Califronia Inferno Threatens Major Communications Facilities


fire-los-angeles-smallA wildfire in the heavily populated Los Angeles foothills threatened 10,000 homes today, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger warned residents to heed evacuation orders for the “out of control” and “very dangerous” blaze. The heat-driven fire nearly doubled in size overnight and has now burned 35,000 acres (14,000 hectares) of thick, bone-dry brush in the mountains above five towns, a 12-mile (19 km) stretch from La Crescenta to La Canada Flintridge, the California Fire Department said.

Authorities have ordered residents to evacuate about 2,000 homes threatened by the fire about 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

“These fires are still totally out of control,” Schwarzenegger told reporters at the firefighters’ command post in Lake View Terrace, California. “This is a huge and is a very dangerous fire. The fire is moving very close to homes and to structures… this is why it’s important to pay close attention to the evacuation.”

In La Crescenta, the streets were deserted on Sunday afternoon except for a few residents fleeing with their suitcases and other belongings on foot.

fire-los-angelesBob Sebesta, 47, sat watching the burning ridge from his in-laws’ house, which everyone evacuated last night with pictures, paperwork and “stuff you can’t replace.”

“I keep thinking I should go water the backyard,” Sebesta said.

Three remote homes have been destroyed so far and some 10,000 others and 2,500 other buildings are in danger, as is Mount Wilson, the nexus for key telecommunications facilities.

“That site is the nerve center for most of communication in the Los Angeles area,” Station Fire Commander Mike Dietrich said. “It is not out of danger as we speak.”

Fire commanders said at a news briefing that more than three homes were lost in the Big Tujunga canyon, though they did not know the exact number.

“We have eyewitness reports that our house is gone and as many as 30 may be lost,” said Beth Halaas, who lives year-round in the canyon, where most homes are for weekend use.

The fire that started on Wednesday above the exclusive community of La Canada Flintridge is only 5 percent contained and officials expected that, with hot temperatures and low humidity, it would grow larger. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Firefighters will attempt to keep a strike force of fire engines on Mount Wilson, where critical communications facilities are in jeopardy of being overrun.

“Our original plan was to pull all firefighters off of it now,” said Mark Savage of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “Right now, a strike team of engines is seeing if they can find a safe place to shelter up there. We are concerned that it will be overrun and we think it will burn, but we are not sure if the communication facilities will be overrun.”

By late afternoon, a huge plume of smoke rose from the western side of the peak, and the fire was creating winds pushing it to the east up the peak.

Dozens of TV technicians are normally are stationed at Mount Wilson to keep 22 Los Angeles TV stations operating, along with about 25 fm radio stations and vital police and fire radio dispatch equipment functioning.

“Everybody is off the mountain — there was one last caretaker, but they took him off,” said fire info officer Larry Marinas.

Most electronic operations on the mountain can be run by remote control, but power and communication lines are vulnerable.

Most satellite and cable companies have direct feeds from major TV stations to bypass a failure on Mount Wilson, but over the air TV and FM signals could be lost, along with hundreds of public safety radio repeaters that amplify signals from Tijuana to Santa Barbara.

{Daily News-LA/Reuters/News Agencies/ Newscenter}