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Mt. Wilson Saved

September 28, 2020

Ted Soqui

Ted Soqui

Ted Soqui is a Los Angeles-based photographer.

A few days ago the L.A. County Fire Department gave the media a quick tour of the summit of Mt. Wilson. The Bobcat Fire, one of the biggest fires in county history, was battled back by heroic Los Angeles County firefighters, who put in 24-hour shifts to keep the flames away from the observatory and television and communication antennae. Most of the fire battle was fought from above with aerial assets that kept the flames from surrounding the mountain. The top of Mt. Wilson consists of a thin isolated bucolic area of land 5,712 feet above Los Angeles, where a billion dollars’ worth of communications and astrophysics equipment are delicately planted. Much of the top of the mountain is now colored pink with fire retardant and ash. 


“Widowmakers,” large trees that have been burned by fire and are ready to fall and kill people, along with possible pits made by ground fire covered by loose dirt, make the area around the mountaintop too dangerous to walk around. Highway 2 and access to Mt. Wilson remains closed. The cause of the Bobcat Fire is under investigation; Southern California Edison equipment has been mentioned as a possible source of the 114,000-acre fire. The giant blaze was 63% contained as of Sunday, Sept. 27.


View of the smoke and denuded San Gabriel Mountains from atop Mt. Wilson.

Dave Gillotte, president of L.A. County Firefighters Local 1014. He was coordinating firefighting resources from a razorback ridge on top of Mt. Wilson. He told me that the mountaintop was “their dirt,” and the fire wasn’t going to take it away from them. He and his crew also chopped down “widowmakers,” large trees that were half burned and that could suddenly fall and kill fire fighters.

Vegetation painted pink with fire retardant, making much of the mountaintop a surreal place.

View of the denuded San Gabriel Mountains from atop Mt. Wilson.

View of the vegetation from the top of Mt. Wilson. The dead tree is a “widowmaker.”

L.A. County firefighters from Gardena protecting the historic 100-inch telescope on top of Mt. Wilson.

Aerial water drops from a helicopter on Mt. Wilson. The mountain is incredibly steep, and fighting the fire from the ground is almost impossible.

A firefighting helicopter drops water on a fire hot spot; a small rainbow is reflected on the mist.

A dome from the Mt. Wilson Observatory is shrouded in smoke from the fire.

Late afternoon view of the rugged San Gabriel Mountains seen from Highway 2, Angeles Crest Highway. The sky is filled with smoke and ash from the Bobcat Fire.

View of downtown Los Angeles from Highway 2, Angeles Crest Highway. The L.A. Basin is filled with smoke from the Bobcat Fire.

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