Bobcat fire spared historic Mount Wilson telescopes, but it was close

Firefighters tacked spot fires in the Angeles National Forest Friday morning and secured the edges of the Bobcat fire, which was 89% contained after scorching about 115,800 acres.

“Single trees may continue to flare up and smoke,” the Angeles National Forest said Thursday. “Please do not call 911; we are aware and are actively patrolling and mopping up.”

The Mount Wilson Institute issued a statement Thursday night to celebrate that the observatory had survived the fire, which at one point came within 20 feet of the historic facility.

Antennas on Mount Wilson are seen in a live-cam image from the Mount Wilson Observatory early Friday, Oct. 9. 2020. At one point, the Bobcat fire came within 20 feet of the historic observatory, home to 60-inch and 100-inch telescopes that are known for significant astronomical discoveries. The wildfire started Sept. 6 and is expected to be fully contained by Oct. 30. It has burned about 115,800 acres. (Image courtesy of the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network)

“The 60-inch and 100-inch telescopes, which provided significant discoveries about the cosmos, were in danger of severe damage. The monastery, where astronomers and physicists stayed during their observing time, including founder George Ellery Hale, Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein, was in danger of burning to the ground,” said Sam Hale, the chairman of the Mount Wilson Institute’s Board of Trustees.

“But that didn’t happen. Mount Wilson Observatory didn’t surrender to flames because courageous firefighters worked around the clock to preserve and defend this historic spot.”

The Mount Wilson Institute had also prepared for wildfires by clearing invasive fire-prone vegetation around the 100-year-old buildings, replacing old hydrants and repairing and filling three large water tankers with water to be used during drought.

“Good stewardship and thinking ahead helped Mount Wilson Observatory survive the wildfire,” Hale said.

On Thursday, a fire burned in the Mount Wilson area within the Bobcat fire’s containment zone, but no structures were threatened.

“There’s still some active pockets of fuel within the containment zone that the fire is finding,” U.S. Forest Service Public Information Officer Andrew Mitchell said.

A Go Fund Me campaign, started on Sept. 24, raised about $13,000 to help the observatory prepare for future wildfires, as well as refurbishing the observatory’s monastery, a dormitory for Observatory staff and visiting scientists, and renovating facilities to bring them up to 21st century standards, Hale said.

The brush fire broke out on Sept. 6 in the Angeles National Forest and destroyed 170 structures, including 28 residences, burned about 115,800 acres and was 89% contained Thursday.

The Nature Center at the Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area was destroyed, according to Los Angeles County parks officials.

A map, compiled from ongoing field damage inspection and subject to change, can be viewed at

All evacuation orders have been changed to warnings and were in effect in the following areas:

  • Paradise Springs, south of Big Pines Highway, east of Devil’s Punchbowl, west of Largo Vista Road and north of the forest
  • South and west of Upper Tujunga Canyon Road, east of Angeles Forest Highway and north of Angeles Crest Highway
  • Residences along Angeles Crest Highway, between Angeles Forest Highway and Highway 39

Evacuation warnings were lifted for the following areas:

  • South of Big Pines Highway, east of Largo Vista Road, west of 263rd Street and north of the forest
  • South of Mount Emma Road, north of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon, east of Angeles Forest Highway and west of Pacifico Mountain
  • East Fork areas: Julius Klein Conservation Camp 19, Camp Williams and the River Community

A half-dozen injuries from the Bobcat Fire have been reported, according to the USFS, which said 317 personnel were engaged in the firefighting effort as of Wednesday. The full containment date for the fire is projected to be Oct. 30.

Angeles National Forest personnel took over command of firefighting operations Tuesday.

Road closures remained in place for:

  • Big Santa Anita Road (the Chantry road)
  • Big Rock Creek Road remains closed at Big Pines Highway
  • Highway 2 at Angeles Forest Highway and Vincent Gap
  • Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road is closed at Angeles Forest Highway

Angeles Forest Highway and Highway 39 to Crystal Lake Road were open Monday night.

The Angeles National Forest, including campgrounds and day-use sites, remains closed until at least Thursday due to wildfire threat, with a prohibition in effect on the use of any ignition sources such as campfires or gas stoves.

Nearly three dozen members of California’s congressional delegation, including Rep. Judy Chu, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, wrote a letter to President Donald Trump last week urging him to support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request for a major disaster declaration to respond to the wildfires raging in California, including the Bobcat Fire, which is burning in Chu’s district.

The cost of fighting the fire has not been determined.

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