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Bobcat Fire: Crews race to protect Mount Wilson Observatory as containment drops to 3%

ABC 7 Los Angeles logo ABC 7 Los Angeles 9/16/2020 KABC

There were some tense moments Tuesday as flames jumped Highway 2 near Highway 39. Firefighters say the flames have been making erratic, wind-driven changes there.

Crews continue efforts to protect the Mount Wilson Observatory from the Bobcat Fire as evacuation orders remain in place for parts of Arcadia and Sierra Madre. The fire has scorched 41,231 acres, while containment dropped from 6% to 3% as firefighters dealt with flare-ups.

Melody Serhal has lived in her Monrovia house for 27 years and has never seen fires burn this close. She's hoping for the best - but preparing for the worst.

"I don't think these hills have burned for 60 years, so there's a lot of buildup that should have been cleaned out," Serhal said.

The Angeles National Forest tweeted late Monday night that crews were setting off strategic burns to protect the infrastructure around Mount Wilson as the blaze crept closer to the observatory.

"The firing operation is going as planned," the tweet said. "Firefighters are taking advantage of favorable weather conditions."

Infrastructure in the area, such as broadcast towers, is worth over a billion dollars.

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"The Bobcat Fire is knocking on our door,'' the Mount Wilson Observatory tweeted. "Fire officials predicted that the fire would approach Mt. Wilson from Echo Rock. It looks like they are correct."

The tweet said observatory personnel have been evacuated.

An evacuation order was issued over the weekend for Arcadia residents north of Elkins Avenue and east of Santa Anita Avenue. The Arcadia Fire Department said crews were "very successful and productive" in keeping the fire front away from homes, and no homes have been damaged or impacted. The fire department reported that 267 Arcadia homes had been evacuated.

In Sierra Madre, police said a total of 32 homes were affected by the evacuation order. An evacuation center has been set up at Santa Anita Track at 285 West Huntington Drive. Residents should enter through Gate 5.

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Meanwhile, evacuation warnings were in effect for several foothill communities, including Monrovia, Bradbury, Sierra Madre, Altadena, Duarte and Pasadena. An evacuation order was also issued for Camp Williams.

The abnormally dry vegetation has been fueling the blaze, leading to extreme fire behavior and rapid rates of spread. The U.S. Forest Service initially estimated for full containment on Oct. 15, but that has been pushed back to Oct. 30.

Angeles Crest Highway 2 was closed from Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road to Big Pines, Highway 39 was closed at Old San Gabriel Canyon Road, and Glendora Ridge Road, Glendora Mountain Road, and Mount Wilson Road were closed, as well.

The cause of the fire, which erupted Sept. 6, is under investigation.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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