California firefighters work to protect historic observatory


PASADENA, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — Firefighters burned off vegetation in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles on Tuesday to protect historic Mount Wilson Observatory from a wildfire.

The Bobcat Fire was within 500 feet of the observatory by early afternoon and crews were waiting for it, the Angeles National Forest tweeted.

The blaze was just 3% contained after growing to more than 40,000 acres (166 square kilometers) since breaking out Sept. 6.

The U.S. Forest Service said firefighters have been taking advantage of favorable weather to conduct firing operations to protect the observatory, nearby broadcast transmitters and communities on foothills below.

Mount Wilson rises to an elevation of more than 5,700 feet about 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The observatory played a pivotal role in early 20th century confirmation that galaxies exist outside the Milky Way and that the universe is expanding.

The observatory is operated by Caltech and has recorded every important earthquake in the state for the past century, according to renowned seismologist Lucy Jones.

Cal Fire ordered an evacuation of the staff Sept. 7, according to a Facebook post on the observatory’s page.

In addition to its famed 100-inch telescope, the peak has other historic telescopes as well as modern astronomy instruments currently in use.

More than 16,600 firefighters are on the lines of more than two dozen major California wildfires that have have scorched 5,000 square miles this year. Since the outbreak of massive fires on Aug. 15 there have been 25 fatalities.

All national forests in California are closed until Sept. 21 per the USDA Forest Service. The U.S. Forest initially shut down eight forests Sept. 7 before expanding the order to all of California’s 18 national forests on Sept. 9.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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