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Bobcat Fire: Fire Burns Through More Than 106K Acres; Flames Again Threaten Mt. Wilson

Updated
Published
The view late Monday from live cams at Mt. Wilson. (HPWREN cameras)

This story is no longer being updated. Follow our coverage of the Bobcat Fire for Tuesday, Sept. 22>>

Yesterday's coverage:

The Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest continues to burn into its 16th day. The blaze has grown aggressively in recent days, driven by strong wind gusts. The fire surpassed 100,000 acres over the weekend, making it one of the largest wildfires in Los Angeles County history, according to officials.

Late Monday, Mt. Wilson was again under serious threat from the fire, after several successful efforts to hold the flames back.

Earlier in the day, residents near Camp Colby were ordered to evacuate as the western front of the blaze advanced toward them. At an evening briefing, fire officials said the fire remained about two to three miles east of that area.

Firefighters are hard at work in the northern section of the fire, which has threatened homes and forced evacuations in the foothill communities bordering the Antelope Valley. Angeles National Forest officials say some homes have been lost, though a precise number was not given pending damage assessments.

Larry Smith is with the Bobcat Fire incident management team, and says it's too soon to report on damage done.

"We're still focusing all our resources on containment and control. But until we get this safe for our firefighters, and for the public to re-enter, there won't be damage assessments."

Smith also says critical water drops were delayed this afternoon, when a firefighting aircraft was grounded for about a half hour after a drone was spotted close to its take-off area.

The fire started the day "most active around Mt. Wilson, Chilao and Little Rock Creek," forest officials said. The plan for the day: "firefighters will work to slow westward spread using defensive strategic firing, line construction and aircraft drops."

To the east, officials said the blaze continues to threaten containment lines north of the Ranch 2 Fire, as well as Highway 39.

WATCH TONIGHT'S BRIEFING

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

THE BASICS

  • Acreage: 106,179 acres
  • Containment: 13%
  • Resources deployed: 1,513 firefighters

The fire erupted on Sept. 6 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.

A virtual public meeting has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today. It will stream live on YouTube here, or can be viewed on the L.A. County Fire Department's Facebook page.

As our science reporter Jacob Margolis notes, the Bobcat Fire has been fueled by growth that hasb't burned in decades:

EVACUATIONS

A home burns as the sun sets behind smoke and flames during the Bobcat Fire on Sept. 18, 2020 in Juniper Hills. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Mandatory

Emergency officials issued evacuation orders for residents in the following areas as of Monday afternoon:

  • Residences along Angeles Crest Highway, between Angeles Forest Highway and Highway 39.
  • The unincorporated areas of Juniper Hills, Devils Punch Bowl, and Paradise Springs.
  • The unincorporated areas of Crystal Lake, east Fork of the San Gabriel River, and Camp Williams.
  • South of Hwy 138, north of Big Rock Creek, east of 87th St East, and west of Largo Vista Rd.
  • South of 138th St. East, north of Big Pine Hwy and Hwy 2, east of Largo Vista Rd., and west of 263rd St. East.
  • South of Hwy 138, north of East Ave W-14, east of 155th St East, and west of 165th St. East.
  • South and west of Upper Big Tujunga, east of Angeles Forest Hwy, north of Angeles Crest Hwy.

Warnings

  • Pasadena
  • Unincorporated communities of Altadena and Wrightwood.
  • South of Pearblossom Hwy, east and north of Angeles Forest Hwy, north and west of Mt. Emma Rd., east and south of Hwy 122, and west of Cheseboro Rd.
  • South of Hwy 2, north of Blue Ridge Truck Trail, east of Hwy 39, and west of the Los Angeles Co. border.
  • South of Ave U-8, north of East Ave W-14, east of 121st East, and west of 155th St East.
  • South of Pearblossom Hwy (Hwy 138), south and east of Pearblossom Hwy (Hwy 122), north and west of Mt. Emma Rd., north and east of Angeles Forest Hwy, and west of Cheseboro Rd.
  • South of Mt. Emma Rd., north of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Rd., east of Angeles Forest Highway, and west of Pacifico Mountain.

SHELTER SITES

The Red Cross has established a temporary evaction point at Palmdale High School, 2137 East Avenue R. Accomodations for 300 large animals are available at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, 2551 W. Avenue H, Lancaster.

Shelter for small animals is available at Lancaster Animal Care Center, 5210 West Ave. I, and Palmdale Animal Care Center, 38550 Sierra Highway.

A shelter site for up to 300 horses and cattle has been established at the Pomona Fairplex, 2201 N. White Ave. Officials there can be reached at 909-576-9272.

A firefighter walls over burning embers from the Bobcat Fire on Sept. 19, 2020 in Juniper Hills. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

CLOSURES

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

WEATHER AND AIR QUALITY

We're experiencing a cooling trend, which is projected to last through mid-week. Humidity will be in the low teens today, though higher mountain areas could see drier conditions. Wind gusts are expected to be about 20 to 30 mph.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued a smoke advisory for the region, which is in place through this afternoon. The impact from the Bobcat, El Dorado and Snow fires is creating unhealthy air quality across parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

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

ABOUT MT. WILSON

Firefighters on duty to protect Mt. Wilson Observatory and nearby broadcast towers as the Bobcat Fire burns in the Angeles National Forest on Sept. 17, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

In recent days, the fire was burning dangerously close to the facility, which is arguably one of the world's most important spots for scientific discovery. Firefighters have used a variety of tactics to protect the observatory, including carving out lines by hand and with bulldozers, setting strategic backfires and using aircraft to make water drops.

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.

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

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

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Fire Officials Release Name Of Hotshot Firefighter Killed In El Dorado Fire: Charles Morton, 39

Updated
Published
Charles Morton. (Courtesy San Bernardino National Forest)

San Bernardino National Forest officials tonight released the name of the firefighter killed last week while battling the El Dorado Fire. Charles Morton, 39, was a member of the Big Bear Interagency Hothost crew.

Check for the latest on the fire via these agencies:

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

THE BASICS

  • Acreage: 22,588
  • Containment: 60%
  • Structures destroyed: 4 homes, 6 other structures
  • Structures damaged: 2 homes, 4 other structures
  • Residences evacuated: 3,467
  • Structures threatened: 26,031
  • Personnel: 1,190 firefighters
  • Deaths: one firefighter killed
  • Injuries: 13

We will have more on this story tomorrow.

FIRE RESOURCES

CA Not Accepting New Unemployment Claims For 2 Weeks During System Overhaul

Updated
Published
(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

California’s unemployment system will stop accepting new claims for the next two weeks, following the publication of a report finding the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) in need of immediate reforms.

The two-week “reset” comes after the EDD has drawn criticism for delaying payments to more than 1 million unemployed Californians, with many applicants saying they’re unable to reach the department for help fixing a claim.

The new report — published Saturday by a task force assembled by Gov. Gavin Newsom in July — found a number of issues inside EDD, including an emphasis on preventing fraud at all cost, even if that means delaying payments to many applicants.

“There has developed at EDD a culture of allowing fear [of] fraud to trump all other considerations,” the report finds.

Other findings in the report include:

  • The department’s backlog of unresolved claims has grown to nearly 1.6 million.
  • EDD staffers can only manually process about 2,400 claims per day. But lately, the department has been flagging about 20,000 claims for manual review every day.
  • Callers to the department’s core call center have no more than a one in 1,000 chance of reaching a human operator.
  • Applicants who don’t speak English “have a difficult, if not impossible, time navigating the unemployment application process."

During the department’s two-week reset, the EDD plans to roll out a new identity verification tool. Staffers will also begin work to clear the backlog. But resolving all those pent-up claims could take until the end of January.

The EDD plans to implement other changes, such as allowing users to upload documents from their smartphones, which could help decrease the department’s continued reliance on snail mail.

While the department won’t accept new claims for the next two weeks, those who already have claims open will still be able to file for benefits and receive ongoing payments.

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California Gov. Newsom: Updates On Counties' Coronavirus Tiers Coming Tuesday

Updated
Published

Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered an update on California's response to wildfires, coronavirus, and unemployment system updates. You can read highlights below or watch the full press conference video above.

LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

There were 3,294 new COVID-19 cases, with a seven-day average of 3,417 new cases per day. The seven-day daily test average has increased to 123,799 tests per day, closer to the amount of testing being done before the recent large wildfires. The positivity rate is averaging 3.1% over a 14-day period, and 2.8% over the past week.

There has been a 23% decrease in hospitalizations and a 25% decrease in COVID-19-positive ICU admissions over the past two weeks.

California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly will announce updates on where different counties stand in the color-coded reopening tiers on Tuesday. Newsom said that he would be talking in the next few days about getting a flu shot to help the state avoid the double impact of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.

It was also take another 1-2 weeks to fully see the effect of Labor Day on California's COVID-19 numbers, Newsom said. A new PSA featuring Oscar the Grouch and Elmo to promote wearing masks was also announced.

LATEST WILDFIRE NUMBERS

As of now, there are 7,982 fires this year that have burned 3.6 million acres, compared with 5,316 fires and 157,000 acres burned at the same time last year.

The state is currently dealing with 27 major fires and fire complexes, with 23,154 people remaining evcuated. There have been more than 6,400 structures destroyed, with at least 26 deaths — there is also a large number of damaged structures. More than 19,000 firefighters are fighting these fires, with 2,400 engines in use.

Newsom addressed a number of fires, including the Bobcat Fire in L.A. County which is currently 15% contained, with 105,000 acres burned. He also noted that the El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County's containment has gone down slightly, with 59% contained and 23,000 acres burned, down 1% from last week.

UPDATING CALIFORNIA'S UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEMS

Newsom provided an update on the EDD strike team that has been looking at short, medium, and long-term recommendations and solutions to help with the state's unemployment systems.

"As a nation, we have a huge IT problem. As a nation, we must do what California and I would argue municipalities must do, and that is completely reimagine our approach to large-scale IT procurement," Newsom said.

On Saturday, EDD began a two-week "reset period" to implement new automatic ID verification software, redeploy experienced staff to process claims and work through the oldest and most complex claims, and new staff will focus on mail, email, and outbound phone calls.

The new software will automatically process 90% of new claims, Newsom said. To help fight fraud, there will be requirements such as taking and submitting selfies.

The state's goals include reducing and preventing backlog growth over the next 90-100 days, as well as making online access to unemployment benefits easier and simpler, according to Newsom. This will fast-track the process for people applying for the first time, Newsom said, and minimize delays in processing. EDD Director Sharon Hilliard said they expect that backlog to be processed by the end of January.

HOMELESSNESS HOUSING IN PROJECT HOMEKEY

Newsom provided an update on Project Homekey, noting that the second round of awards for purchasing motels and housing has been issued: $236 million to purchase 1,810 units in 20 projects. The purchases are in 12 California jurisdictions, including one tribe. It's part of $600 million in funding from the state.

Those benefiting from Project Homekey include seniors, farmworker families, and LGBTQ+ youth in Riverside County.

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Cal State To Announce New Leader Of 23-Campus System This Week

Updated
Published
A meeting of the California State University trustees in Long Beach. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

California State University plans to start its trustees’ meeting on Wednesday by announcing the university system’s new chancellor.

CSU has been looking for a new leader for its 23-campus system for nearly a year, after Chancellor Tim White announced his retirement last October.

The search intended to find someone to continue White’s ambitious program to improve graduation rates, as well as to advocate for and manage state funding increases brought about by a healthy California economy.

But now that the pandemic has moved classes largely online and sharply curtailed revenues, the new chancellor will have to navigate a financially weakened system. Cal State lost $500 million in state funding this fiscal year and larger cuts are likely as campuses remain online into 2021.

It will be a challenge for the new chancellor and the Board of Trustees to balance the overall Cal State budget without tuition increases or substantial layoffs. As of last year, more than 480,000 students were enrolled at Cal State campuses, and there were nearly 27,000 faculty and more than 25,000 staff on the payroll.

After the new chancellor is revealed, trustees will vote on compensation. White earns $477,000 yearly, plus $95,000 housing and $12,000 in vehicle stipends.

RELATED:

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Morning Briefing: Bobcat Fire Spreads Rapidly

Updated
Published
A home burns as the sun sets behind smoke and flames during the Bobcat Fire on September 18, 2020 in Juniper Hills, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Never miss a morning briefing. Subscribe today to get our A.M. newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Good morning, L.A.

The weekend brought more flames and smoke as the Bobcat fire spread to nearly 100,000 acres, driven by gusts of wind up to 44 miles per hour.

"The fire behavior that we're getting in this fire and throughout the state of California is unprecedented,” said L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby at a news conference Saturday night. “It's very important that when your local law enforcement comes through, or your local firefighters come through, please make sure that you evacuate."

New mandatory evacuations were ordered, including for folks living in the foothills north of the blaze. There was some good news too, though – residents of evacuated areas in Arcadia, Sierra Madre, Monrovia, Duarte and Bradbury were able to return home.

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

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, September 21

There are 12 statewide ballot propositions in the November election — and some of them could have huge consequences. Brianna Lee has your guide.

Cal State is expected to announce its new chancellor to replace retiring Timothy White on Wednesday. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez will preview the meeting.

Julia Paskin has the story of Southern California’s last pack station, which uses donkeys to haul supplies for cabin owners in the hard-to-reach area of Big Santa Anita Canyon.

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The Past 24 Hours In LA

Wildfires: The Bobcat fire has burned 99,428 acres in the Angeles National Forest and is at 15% containment. The El Dorado fire has burned 22,489 acres in the San Bernardino Forest and is at 59% containment.

Coronavirus Updates: L.A. County public health officials on Sunday confirmed 991 new cases of the coronavirus and 23 new deaths attributed to the disease, bringing the total in the county to 260,797 positive cases and 6,353 deaths.


Photo Of The Day

Friends, family and community members arrive to celebrate Mary Louise Sayles' 100th birthday in Compton, where Sayles has been a resident since 1951, working as a cosmetologist.

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

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SoCal’s Last Pack Station Survives The Bobcat Fire

Updated
Published
Adam's Pack Station in the Angeles National Forest. (Courtesy Facebook)

As Southern California’s last pack station, Maggie Moran’s team of donkeys at the Adams Pack Station hauls supplies for cabin owners in the hard-to-reach area of Big Santa Anita Canyon.

She and her family live on the property at Chantry Flats, a popular recreation area in the Angeles National Forest, and were relieved to learn firefighters defended her home and business from the Bobcat Fire.

It was a close call. “The fire did go around [the property] in both directions,” Moran said.

Moran doesn’t yet know if the land is stable enough to return to in the fire’s aftermath, though, and it’s unknown how many other cabins in the area survived.

“It's been a roller coaster … not knowing what lies [ahead] for the pack station,” she said, “in terms of our business and if we’ll go back to being able to live there again.”

It will be even longer until the public is allowed back to Chantry Flats, so Moran will likely lose business. In the meantime, her family and pack of nine donkeys are forced to hole up elsewhere.