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The Bobcat Fire approaching Mt. Wilson on September 15, 2020. (Photo: Mt. Wilson Observatory)

Historic Mt. Wilson Observatory On Verge Of Being Destroyed By Wildfire

Fire crews work desperately to stop blaze as fire is within 500 feet of observatory

By Evan Symon, September 15, 2020 2:39 pm

Throughout Tuesday, fire crews are working non-stop to halt the advance of the Bobcat Fire on the famed Mt. Wilson Observatory, which is now being reported to be within 500 feet of the observatory itself.

‘The Bobcat Fire is knocking on our door’

The Bobcat Fire has been burning the Angeles National Forest since September 6th. The fire has rapidly grown due to dry vegetation build-up and hot, dry weather conditions. As of Tuesday, over 41,000 acres have been scorched, with containment going down from 6% to 3% on Monday. In addition to the observatory, nearby communities in cities such as Monrovia and Arcadia are under evacuation warning, with hundreds of homes now at risk of being destroyed and worsening air quality creating a wider evacuation net.

The observatory, located to the Northeast of Pasadena, is now fearing for the worst as the rapidly growing wildfire was reported to be only 500 feet away midday Tuesday. Fire crews set up fire breaks and strategic burns Monday night, and a non stop line of water and fire suppressants have been concentrated around the university by fire crews.

“The Bobcat Fire is knocking on our door,” said the Observatory in a tweet on Tuesday. “Fire officials predicted that the fire would approach Mt. Wilson from Echo Rock. It looks like they are correct.

“Note: All observatory personnel have evacuated.”

The Mt. Wilson Observatory, founded in the early 1900’s, made some of the largest advances in astronomy in the first part of the 20th century. Until 1949, the observatory had the largest aperture telescope in the world. Research at the observatory confirmed that the universe is expanding and twice as large as scientists originally thought. Moons of Jupiter and the existence of dark matter were also discovered here. As light pollution from Los Angeles grew in the latter half of the 1900’s, studies still continued, with new arrays being built and solar studies replacing telescopic studies.

Mt. Wilson also became one of the premier broadcast areas of Los Angeles, with radio, television and other communication building up next to the observatory, with other equipment like seismographs also being installed. Altogether the equipment is worth over $1 Billion, and its destruction would further hinder fire crew success due to some lines of communication possibly being cut by the fire.

The possible destruction of the observatory, political implications of the wildfire

“Wildfires rarely take out important landmarks,” explained Gerald Pinsky, a field claims adjuster specializing in wildfires and wildfire damage consultant, to the Globe. “Homes and entire towns are destroyed, like in the sad case of Paradise. Maybe some notable establishments went, like wineries like what happened last year up North. But it’s rare that widely known landmarks disappear. You expect it in hurricanes and tornadoes due to their unpredictability, but wildfires are always thought of people having control of it, even after Paradise. And look what happened, crews are doing everything in their power and it looks like it will all be rubble in a few days.

“If it happens, it is going to be the new poster child for wildfire warnings not only in California but around the U.S. Important devastating events are often used to stop future disasters from happening like not enough lifeboats on the Titanic. If it truly happens, then the destruction of the Observatory will be a rallying cry on why they didn’t do more.

“Every politician or person in power now having a hand in the wildfires, including Gavin Newsom, are going to have hell to pay over why they didn’t do more for years to come. It always happens after major incidents, especially huge wildfires and California politicians, and the Bobcat Fire will be no exception.”

Fire crews are expected to work non-stop during the week to save the Observatory and to halt the spread approaching nearby cities. According to the U.S. Forest Service, full containment of the fire isn’t expected until October 30th.

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One thought on “Historic Mt. Wilson Observatory On Verge Of Being Destroyed By Wildfire

  1. Thank you, Evan Symon, for covering this historically significant observatory and the threat it faces in the midst of the Bobcat Fire.

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