Firefighters Defend Mount Wilson

An air tanker drops water on Mount Wilson, home to broadcast transmission facilities for Southern California. ©Frank Keeney
Scores of firefighters vigorously defended communications facilities on Mount Wilson earlier this month as the largest wildfire in the history of Los Angeles County destroyed more than 160,000 acres. The mountain is home to all TV and radio transmitters serving Los Angeles, as well as the famed Mount Wilson Observatory. All remained intact at press time, though the fire was still less than 60 percent contained.

Flames reached within a half-mile of the area at one point, but were averted by controlled backfires, breaks and tons of fire retardant and water dropped from aircraft.

Only one radio transmitter went off the air throughout the 12-day conflagration. Robert Gonsett reported in CGC Communicator that KKLA-FM at 99.5 MHz was down because of a failed "telco program line."

Just how the fire will affect the transmitter facilities on Mount Wilson remains to be fully realized. Air-conditioning and air-exchange filters have been replaced, but more cleaning will be required according to Doug Lung, transmitter engineer for NBC and contributor to TV Technology.

"Kerry Cozad [of Dielectric] warned me that some antennas might have problems with soot/carbon/ash," Lung wrote in an e-mail. "We may not see the problems until there is enough rain or moisture to make it conductive. A good heavy rain might clear the junk off if it wasn't blown up inside the antennas.

"During the brief visit, our engineers swapped out the air filters on Mount Wilson. The transmitter room and all the equipment smelled heavily of smoke. When we can get contractors up there we'll have the coils on the cooling systems pressure cleaned."

Larry Lopez, who works for Angeles Crest Services, a firm that does maintenance on Mount Wilson shared his thoughts about the destruction on Mount Wilson, home to more than 40 TV and radio transmitters as well as the historic observatory:

"The destruction in the Angeles National Forest is too immense to imagine," wrote Lopez. "It looks like a moonscape. I was shocked to see a dust devil cross the canyon where once beautiful evergreen stood... I have been on this mountain for over 28 years, and I never in my wildest imagination could have seen this devastation occurring."

At presstime, two lives had been lost in the Station Fire, nearly 80 homes had been destroyed and around $50 million had been spent so far to fight what officials believe to be an arson fire.