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Backfires, retardant helping to save Mt. Wilson

The mountain's famed observatories and broadcast towers seem in a better position to survive LA's Station wildfire, thanks to the ongoing firefighting efforts.

Mount Wilson's famed observatories and broadcast towers now seem in a better position to survive Los Angeles' Station wildfire, thanks to the ongoing and relentless efforts of firefighters.

Officials on Monday and Tuesday braced for the worst as they expected the wildfire to hit the Mount Wilson Observatory. But by setting a series of backfires and dropping retardant, firefighters kept the flames from spreading as initially feared.

Today's report from the Incident Information Web site offered encouraging news:

"Yesterday the fire continued to move west toward Mount Wilson. Currently there is a large contingent of fire engines, hand crews, and water tenders in place to protect and defend the valuable assets on top of the mountain. Aircraft were also called in to drop retardant on the west slope of Mt. Wilson to slow the fire's progress. Thanks to the hard work done over the past few days Mount Wilson's defensibility has been greatly improved."

People have anxiously watched images of the encroaching fire on the Mount Wilson Webcam maintained by UCLA. But on Tuesday, the images were lost as the Webcam went down, possibly due to phone line damage from backfires.

Daily progress reports by Mount Wilson Observatory Director Hal McAlister kept on the Observatory's Web site were moved to a backup server after the initial server went down, also the likely victim of backfires. (The observatory's regular Web site is still down.)

One of McAlister's reports from Wednesday was upbeat about the latest progress.

Wednesday, 2 Sep 09, 9:19 am PDT--The situation on the mountain remains stable with very good prospects. No more backfires were set last evening, so only the long defensive backfire on the northern perimeter was lit. Additional backfires on the east and south slopes will be set only if deemed necessary. Heavy man and equipment power remains on the mountain and will stay there until, hopefully, an all clear is given. If and when that happens remains uncertain, of course.

According to McAlister, the incident commander reported that Mount Wilson "is still in good shape." On Tuesday, the Super Scooper dropped 7,500 gallons of fire retardant gell, while firefighters have access to nearly 750,000 gallons of water at the site's water tanks.

The incident commander also reported that communications on the mountain have been difficult due to the intense radio frequency interference coming from the broadcast facilities.

On Tuesday, McAlister noted that there's no structural damage on the mountain, just a lost Internet connection. He praised the people fighting the blaze: "Our facility is in great shape for defensibility and in the hands of a group of enthusiastic, highly experienced, and absolutely devoted fire fighters."

Mount Wilson is home to the famed observatory, which houses two historic telescopes, and several communications towers providing TV, radio, and cell phone signals to the greater LA area.

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