'An ideal storm': Why a California wildfire continues to elude firefighters


LOS ANGELES — For greater than every week, the sometimes blue sky above the Angeles National Forest was hidden behind a thick veil of grey smoke. Mountains often seen for miles might barely be seen up shut.

Fueled by triple-digit warmth and dry brush untouched by flames for greater than 60 years, the Bobcat Fire continues to elude firefighters two weeks after it erupted within the San Gabriel Mountains. Fire officers level to steep terrain and altering winds as two of many elements making the wildfire east of Los Angeles particularly difficult.

L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby just lately emphasised a 3rd problem: Firefighting sources throughout the state are strained by the worst hearth season in California historical past.

“Five of the top 20 fires to ever burn in the state of California are burning right now in Northern California, which has challenged us in getting some of the resources here that we would normally get,” Osby stated Friday. “The fire behavior that we’re getting in this fire and throughout the state of California is unprecedented.”

The cause of the Bobcat Fire, which has charred more than 91,000 acres and was 15 percent contained Saturday, has not been determined, the U.S. Forest Service said. About 1,600 personnel are assigned to fight it, a number that would normally be above 2,000 for a fire this size, said a spokesman for the Angeles National Forest.

Many area residents remain watchful as fire officials issue evacuation orders, lift them and issue new ones for neighboring areas. Checking air quality before venturing outside for a walk or jog has become a daily occurrence. People are advised to keep an emergency kit near their front doors or inside theirs car should they suddenly have to flee.

On Saturday, people living in nearby desert cities were ordered to evacuate. Last week, residents on the southern boundary of the fire in the San Gabriel Valley were told to leave their homes.

“It’s been a stressful week,” Monrovia resident Anna Howie told NBC News. “I don’t think I’ve gotten three or four hours of sleep each night.”

Monrovia resident Michael Kunch said he has experienced many California fire seasons but “this has been the scariest.”

The fire was stuck at 0 percent containment for several days but then steadily grew to 3 percent as firefighters rushed to protect the historic Mount Wilson Observatory. Founded in 1904, the observatory once hosted groundbreaking astronomers like Edwin Hubble and is home to dozens of irreplaceable telescopes.

Containment grew to 6 percent last week, only to fall back to 3 percent later as winds shifted and strengthened. At one point, the fire came within 500 feet of the observatory, forcing employees to evacuate and firefighters to make an aggressive stand in a national forest where elevation ranges from 1,600 feet to more than 10,000 feet.

By Thursday, containment was up to 9 percent and nearly doubled to 15 percent on Friday.

But as containment grew, so did the fire. It was approximately 70,000 acres Friday morning but 24 hours later had spread to more than 91,000 acres.

Officials estimate that damage to structures has been minimal, but affected homeowners say they are devastated by the destruction.

“I have been heartbroken over the loss,” Deb Burgess, president of the Sturtevant Camp board, said in an email.

Burgess owns a cabin at the historic Sturtevant Camp, a cluster of cabins relationship to 1893 that may be reached solely by foot or horseback. She has not been allowed to go to the location and fears the Bobcat Fire could have destroyed it.

Locals fear that 80 cabins within the neighboring Big Santa Anita Canyon had been additionally destroyed or broken.

“These are really rare circumstances,” stated Andrew Mitchell, spokesman for the Angeles National Forest. “It’s the most horrible thing in the world when you see a home burn. We’re really trying to focus on that.”

Firefighters are deploying each weapon of their arsenal because the Bobcat Fire continues to rage. They are bulldozing management traces alongside its perimeter to attempt to sluggish it down. Planes and helicopters are dumping water and hearth retardant when potential, though smoky situations made flying inconceivable for a number of days final week.

On the bottom, firefighters are cleansing up “slop,” spot fires that bounce management traces, and utilizing small, managed fires to preempt an even bigger, extra ferocious flank from igniting.

“This is a perfect storm,” Mitchell stated. “Every fire has its individual challenges and you have to adapt to those challenges.”