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

PETERSON: …I believe in the world at that – at Mt. Wilson. And that camera kind of shows the same thing it's been showing: a lot of smoke, some distant fire. It's under the same sort of threat it has been under. They did a lot of brush clearance and they put a lot of fire retardant in that area and they've been able to get ground crews in again, and they don't do that unless they know they can get the crews out. So it's a little more hopeful than it was looking, say, Sunday night and early Monday morning.

CAVANAUGH: Now I've heard, Molly, that there's even a slight chance that there could be a shower today but that also may kick up some winds. Is that the kind of weather report you've been hearing?

PETERSON: Well, yeah. I mean, I'm about to speak in a few minutes with the onsite meteorologist so I'll be able to speak more intelligently about that after the fact. But right now what I can tell you is that with the higher humidity, they're looking at the possibility of these storm – They're talking about dry lightning, which would mean that – you know, they're looking at the possibility of strikes to the ground but dry lightning also might not have a direct impact on the ground crews and that's really who they're looking at the safety of, is the ground crews. The decisions about whether tactically to deploy the 747 are made at a different level.

CAVANAUGH: And how many firefighters are fighting this blaze now?

PETERSON: About 3600 is the latest total. They're developing a second base camp and a base camp is – you know, they've got what they call a main street. It's like a small town – or, not a small town. It's a full-sized town, thanks to us, too, the media.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

PETERSON: There's lots of us out here as well.

CAVANAUGH: Well, my last question to you, I read that there was some estimates that it was going to take weeks to completely put out this fire. Is that what you've been hearing?

PETERSON: That's still the case. They're talking about the 15th of September, which, you know, they're still feeling optimistic about that number working out. So they had talked about it being the eighth. Certainly, they want to recommend to people that they stay away from here who might want to come for recreation during a long holiday Labor Day weekend.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you so much for your time, Molly.

PETERSON: Oh, it was my pleasure. You're welcome.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Molly Peterson, reporter with KPCC Public Radio, and she is at a command center at the Station Fire in Los Angeles County. Stay with us because coming up next we'll talk about the use of combat – use of robots, that is, in warfare increasing. Will they eventually fight our battles for us? Stay with us as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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