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Bobcat fire becomes a dangerous menace that is evading firefighters

By Hayley Smith and Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES - More than a week after the Bobcat fire ignited in the rugged terrain of the Angeles National Forest, it has emerged as an unusual menace that has evaded fire crews and menaced local communities - despite burning no homes and causing no injuries.

The fire has contributed to days of terrible air quality in Los Angeles, with residents reporting "mesquite-like" smells and a "powdery layer of haze" amid smoke advisories from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

It also has managed to outwit firefighters, even in the absence of powerful Santa Ana winds that failed to materialize as predicted last week. Instead, officials say, the Bobcat fire's power lies in two factors: its location and an inadequate supply of firefighters.

But climate experts warn there are larger factors at play.

"This fire was man-made on many levels," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist who spent several decades at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

Record heat, population growth, fossil fuels and other factors related to climate change have contributed not only to the state's unprecedented fire season, Patzert said, but also to the particular challenges of the Bobcat fire.


"It took decades to build this disaster," Patzert said. "This didn't come out of nowhere."

By Monday night, the fire had burned more than 38,000 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service, and the containment level dropped from 6% to 3%.

"It has been evasive," Angeles National Forest spokesman Andrew Mitchell said Monday. "Where we're trying to catch it, it's still jumping out a bit."

Containment estimates for the blaze have been pushed back by two weeks, to Oct. 30, much to the disappointment of residents in the nearby foothill communities. Parts of Pasadena, Altadena, Monrovia, Bradbury and Duarte have been contending with evacuation notices for more than a week, while some neighborhoods in Arcadia and Sierra Madre were ordered to evacuate Sunday when winds shifted.


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