Since erupting on September 6, the Bobcat Fire has scorched more than 114,000 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains, making it one of the largest wildfires ever in Los Angeles County. Today, it's more than 60 percent contained, which is great news for the firefighters desperately working to save the peaks' crown jewel, the Mt. Wilson Observatory.
We met the Executive Director of Mt. Wilson, Tom Meneghini, at Griffith Observatory to hear how precarious the situation was and how the discoveries on Mt. Wilson changed our understanding of the cosmos forever.
Meneghini says he felt scared and worried because of how close the fire got to the observatory.
"It hit us from the east side and wrapped around to the south. We thought we had it out, but then it came back again to hit our north side. At one point, the flames were right up against the building," said Meneghini.
He described the firefighters battling the fire as a fantastic group of men and women who are tough, smart, and care about the Mt. Wilson Observatory.
The observatory is not just a structure; it is a significant site in the development of astronomy.
"Mt. Wilson has made some serious contributions to astrophysics for 50 years, and for 50 years, it was the only place on the world where you could do that research," added Meneghini.
George Ellery Hale founded the observatory in 1904, and its first telescopes—weighing hundreds of pounds each—were transported in pieces on the backs of donkeys. Today, the observatory lets visitors view space through its 60-inch telescope, which has been in place since 1908.
The director of Griffith Observatory, Dr. Ed Krupp, knows the importance of Mt. Wilson Observatory. He has been following the news closely as Mt. Wilson was in jeopardy.
"When the fire was threatening Mt. Wilson, my heart and the hearts of everyone here goes to the possible loss of an extraordinary national and international treasure," said Krupp.
While there is concern about fires at Griffith Park and Observatory, Krupp says he's been through several fires there.
"The Los Angeles Fire Department is not going to let Griffith Observatory burn down. I've seen them in action many times. But that does not mean that the disruptions aren't dangerous and, of course aren't destructive for the rest of the park and people who live here," said Krupp.
Krupp thinks it is essential for these structures and artifacts to continue to exist for future generations.
"I don't think that people operate with quite the enriched and activated sense of imagination without something they can actually get a grip on. Making a pilgrimage to a place, seeing that it was real. The whole deal with Griffith Observatory is a real experience in real-time of the universe. It's one thing to read a book, it's great to do it, but it's something else to be on the ground," said Krupp.