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Crews battle Station fire on its eastern edge

Air tankers continue attacking the blaze on its eastern edge to prevent it from crossing California 39. The fire had destroyed 157,220 acres as of Sunday.

September 07, 2009|Ari B. Bloomekatz and Alan Zarembo

Fire crews battling the Station fire continued to focus their efforts Sunday on its eastern edge in the San Gabriel Wilderness, with air tankers swooping into the ravines above Monrovia in an effort to keep the blaze from crossing California 39.

The fire, which had consumed 157,220 acres by Sunday, seemed to be taking its time, settling into canyons and burning through vegetation it had skipped earlier. But it remained a safe distance from populated areas.

"The fire is moving slowly through the wilderness area," said Nathan Judy, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Ocean breezes are likely to bring slightly cooler, more moist air over the fire in the next few days, which in theory should help.

But the effect is likely to be small, given the dense vegetation in the mountains.

"The fire creates its own microclimate," said Todd Hall, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Fire officials remained concerned that those same winds could eventually push the fire north and east into the Antelope Valley. On Sunday, smoke drifted over Littlerock and Juniper Hills.

The fire remained about five miles away, but a platoon of 50 Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies was sent into those communities in case an evacuation was needed.

The fire, already the largest on record in Los Angeles County, was 51% contained by Sunday, officials said.

It is not expected to be fully under control until Sept. 15.

"We do something, the fire does something different," said Michael Bryant, an L.A. County deputy fire chief, comparing the battle to a chess match.

Part of the fire's eastern edge is shaped like a horseshoe, with the open end to the northeast and with flames surrounding Mt. Hillyer. California 39, a mountain road that runs north from Azusa, is the line officials hope the fire won't cross.

Mike Dietrich, an incident commander for the Forest Service, said that Mt. Wilson, with its large collection of communications facilities, was "doing excellent, very good," but that the fire was "munching, nibbling" on the southeastern area.

Fire crews were planning to light backfires near Mt. Wilson and Cogswell Reservoir on Monday to destroy fuel.

The fire has been mostly contained on its western edge, near Pacoima Canyon.

Because it has been burning primarily on remote public land, the fire has been far less destructive to civilization than many other blazes its size.

On Sunday, three more homes in the Upper Big Tujunga area were found destroyed, bringing the total for the Station fire to at least 78, the Forest Service said.

At Angeles Crest Christian Camp, along California 2, the smoke was too thick to fully assess damage. At least three structures had burned and 26 had been saved, officials said.

In addition to the two firefighters who died Aug. 30 when their truck fell into a canyon during the blaze, nine firefighters have been injured in the Station fire.

One firefighter who was exposed last week to cyanide fumes, possibly from hazardous waste that had been illegally dumped, remained in the hospital in stable condition, officials said.

The cost of fighting the fire is $49 million and rising.


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