California Wildfires Rage After Two Firefighters Killed

One fire official said, "It is burning everywhere."

ByABC News via logo
August 31, 2009, 7:25 AM

Aug. 31, 2009 — -- 11 separate fires burned Monday in California at temperatures reaching 100 degrees. Now at least 150 square miles, the fire tripled in size Saturday and more than doubled again on Sunday. Some areas that are burning have brush that had built up unburned for forty years.

One fire official said, "It is burning everywhere."

The famous Mt. Wilson observatory is threatened as well as the cluster of antennae that serve local television, radio, law enforcement and even Los Angeles International Airport. At least 54 homes have been destroyed with another 12,000 threatened by the flames.

Much of the effort to fight the fires comes from the air, using air carriers such as DC-10 tankers.

The mounting toll includes small homes and camp cabins, and several houses among the horse ranches close to the desert. Three civilians were seriously burned, two who ignored the evacuation order.

Now, five people who refused to evacuate the spreading California wildfires cannot be rescued and will have to wait out the flames, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said that on Monday the four men and a woman called for help because they were unable to leave a ranch in Gold Canyon. Just a day earlier they refused to leave the Angeles National Forest.

"What this says is, 'Listen, listen, listen,"' Whitmore told the Associated Press. "Those people were told to get out two days ago, and now we are putting our people in danger to get them out."The menace of the rampaging fires was starkly illustrated Sunday by the death of two firefighters who were battling the blazes.

The firefighters, Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, and Spc. Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 35, were killed when their vehicle tumbled down the side of a mountain on the northwestern front of the fires. Along this front, one fire, known as the Station Fire, has already burned more than 20,000 acres, according to Gov. Schwarzenegger's office.

The White House issued a statement that said, "The President and First Lady send their deepest condolences to the friends and families of these two lost heroes."

The deaths brought Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant to tears when spoke Sunday night about "this difficult time," and ask the public for "prayers for the families of our two brothers that we lost."

Thirteen other firefighters have been injured, the governor's office reported Sunday.

The fire in the Angeles National Forest just north of Los Angeles doubled in size overnight and is now a 20 mile-long swath of flame that is feeding on tinder-dry canyon brush and is spreading north, south and east.

At least 21 homes were completely destroyed by the Station Fire. Another fire in Auburn, Calif., claimed an entire block where resident Kenny James lived.

"Our house is, our house is gone," James told an unidentified woman on his cell phone as he stood amid the scorched rubble of several homes Sunday. "The whole block has been leveled -- our block."

Schwarzenegger urged residents in the fires' path to evacuate their homes, The Associated Press reported. Schwarzenegger proclaimed Friday a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Monterey counties because of the fires.

Beyond the thousands of residential homes threatened, the fires could damage a vital television, radio and communications center and observatory on Mount Wilson. Twenty-two television stations, 25 FM radio stations and numerous cell phone providers have transmitters at the center, U.S. Forest Service Capt. Mike Dietrich told the AP.

ABC News' local affiliate KABC is among those whose antennas are threatened.

"If you receive ABC7 by off-air antenna, you could lose our ABC7 signal," the station said in an e-mail bulletin, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"It's not a matter of if it impacts Mount Wilson, it's a matter of when," L.A. County Fire Capt. Mike Savage told KABC Sunday.

The Mount Wilson Observatory, a fixture in Southern California since its founding in 1904, is responsible for discovering the existence of "countless galaxies," and is home to the world's largest publicly accessible telescope, the observatory's Web site said.