In what has become a familiar story to Southern Californians, U.S. Forest Service officials are investigating an equipment issue experienced by power provider Southern California Edison as the possible ignition point of the Bobcat Fire. The blaze is the third-largest ever recorded in Los Angeles County.
While the the cause has not been determined, the incident in question happened around the time the fire broke out.
It’s not the first time the utility’s equipment has been suspected of causing a massive wildfire.
In the past four years two other fires, among the biggest ever recorded in Southern California, have been associated with SCE equipment failure. One was the deadly Thomas Fire in Ventura County that scorched 281,000 acres in 2017.
The other was the Woolsey Fire, of which the utility’s CEO Pedro Pizzaro said, “Absent additional evidence, SCE believes it is likely that its equipment was associated with the ignition of the Woolsey Fire.” The Woolsey Fire scorched 96,000 acres, claimed three lives and destroyed more than 1,000 structures as it swept from Chatsworth through Malibu.
The Bobcat Fire erupted on Sept. 6 near the Cogswell Dam and West Fork Day Use area northeast of Mount Wilson and within the Angeles National Forest.
SCE claimed in documents filed with the California Public Utilities Commission last week that “the Jarvis 12 kV circuit out of Dalton Substation experienced a relay operation at 12:16 p.m. on September 6,” but maintains that smoke had already been detected by a camera on Mount Wilson at 12:10 p.m. that day.
“While USFS has not alleged that SCE facilities were involved in the ignition of the Bobcat Fire, SCE submits this report in an abundance of caution given USFS’s interest in retaining SCE facilities in connection with its investigation,” the utility said.
The utility agreed to remove a specific section of SCE overhead conductor in the vicinity of Cogswell Dam, as requested.
The Bobcat Fire increased in size slightly overnight — from 113,733 acres to 113,986 acres — and the containment expanded from 39% to 50%, forest officials said on Thursday. Full containment is not expected until Oct. 30.
“Fire activity has moderated, and only 253 acres were added overnight,” Angeles National Forest officials said in a statement after daybreak Thursday.
Weeks of firefighters’ efforts digging line and attacking hot spots got #BobcatFire containment up to 50%. Today, crews will work to contain active areas around Dorr Canyon, Waterman Mtn and Mt. Wilson. Check inciweb for evacuation changes & update https://t.co/APSrKsa0Vn @LACOFD pic.twitter.com/ZWRKzanh9M
— Angeles_NF (@Angeles_NF) September 24, 2020
Firefighters earlier this week successfully set backfires, including from the air, to destroy vegetation fueling the blaze and protect the Mount Wilson Observatory and several broadcast and telecommunications towers.
Firefighters planned to “continue to fortify the areas that were strategically burned to improve containment,” and some additional strategic burning may be necessary this morning where the fire is pushing north, east and west, the U.S. Forest Service reported.
Reduced winds, lower temperatures and higher humidity reduced fire activity Tuesday, but Wednesday brought warmer and drier conditions, which were expected to continue Thursday, with southwesterly and up-canyon winds, according to the National Weather Service.
The NWS forecast for Thursday night, however, included north-northeast winds — dry and warm, like Santa Anas — in L.A. mountain zones. They could reach 45 mph, which would be a problem for firefighters.
Next week could be worse.
From Thursday’s NWS report:
A broad ridge of high pressure will build across the area on Sunday and bring a warming trend. The warming trend will become more pronounced on Monday and Tuesday when the ridge center settles into the Great Basin…Hot temperatures will develop with many valley, foothill and desert locations soaring into the triple digits. Offshore flow [Santa Ana winds] looking more likely, but offshore gradients do not look overly strong at this time. Hot and dry conditions are likely for early next week with locally gusty offshore winds possible at times, especially during the nights and mornings through and below passes and canyons.
The fire is burning in the Angeles National Forest and threatening communities in the Antelope Valley and San Gabriel Valley foothills.
The Angeles National Forest will be closed through Oct. 1, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Flames have destroyed 52 structures and affected another 14, with three suffering minor damage and one suffering major damage, according to a damage assessment provided by Los Angeles County officials. That map, which is compiled from ongoing field damage inspection and subject to change, can be viewed here.
Of the 52 buildings destroyed, 27 were identified as residential, one as commercial and 24 as “other.”
The fire has burned more acres than the Woolsey Fire of 2018, which scorched 96,271 acres, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said Tuesday. The Station Fire in 2009 burned 160,577 acres.
The fire came down from the Angeles National Forest into Cima Mesa, Juniper Hills, Pearblossom and Devil’s Punchbowl on Friday and damaged some structures, Vince Pena of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said Monday evening.
The Nature Center at the Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area was burned by the fire, Los Angeles County parks officials said. The area is closed until further notice.
About 7 a.m. Thursday, evacuation warnings were changed to a “repopulation order” with “no restrictions” for the following areas:
-Clear Areas: north of East Avenue W-14, south of Pearblossom Highway, east of 155th Street East, west of 165th Street East
-Sand Areas: north of Big Pine Highway and Highway 2, south of 138th Street East, east of Largo Vista Road, west of 263rd Street. The southwestern region of the Sand Area may have power outages.
-Ward Areas: north of Fort Tejon Road, south of East Avenue V, east of 87th Street East, west of 121st Street East. Evacuation orders remained in place for residents:
-Along Angeles Crest Highway, between Angeles Forest Highway and Highway 39
-In the unincorporated areas and communities of Juniper Hills, Crystal Lake, East Fork of the San Gabriel River, Camp Williams, Valyermo and Llano (except for the Longview section, which is under an evacuation warning);
-South and west of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, east of Angeles Forest Highway and north of Angeles Crest Highway
The following areas remained under evacuation warnings, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department:
-Pasadena and Altadena: north of Sierra Madre Boulevard, west of Michillinda Avenue, east of Washington Boulevard, north of New York Drive, as well as north of New York Drive and Woodbury Drive, east of Hahamongna Watershed Park
-Littlerock: south of Pearblossom Highway, north of Weber Ranch Road, east of Cheseboro Road, west of 87th Street East
-South of Highway 2, north of Blue Ridge Truck Trail, east of Highway 39, and west of the Los Angeles County border
-Longview: south of Avenue U-8, north of East Avenue W-14, east of 121st East, and west of 155th Street East
-South of Pearblossom Highway, south and east of Pearblossom Highway, north and west of Mt. Emma Road, north and east of Angeles Forest Highway, and west of Cheseboro Road
-South of Mount Emma Road, north of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, and west of Pacifico Mountain
***Update*** #BOBCAT FIRE A REPOPULATION ORDER, on September 24, 2020 at 7:00 AM, has been issued in Clear, Sand, and Ward areas w/ "NO RESTRICTIONS." See attached maps… @LACoFDPIO @angeles_NF pic.twitter.com/ibBonhllwT
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) September 24, 2020
The Wrightwood area in San Bernardino County was still under an evacuation warning. ANF warned in a statement Wednesday that the fire could reach Wrightwood soon.
A closure order has been issued for national forests in Southern California, including the Angeles National Forest.
A smoke advisory was extended through Thursday warning of unhealthy air due to the fire.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District said winds were predicted to move smoke from the Bobcat Fire to the northeast into the mountains of Los Angeles by Thursday afternoon, then out of the South Coast Air Basin.
A total of 1,613 personnel were assigned to the fire as of Wednesday night.
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