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This morning, September 18th, the firefighters on Mount Wilson declared us safe, and it remains so as the Bobcat Fire burns around our perimeter. It has been an extremely stressful week for all who love the Observatory. It was a real nail-biter right to the end. Last night, many of us watched the south-pointing tower cam which seemed to show a wall of flames engulfing the southern edge of our property. It looked dire. (See the time-lapse video here.) But we soon learned it was a “strategic firing,” a backfire set by the firefighting crews to create a barrier against the fire as it moved around our southern perimeter.
We owe our very existence to the firefighters on the ground and the helicopter pilots. They are our heroes. They are true professionals, artists when it comes to the use of “strategic firing.” We will be forever thankful for the 12 crews, some forty to fifty firefighters from all over, who defended our home, risking their lives defending our scientific treasure. The fire is still burning on the northern and southern flanks, where fairly recent fires, in 2009 and 2017, have reduced the fuel load. We are still not completely out of the woods, so the crews will stay on the mountaintop to the end of the month or longer to protect the site from flair ups. Today, tanker planes dropped fire retardant that will further secure the area.
We have no staff back on the mountain yet, so we do not know what damage was done to structures on the mountain. But we have survived another fire on the mountain, a bad one. When we have more information about our status and the events that transpired we will pass it on.
After we recover from a very stressful week, we continue to address less urgent issues, like how to survive a year or more of the pandemic and the associated loss of income. We look forward, as I am sure all of you do, to more normal times, when the Observatory grounds are fully open for hikers, lectures, concerts, and telescope viewing. We thank our firefighters and our supporters, who we know we can always count on for our survival.
Thanks, and Best Wishes to All,
Chairman of the Mount Wilson Institute Board of Trustees
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