California Wildfire Called Arson

September 4, 2009

As of early Friday morning, the Station wildfire that is burning through the hills above Los Angeles was about 40 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

Fire officials now say they are confident they are making significant progress against the fire. They are also “guardedly optimistic” that they can protect the structures atop Mt. Wilson, which include the Mt. Wilson Observatory–where Edwin Hubble first viewed that the Universe is expanding–and a collection of television towers.

The fire has now destroyed 92 structures, of which 62 are thought to be homes, said Pete Moraga, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of California.

Moraga said catastrophe teams from the major insurers are already in the area and handling claims. Officials have been reluctant to let adjustors in to the burned areas, however the adjustors are in the area also and ready to go as soon as they are allowed.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that officials have determined that the fire was started by arson and that the Los Angeles County Sheriff is pursuing a murder investigation.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff, Lee Baca, has not revealed any details regarding the evidence of arson that officials have due to concerns about compromising the investigation.

But, an unnamed source told the Times that the investigators have found incendiary material at a site along the Angeles Crest Highway by the location where the fire is believed to have started.

The Station wildfire has been burning for eight days and has consumed 148,258 acres of land.

Full containment is now expected Sept. 15, meaning fire officials plan to have the blaze completely surrounded by then.

Firefighters have been conducting an aerial assault on the fire to complement the efforts on the ground. Helicopters have doused the fire with 1.7 million gallons of water _ enough to fill about three Olympic-sized swimming pools _ while airplanes have dropped 670,000 gallons of retaradant on the fire.

Many homes were saved, but damaged areas looked like war zones to some returning evacuees.

“It’s like, is this really our house? Is it really still here?” T.J. Lynch said about returning to his home in the Tujunga neighborhood late Wednesday. “Because we had made peace with the fact that we’d never see our stuff again.”

“It looks like nothing changed, but when the sun comes up tomorrow, I expect we’ll see the hills blackened and gray,” the screenwriter said. “We’ll hike up the hill and see how close it came to our neighbors.”

Officials said they were pleased with the progress, but said they have much more work ahead.

“We’re changing the pace and treating this as a marathon,” U.S. Forest Service incident commander Mike Dietrich said. “If it were a 26-mile race, we’d only be at mile six.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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