Los Angeles wildfire threatens Mount Wilson transmission site

Los Angeles-area broadcasters are on high alert as the wildfire raging through the Angeles National Forest poses a serious threat to Mount Wilson, home to multiple towers and transmitters of TV and radio stations serving the metro area.

According to various news reports, firefighters battling the blaze were to be removed from Mount Wilson out of fear that they would be overrun by flames. According to a Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman, the progress of the fire leaves little doubt it will reach the peak; the only question is when.

A total of 22 TV stations and 25 FM radio stations have transmission facilities on Mount Wilson. Police and fire radio facilities on the mountain also are threatened. As of Saturday, media reports indicated all RF technicians on the mountain had been evacuated.

As of Monday, KABC-TV VP director of engineering John Holland told Broadcast Engineering that the station’s transmission site was in no imminent danger and that the fire “does not look terribly aggressive, yet.” The station, like others with transmitters on the mountain, had evacuated transmitter personnel and was operating its RF plant remotely, he said. On Sunday, KABC posted a message on its Web site advising over-the-air viewers that the fire threatened its transmitter, and they may lose the station’s signal.

According to J.T. Alpaugh, VP of technical operations for Helinet Technologies in Los Angeles, the fire did not appear to pose an immediate threat to the transmission facilities as of Monday at about 7 p.m. local time, the last time he was in the air covering the fire for local stations.

“Unless the wind severely changes directions and comes out of the west, which is not typical for that area, and pushes eastbound to the next canyon, Mount Wilson will remain safe,” he said. However, if the wind changes direction and the flames leap to the next canyon, the fire could “make a northbound run up” a steep portion of the mountain “with lots of fuel and rip into Mount Wilson.”

On Monday, the hopes of many rested on aerial drops of fire retardant on the blaze to save the towers, transmitters and observatory. However, thick smoke shrouds Mount Wilson and is hampering the efforts of pilots to target the blaze, Alpaugh said.

Larry Lopez, owner of Angeles Crest Services, which provides a variety of services to broadcasters on Mount Wilson, summed up the feelings of many. “I’m sick to my stomach. I can’t even watch,” he said.

Contemplating the danger and uncertainty of the situation, Holland, who said he’s already been offered assistance from nine other ABC O&Os in the event of a calamity, had a simple request: “Wish us luck.”