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LA fires threaten cell phone, broadcast towers

Southern California blaze poses risk to Mount Wilson Observatory and nearby towers that provide cell phone service, along with TV and radio broadcasts.

Intense wildfires in Southern California are dangerously close to facilities atop Mount Wilson, threatening damage to cell phone and TV broadcast towers, as well as a famed observatory.

The blaze, which started August 26, has burned approximately 20,102 acres and as of Sunday was only 5 percent contained, according to the Web site of the California governor's office. Known as the "Station Fire," as it began about one mile above the Angeles Crest Fire Station, the inferno has spread throughout the San Gabriel Mountains in Northern Los Angeles County.

At an altitude of 5,715 feet, Mount Wilson houses a number of TV, radio, and cell phone transmitters known as the Communications Facilities, all providing service to the Los Angeles area, according to the LA Times. Also threatened by the fire is the historic Mount Wilson Observatory, home to critical astronomy projects and research.

Observatory Director Harold McAlister wrote of the situation in blog posts early Monday:

Monday, 31 Aug 09, 6:10 am PDT - Larry and Dave report that fire fighters are preparing to set more back fires below the broadcast towers, but otherwise things are calm on the mountain for the present.

Monday, 31 Aug 09, 5:50 am PDT - Sky and Telescope magazine posted this article in the last hour. Our reports on site are not presently so dire, but the "fog of war" certainly exists in a situation like this. Every preparation is being made for this scenario, and it may indeed yet happen. I remain optimistic for now.

On Friday, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Monterey Counties due to the Station fire and other wildfires. Evacuations have been ordered, and two firefighers have already lost their lives.

The latest updates on the Station fire can be found at the state's Calfires site and at the Incident Information System Web site.

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