Fire threatens Mount Wilson Observatory

Firefighters are battling to keep the 30-acre blaze from reaching the observatory's historic equipment.
By | Published: October 17, 2017 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
The 60-inch telescope dome at the Mount Wilson Observatory could be at risk.
Tracie Hall on flickr
Just before 4 a.m. this morning, yet another wildfire broke out in California, this one prompting the evacuation of at least a dozen people from the area surrounding Mount Wilson Observatory. The historic observatory is home to the 100-inch Hooker telescope, which came onto the scene exactly 100 years ago as the world’s largest telescope, a title which it held until 1949.

The 30-acre wildfire is believed to have started somewhere below the parking lot of the observatory, and poses a risk to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of communication equipment nearby, ranging from emergency broadcast transmitters to commercial television facilities.

According to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, as of 11 a.m. the fire was 5 percent contained. By 3 p.m., the fire had crept closer, and is expected to reach the observatory’s facilities between 5 p.m. Tuesday and 2 a.m. Wednesday as preparations continue to minimize the potential damage.

Around 500 firefighters, a SuperScooper aircraft, and seven helicopters have been battling to keep the blaze from growing to an estimated maximum of 600 acres. In 2009, a wildfire tore through the same area and eventually spread across some 160,000 acres.

The Cosmic Cafe at Mount Wilson Observatory posted these photos on its FaceBook page Tuesday morning.

Though firefighters have not yet determined the cause of today’s fire, they believe that the terrain, not the wind, was responsible for its initial spread. According to Seneca Smith, PIO for Angeles National Forest, navigating the difficult mountainous terrain also complicated the firefight.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department has not received any reports of structural damage or injuries.