So far the devastating Station Fire has engulfed some 245 square miles (640 km²) of rugged terrain north of greater Los Angeles, and as of this morning it's still only 56% contained.
But the good news for astronomers is that two observatories that were directly in the raging flames' path have been spared.On Mount Wilson, home to an historic observatory and dozens of transmission towers, teams of firefighters went all out to keep the fire from reaching the summit. Their exhaustive (and exhausting) efforts, augmented by water and retardant drops by aircraft, saved the summit, as views from the site's tower-mounted webcam show. According to observatory director Hal McAlister, work continues to create a fire break along Newcomb Ridge, the one remaining vulnerable flank, and water hose has been laid in case that defensive effort fails. But the worst of it appears over, and the observatory staff have begun plans for returning the facility to operation.
McAlister has been keeping everyone informed through his frequently updated "fire blog." You should also check out the great photos taken by Dave Jurasevich, the observatory's superintendent, and the ones by Susan McAlister that document the devastation along the Angeles Crest Highway leading to the summit.Defending the observatory has been costly. The Mount Wilson Institute, which manages the facility, is appealing to the astronomical community for funding — not only to recover from this fire but to upgrade the site to be better prepared "next time." Details are here. Please consider sending a tax-deductible contribution to: Mount Wilson Institute, Fire Recovery Program, P.O. Box 1909, Atlanta, GA 30301-1909.
Meanwhile, news has been much harder to get concerning Stony Ridge Observatory, located just 5 miles to Mount Wilson's northeast. It's home to a 30-inch (76-cm) f/6 Newtonian-Cassegrain built by dedicated amateurs during the 1960s.Kay Meyer has also posted updates about the fate of Stony Ridge. A week ago, the situation seemed dire, as the out-of-control Station Fire was expanded rapidly to the northeast. By Thursday, September 3rd, fire officials thought the observatory had escaped harm, but the news three days later wasn't as hopeful, because the fire had taken out the nearby Vetter Mountain Lookout Tower.
Yesterday, however, Jurasevich took telephoto images of the area from Mount Wilson's summit, and it appears that Stony Ridge's dome and administration building have escaped unscathed. The lone casualty might be the facility's outhouse, but volunteers won't know the true extent of the damage until they're able to reach the site.