View Full Version : Mt. Wilson, JPL Threatened by Fire

2009-Aug-31, 03:00 PM
Wildfires burning in southern California are threatening the historic Mt. Wilson Observatory and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Overnight, the fire size more than doubled, and as of this writing over 85,000 acres have burned. The situation looks better this morning for JPL, but Mt. Wilson, which also is home to several communication towers, is [...]

More... (http://www.universetoday.com/2009/08/31/mt-wilson-jpl-threatened-by-fire/)

2009-Aug-31, 03:31 PM
When I first heard this on the News, I thought about it. Just two minutes ago I was reading about it in the paper, and they say the winds are mild.

So, I was thinking, why is this such a big deal? Set the vegetation around the area on fire. Burn the fuel that is next to the area, so the wildfire can't destroy the facilities.

That is the sort of thing people used to do to protect stuff. Set a backfire, deprive the wildfire of the fuel so when it reaches you the place is already burnt.

Start with the stuff closest to the buildings, so the fire burns outward. You couldn't do this with high winds, but this time there aren't high winds.

Sure it's risky, but if you set the fires, and have the manpower and equipment there already, it's much safer than fighting a battle up to the last minute then having a raging wild fire do the burning.

I think the same thing when I see homes surrounded by dry vegetation with a huge fire racing towards the area. Something as valuable as a broadcasting center, observatory and research facility, you might want to keep the dry brush down around the area, as a fire prevention method.

I know, it's sounds simple and cheap, so it probably won't work.

I'm watching this live right now on

2009-Aug-31, 03:40 PM
I also checked with Google Earth on the location and terrain, vegetation and such. (For some reason Google Maps won't give you the real location of the JPL or Observatory)

2009-Aug-31, 04:18 PM
I'm sure someone more knowledgeable about fire fighting will be able to better address this, but I'm sure they are doing all of those things and more, Robinson. Last summer when the fires were burning in my neck of the woods, a lot of the work that the firefighters were doing involved removing brush, burning backfires and bulldozing fire breaks. Even doing all those things, they still had to put out numerous spot fires that broke out on the other side of the fire breaks. From what I heard, the fire that broke free and destroyed 200+ homes just East of Paradise occurred when several things happened at once: the wind shifted direction and intensified, the humidity plummeted into single digits all while the firefighters were working on backfires. This resulted in a canopy fire which just about tripled the overall size of the fire.

2009-Aug-31, 04:46 PM

Yep, clearing brush, preparing to set backfires.

mike alexander
2009-Aug-31, 05:47 PM
Thing is, from what I have read much of this area hasn't burned for 50-100 years. The chapparal will be dry and full of oil, perfect fuel. And since the San Gabriel mountains are so steep with deeply incut valleys you can get a chimney effect with minimal wind.

For an excellent primer, find a copy of John McPhee's essay "Los Angeles Against the Mountains".