Bobcat Fire Approaches Mount Wilson Observatory

Photo courtesy HPWREN
The Bobcat Fire threatened the Mount Wilson Observatory this week, with cameras mounted near the area showing the structure’s proximity to the flames, which came as close as 500 feet at one point.

A wildfire that has grown to tens of thousands of acres in the Angeles National Forest continues to burn, forcing evacuations and threatening the Mount Wilson Observatory.
At one point on Tuesday, flames came as close as 500 feet from the observatory, according to the U.S. Forest Service. But as of the Outlook Valley Sun’s press time Wednesday, firefighters had held the line against the fire, with aircraft dropping flame retardant to combat the flames.
“Our thoughts are with the firefighters who will defend the observatory against the approaching blaze. We know they will give it their best,” Sam Hale, chairman of the Mount Wilson Institute Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “We cherish the historic telescopes on the mountain that revolutionized humanity’s understanding of the cosmos and hope they will be safe. That is the most important thing.”
The Bobcat Fire, which began on Sept. 6, had grown to more than 44,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, with only 3% containment. The wildfire, the cause of which remains under investigation, has prompted evacuation orders for parts of Arcadia and Sierra Madre. Evacuation warnings are in place for some areas of Monrovia, Altadena, Pasadena and other communities.
Los Angeles County Assistant Fire Chief Anderson Mackey told the La Cañada Flintridge City Council that his department and the local sheriff’s station would update residents if it appeared evacuations for their area were likely.
“It’s really rugged terrain, and difficult to get crews in there to actually put out the fire,” he said. “Angeles [National Forest] is relying on the aircraft to knock most of the fire out.”
The fire is not expected to be contained until the end of October, according to the Forest Service, though that date could change.
While the Bobcat Fire is not currently threatening LCF, plumes of smoke have caused a massive drop in air quality across the county. As of Wednesday morning, air in the western San Gabriel Valley was rated “unhealthy” by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
“People need to be extremely cautious with going outside and concerned with how bad our air quality is right now,” said Dr. Reza Ronaghi, a pulmonologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in a phone interview.
However, he added that most healthy adults won’t see any long-term effects from being exposed to smoke for a couple of days, though short-term symptoms could appear after a few hours of exposure.
Other populations, including minors, adults older than 65, pregnant women and people who have pre-existing heart or lung conditions could have more serious effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ronaghi also cautioned that even if residents don’t see or smell smoke, dangerous particles could be lingering in the air. He recommended checking air quality indicators — one is available at aqmd.gov — to ensure that it’s safe to be outdoors.
Until the air quality returns to normal levels, there are some measures community members can employ to keep themselves as safe as possible.
The best course of action is to stay indoors, Ronaghi said, which is something many have already been doing to protect themselves from the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that people should be careful to ensure their residences are well insulated.
Those who must go outdoors should wear a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, though Ronaghi cautions that cloth masks aren’t effective in keeping out tiny smoke particles.
The CDC and EPA instead recommend respirators such as N95 masks, which can filter out those potentially harmful particles.
But many respirators are being used by health workers on the front line of the pandemic, potentially forcing others to seek alternative face coverings. Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, believes that surgical masks offer some protection against wildfire smoke, according to a recent blog post from the university.
However, people whose jobs require them to work outside should try to get access to N95 masks, Ronaghi said, potentially reusing them for a few days each.

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