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Bobcat Fire: Blaze Burning Within 500 Feet Of Mt. Wilson Observatory; Spot Fire Jumps Highway 2

Updated
Published
(Courtesy Angeles National Forest)

This story is no longer being updated. Follow our coverage of the Bobcat Fire for Wednesday, Sept. 16>>

Yesterday's coverage:

The Bobcat Fire continues to grow rapidly in the Angeles National Forest, causing evacuations and threatening foothill communities.

On Tuesday evening, officials reported the fire remained "very active." That said, Angeles National Forest officials reported in an evening briefing they'd made a lot of progress protecting Mt. Wilson and conditions there were looking "really good." Additional resources to fight the fire will be in place overnight.

Earlier, officials reported the blaze was within 500 feet of Mt. Wilson Observatory. At that point, firefighters dug in to defend the historic science station, which is arguably one of the world's most important spots for scientific discovery.

Smoke from the approaching flames of the Bobcat Fire are seen in this screengrab from a live camera feed from Mt. Wilson Observatory just after 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. (Courtesy SoCal Edison via AlertWildfire.org)

A MAFFS (modular airborne firefighting system, aka a big C-130 converted for water dropping) was on loan from Sacramento and making drops near Mt. Wilson.

Elsewhere, crews continue to work to defend homes in foothill communities and were also working to contain a section of the blaze that jumped Highway 2 this afternoon. So far that's burned 500 to 1,000 acres north of the roadway in the Buckhorn area, officials reported.

Here's what else we know about the fire so far today.

THE BASICS

  • Acreage: 41,773 acres
  • Containment: 3% (the rate of fire growth Monday lowered total containment)
  • Resources deployed: 1,158 firefighters

The blaze erupted last Sunday near the Cogswell Dam and then spread rapidly amid an intense, record-breaking heat wave, prompting evacuation orders for Mt. Wilson Observatory. The cause is under investigation.

Firefighters continue to work in steep difficult terrain with help from helicopters and planes. Crews are hoping to take advantage of low winds forecasted for the next few days to build some containment lines around the flames.

The blaze continues to spread out of control, with spot fires breaking out and growing rapidly. Fire officials warned last night that resources to fight the fire were limited, which contributed to the fire's growth "outpacing containment." But on Tuesday morning they reported that those resources are being boosted, "allowing us to expand our efforts to reduce the fire’s growth."

The primary focus today continues to be protecting Mt. Wilson and homes in foothill communities. Officials said a secondary priority is keeping the blaze south of Highway 2.

"All critical thresholds for large fire growth are being met and exceeded," fire officials wrote on the incident page. "[The f]ire is being influenced mostly by slope and fuel, so spread is likely in all directions."

Firefighters actively defended the infrastructure at Mt. Wilson Observatory overnight, setting backfires on the slopes below the facility to slow the fire's progression up to the peak. That accounted for a lot of the smoke and fire seen last night from below.


READ MORE: What We'll Lose If Mt. Wilson Observatory Burns


Residents of dozens of homes in the Sierra Madre / Arcadia area were ordered to evacuate Sunday, but firefighters have been able to keep the fire away from houses so far, officials say.

The fire was also burning into Spanish Canyon overnight, closing in on Monrovia Canyon Park. Monrovia city officials advised residents near the park to be ready to evacuate if needed, but that remains a warning as of Tuesday morning.

CLOSURES

  • The Angeles National Forest — along with every other national forest in the state — has been closed through Sept. 21.
  • State Route 39 is closed at Old Gabriel Canyon Road to State Route 2
  • State Route 2 is closed from Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road to Big Pines
  • Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road
  • Mt. Wilson Road
  • Glendora Mountain Road
  • Glendora Ridge Road

EVACUATIONS

The Bobcat Fire burns on hillsides behind homes in Arcadia on Sept. 13, 2020, prompting mandatory evacuations for residents of several communities living along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Mandatory

On Sunday morning, the city of Arcadia issued an evacuation order for all residents who live north of Elkins Avenue and east of Santa Anita Avenue. That area includes some homes in the adjacent city of Sierra Madre. That order remained in place Monday night, Arcadia city officials announced that afternoon.

Evacuation orders have been lifted for residents in the East Fork area, which includes Camp Williams and the River Community Center. Residents returning to their homes were advised to use Glendora Mountain Road, as State Route 39 remains closed.

Warnings

Evacuation warnings remain in effect for the following foothill cities and communities:

  • Monrovia
  • Arcadia (excluding the neighborhood under mandatory evacuation orders)
  • Sierra Madre (except the 32 homes under mandatory evacuation orders)
  • Bradbury
  • Duarte
  • Pasadena
  • Altadena

"Residents should have evacuation plans in place, organize their emergency evacuation supplies, and have essential evacuation personal belongings easily accessible," U.S. Forest Service officials wrote on the fire incident page. "Vehicles should be fully fueled, facing out in their driveways and ready to leave."

SHELTER SITES

A Red Cross Evacuation Center was re-established at Santa Anita Park, 285 W. Huntington Drive (entry at Gate 5).

L.A. County officials said a shelter site for horses has been established at the Pomona Fairplex (entry at Gate 12).

AIR QUALITY

The South Coast Air Quality Management District extended a smoke advisory to Tuesday as unhealthy air continues to blanket much of the L.A. Basin and Inland Empire. It's not just local fires though; smoke is also making its way to us from wildfires in Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

Smoke is expected to linger in the basin and valley areas overnight.

The unhealthy air prompted county officials to close three COVID-19 testing sites today:

  • Pomona Fairplex
  • San Gabriel Valley Airport
  • Panorama City

Look up the latest air quality info for your area at airnow.gov.

ABOUT MT. WILSON

Smoke rises behind Mt. Wilson Observatory as the Bobcat Fire burns in the Angeles National Forest on Sept. 14, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The Mt. Wilson Observatory houses 18 telescopes, many of which were used to make some of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the last century. They include the 100 inch Hooker telescope that Edwin Hubble used in the 1920s to prove that our universe is still expanding. Observatory Director Tom Meneghini said he's afraid they could be seriously impacted if the fire gets close enough.

The heat can do irreparable damage. Our two big telescopes are historically significant and irreplaceable,” Meneghini said.

However, he said fires have gotten close before and the decades-old firefighting setup at the Observatory is ready to be used again. "We have an inground system of hoses and pumps," he said.

"We have half a million gallons of water ready to pump so that’s all been prepared for any fire professional to come in and take over."

The fire also threatens a seismic station that has recorded earthquake activity for 100 years, seismologist Lucy Jones said via Twitter.

Numerous television and radio stations have transmitters in the area, including our newsroom which broadcasts on the radio at 89.3 KPCC.

HOW WE’RE REPORTING ON THIS

Ryan Fonseca, Sharon McNary, and Mike Roe are gathering updates on the fire.

This is a developing story. We fact check everything and rely only on information from credible sources (think fire, police, government officials and reporters on the ground). Sometimes, however, we make mistakes and/or initial reports turn out to be wrong. In all cases, we strive to bring you the most accurate information in real time and will update this story as new information becomes available.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, check the following websites and social media accounts:

FIRE RESOURCES

YOUR QUESTIONS OR IDEAS

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

Historically Significant Mt. Wilson Observatory Could Be Destroyed By Bobcat Fire

Updated
Published
The dome of the Mt. Wilson Observatory (Courtesy of Mt. Wilson Observatory)

On Tuesday afternoon, the Bobcat Fire is burning within 500 feet of the Mt. Wilson Observatory, threatening this iconic part of the Los Angeles landscape.

The 114-year-old site is full of equipment that helped humanity discover not only our place in the universe -- but the universe itself.

READ MORE ABOUT THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF MT WILSON OBSERVATORY

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FBI-Led Task Force Arrests 18 People Across SoCal For Alleged Drug Trafficking, Illegal Gun Sales

Updated
Published
U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna announces arrests from operation "Black Phoenix." (Robert Garrova/LAist)

An FBI-led task force arrested 18 people this morning for a range of alleged crimes, including drug trafficking and illegal gun sales.

During the 18-month operation dubbed “Black Phoenix,” authorities said they seized roughly 28 pounds of methamphetamine, several guns and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. They said they also uncovered an illegal marijuana grow.

“The subjects targeted are believed to be either members of or associates of Asian organized crime groups that operate in the Los Angeles County area and elsewhere in a decentralized criminal network,” said John “Jack” Bennett, director in charge of the FBI’s L.A. office. “These gangs include the Wha Ching, The Black Dragons and the Asian Boyz,” he said.

Officials have seized a total of 16 firearms during the operation. They charged two residents of Ontario for allegedly selling five “ghost guns,” similar to AR-15 rifles.

The LAPD and L.A. County Sheriff’s Department participated in the operation.

Due to the significant number of arrests, authorities processed detainees in an open air setting to allow for coronavirus-related distancing. The task force set up several white tents in a large parking lot near the intersection of Vignes Ave. and E. First St. in Little Tokyo. The tents were used as evidence, booking and interview stations and a portion of Vignes Ave. was blocked off to traffic. “This is very unusual conditions for us,” Bennett said.

In all, authorities have brought charges against 25 individuals. Four of the defendants were already in jail and three are fugitives, officials said.

If convicted, each of the defendants faces a mandatory minimum term of 10 years in federal prison.

“Some of the defendants, due to the fact that they have extensive criminal backgrounds, will face decades in federal prison,” said U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna.

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

El Dorado Fire: Nearly 18,000 Acres Burned, Containment At 61%

Updated
Published
(Courtesy San Bernardino National Forest via Twitter)

This story is no longer being updated. Follow our coverage of the El Dorado Fire for Wednesday, Sept. 16>>

Yesterday's coverage:

The El Dorado Fire continues to burn in the San Bernardino National Forest near Yucaipa, forcing evacuations of thousands of homes in mountain communities.

Here's what we know about the blaze so far today:

THE BASICS

  • Acreage: 17,892
  • Containment: 61%
  • Structures destroyed: 4 homes, 6 other structures
  • Structures damaged: 2 homes, 4 other structures
  • Structures threatened: 26,031
  • Personnel: 1,319 firefighters
  • Injuries: 11

The El Dorado Fire began on Saturday, September 5, with a bang — literally — when a firework from a gender reveal party in Yucaipa ignited a blaze that has threatened thousands of homes and caused the mandatory evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.

Hot and dry conditions continue today, and San Bernardino National Forest officials say fire activity "remains very dynamic" as it burns upslope toward the San Bernardino Peak. That's near the scar of the Lake Fire, which burned 49 square miles in 2015.

The fire continues to threaten the community of Angelus Oaks, but slowed down overnight, giving firefighters an opportunity to dig in and prepare to attack the blaze with hand and hose lines.

EVACUATIONS

Mandatory evacuations remain in effect for the following communities (detailed map here):

  • Mountain Home Village
  • Forest Falls
  • Angelus Oaks
  • Seven Oaks
  • Barton Flats / Jenks Lake Area east to Onyx Summit

A Red Cross evacuation center is open at the Redlands East Valley High School, 31000 E. Colton Ave.

All evacuation orders and warnings have been lifted for residents in Yucaipa, Oak Glen and Mentone. Officials are asking residents to use caution as they return to their homes due to the emergency crews still working in the area.

Big Bear residents are not currently any evacuation warnings or orders, but local officials there have issued a fire advisory, asking residents "to closely monitor the El Dorado Fire, and take appropriate precautions based on your individual circumstances."

CLOSURES

Highway 38 remains closed between Bryant Street and Lake Williams Drive.

The San Bernardino National Forest — along with all other national forests in California — remains closed through Sept. 21.

AIR QUALITY

The South Coast Air Quality Management District extended a smoke advisory to Tuesday as unhealthy air continues to blanket much of the L.A. Basin and Inland Empire. It's not just local fires though; smoke is also making its way to us from wildfires in Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

Smoke is expected to linger in the basin and valley areas overnight.

Look up the latest air quality info for your area at airnow.gov.

CAUSE

The family behind the party where authorities say a pyrotechnic device was set off tried to put out the fire and called 911, but it was too late. They have cooperated with authorities, but Cal Fire spokesperson Captain Bennett Malloy says it's possible they could face misdemeanor charges:

"Some of the laws they could have broken: a public resource code where you cause a fire on somebody else's land, or, in California under a penal code, there's provisions for what's called recklessly causing a fire. And that may be the case with this fire, but that would be up to the district attorney to determine."

Prosecutors could pursue felony charges if someone is hurt or killed, or if homes are damaged by the fire. Though no charges had been filed yet.

HOW WE’RE REPORTING ON THIS

This is a developing story. We fact check everything and rely only on information from credible sources (think fire, police, government officials and reporters on the ground). Sometimes, however, we make mistakes and/or initial reports turn out to be wrong. In all cases, we strive to bring you the most accurate information in real time and will update this story as new information becomes available.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, check the following websites and social media accounts:

FIRE RESOURCES

YOUR QUESTIONS OR IDEAS

Task Force Proposal For Future Of LA School Police Is On Today's LAUSD Board Agenda

Updated
Published
Protestors hold up signs at a march to defund school police on Tuesday June 16, 2020. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

A school safety task force convened by L.A. Unified School District superintendent Austin Beutner is scheduled to update the LAUSD board at today’s meeting. Documents posted ahead of the meeting show this update will include unveiling “considerations” for deep cuts in the L.A. School Police budget.

The Reimagining School Safety Task Force was formed by Beutner before a board vote earlier this summer to cut the school police budget by $25 million, or 35% overall. The largest reductions called for in a draft document released in advance of this afternoon’s meeting include removing officers assigned to school campuses and instead relying on patrol (listed as a cut of more than $5.8 million), and eliminating weekend and off-hour patrol services (a cut of more than $6.2 million).

You can watch the meeting on the school board’s website. The regular portion of the meeting is expected to start at 1 p.m. Here’s the agenda.

On social media, the organizing group Students Deserve criticized the board for starting its special meeting at 9 a.m., when students are expected to be in class or doing school work. The group is planning a rally outside of the district headquarters beginning at 3 p.m. Students Deserve has called out the task force for not including students as members.

After two board meetings in June that went late into the night and included hours of public comment, the board voted 4-3 in favor of the $25 million cut to the school police budget. Student organizers and advocates have previously called the 35% reduction a first step, while school police and supporters argued it goes too far. In response to the cuts, the then-police chief resigned, and Leslie Ramirez was named the Los Angeles School Police Department’s interim leader.

I’ll be livetweeting updates from the meeting on Twitter. We’ll also update this post as the meeting and discussion get underway.

READ MORE OF OUR COVERAGE OF SCHOOL POLICE FROM OVER THE SUMMER:

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LA County Schools Are Making Plans To Reopen Campuses For Small Groups

Updated
Published
Los Angeles Unified officials say the district is continuing to prepare campuses and plans for the return to school, including reorganizing classrooms to allow for more physical distancing. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Los Angeles County schools will probably not be able to welcome all students back to campus for at least another six-to-eight weeks, but as of this week, they can bring back students in need of “specialized support and services” in small groups.

According to the guidance from county public health officials, schools can welcome back 10% of the total campus enrollment at a time, and should prioritize “students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and children who are English Learners (EL) needing assessments and/or specialized in-school services.”

So far, more than 50 schools — accounting for 400 staff members and 2,100 students — have notified county health authorities of their intent to do so, including 38 campuses in the Alhambra Unified, Centinela Valley Union High, El Monte City, Lennox, Paramount Unified, and San Gabriel Unified school districts. Two are charter schools, and the other 15 are private schools.

You can check out the full list on the public health website.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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LAUSD’s Launched Its COVID-19 Testing Program. So When Can Students, Staff Expect An Invite?

Updated
Published
Austin Beutner (left), superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District, takes directions from a school nurse after taking a test for COVID-19 at a press event at Harry Bridges Span School in Wilmington on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Kyle Stokes/LAist)

The Los Angeles Unified School District this week announced it is ready to start periodically testing all students and employees — more than half-a-million people — for COVID-19.

Here’s Superintendent Austin Beutner at a news event marking the launch:

“It is part of a broader program we are putting in place to provide a foundation for a return to school by students in as safe a manner as possible, and as soon ... as possible.”

The program is ambitious. LAUSD officials claim it is the only K-12 school system in the U.S. attempting to make testing part of its reopening plan.

District officials have also pledged to report results of most tests by the next morning — which impressed Letetsia Fox, head of the union for many LAUSD clerical workers:

“It’s better if you know within 24 hours so you know whether you need to quarantine.”

But when can students and staff expect to take their first test? After their first screening, how often can they expect to be tested? And what about family members of LAUSD students and staff — can they get a test too?

We’ve updated our guide answering these questions — and a lot more:

MORE ON THE STORY:

LAUSD STAFF, STUDENTS & PARENTS:

Has the school district invited you to take a COVID-19 test? We want to hear about your experience! Contact KPCC/LAist reporter Kyle Stokes by email, with a direct message on Twitter or through the form in our story.

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California NAACP Opposes Measure To Raise Commercial Property Taxes To Benefit Schools

Updated
Published
A still image featuring a Black-owned barbershop taken from a TV ad from the No On Prop 15 campaign. (CREDIT: No On Prop 15 campaign)

A measure on the November ballot aims to raise as much as $11.5 billion for schools and local governments in California by changing property tax rules for businesses.

Backers of Prop. 15 say it’ll help underfunded schools in disadvantaged communities. But some minority advocacy groups are opposing the measure, saying it could hurt small Black-owned businesses.

Using images of a Black-owned barbershop, a TV ad from the No On Prop. 15 campaign quotes the California chapter of the NAACP in saying the measure would hurt small business.

“As higher property taxes push our costs up, family businesses will go under,” the narrator says in the ad.

Campaign finance disclosures show that business groups, taxpayers associations and owners of large office buildings are leading the charge against Prop 15.

But groups such as the California NAACP and the California Black Chamber of Commerce have also come out against it, breaking with elected officials and education funding advocates who say Prop. 15 would benefit Black communities.

USC political science professor Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro said one explanation for the split could be a generation gap between different constituencies.

“The NAACP in the state of California tends to represent older voters, who tend not to have children in public education right now,” she said.

(State and local chapters of the NAACP operate independently of the national organization.)

Prop. 15 exempts businesses with property worth $3 million or less. But opponents say small businesses could eventually be impacted if property owners respond to tax hikes by raising rents.

The measure would not affect property taxes paid by homeowners. It would create a so-called “split roll,” with one set of tax rules for residential properties and another for commercial and industrial properties.

However, the reform would dismantle aspects of Prop. 13, the landmark tax law passed by California voters more than 40 years ago. Prop. 13 is often called the “third rail” of California politics — and political experts say it’s a rail that could split voters in unexpected ways.

Morning Briefing: Latino/as Hit Hardest By COVID Economic Toll

Updated
Published
(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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According to a new report, the Latino/a community isn’t just being hit harder by the disease caused by the pandemic than other communities, they’re also being hit harder financially by the coronavirus’ economic toll.

Researchers found that a full 71% of households in L.A.’s Latino/a community reported serious financial problems since the pandemic began. Jackie Fortiér notes that the community is at risk in part due to being frequently underpaid for their labor to begin with.

“The reward that Latinos have for their high work ethic is a high rate of poverty,” David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at UCLA, told Fortiér.

Additionally, Latino/as are more likely to hold essential jobs, such as in nursing homes that don’t provide health insurance and at the same time expose workers to a greater risk of contracting the virus.

"Latinos between 50 and 69, those are the ones that are being hit the hardest,” said Hayes-Bautista. “That's pretty worrying."

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, September 15

The California chapter of the NAACP is backing Prop 15, an endorsement that sends mixed messages to the Black community. David Wagner reports.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

California Kids: Teachers varied widely in how they administered grades after SoCal districts suspended their grading policies last spring. After nearly one month of trials and practice runs, Los Angeles public school officials have announced they’re ready to start testing the district’s students and staff members for COVID-19.

Wildfires: The Bobcat Fire has burned 36,366 acres in the Angeles National Forest, with 6% containment. The El Dorado Fire has burned 14,478 acres in the San Bernardino Mountains, and is at 44% containment.

Money Matters: The coronavirus is affecting the financial health of the Latino/a community at a much higher rate than other races and ethnic groups. Many actors, directors, backstage workers and others in the entertainment industry are eligible for health coverage through their unions, but coverage is determined by past employment – and the coronavirus has made that nearly impossible for most.

Here’s What To Do: Celebrate Mexican Independence Day with "El Grito" online, catch a rooftop screening of a doc about designer Pierre Cardin, soak up Shakespeare's classic works transformed for virtual viewing during a pandemic, and more in this week’s best online and IRL events.


Photo Of The Day

People watch as the Bobcat Fire burns on hillsides behind homes in Arcadia.

(Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP via Getty Images)

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