Fighting California Blaze With 'Special Forces' of Firefighters

Firefighters made important headway in Southern California today on wildfires that swept through the foothills near Los Angeles. The burn area covers 218 square miles, roughly the size of the city of San Francisco.

Investigators said humans caused the fire, but have not said whether it was an accident or arson.

The threat to the historic Mt. Wilson telescope and the cluster of broadcast towers that serve Los Angeles eased as the fires lessened.

"We had a few days that were touchy, but things are improving now and I am very optimistic we are going to be fine here," said Dave Jurasevich, supervisor of Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Smoke from the fire has blown all the way east to Denver. Helicopters and airplanes have been crucial in the fight against the blaze, dropping water and painting the mountains with retardant in advance of the fire's spread.

Some residents have returned to their homes in neighborhoods that were threatened, and more are expected to return soon.

Cooler, more humid weather helped firefighters wage an "even" battle, a fire official said.

"Right now if I were in a boxing match, I'd think we're about even today," U.S. Forest Service incident commander Mike Dietrich told The Associated Press Tuesday. Dietrich downgraded the fire as no longer "angry," but "cranky." At last report the fire was 22 percent contained, up from 5 percent Monday.

The weather advantage may be temporary, however, as the Weather Channel reports there is "talk" of lightning and gusty winds from isolated dry thunderstorms.

"Still, it is just an isolated chance of that happening," the report said. "Firefighters will likely gain even more on the wildfire today."

Click here for the latest map tracking California's wildfires.

Special fire teams called the Hotshots have been lighting controlled fires to sap the wildfire's fuel.

"These guys are like the Special Forces of the firefighter industry," U.S. Forest Service official Nathan Judy told "Good Morning America."

Using flare guns and tanks of fuel, the Hotshots burn boundary lines through the brush, carefully managing the blaze with water from the ground and air by helicopter.

While lighting even controlled fires is dangerous, Judy said it was "just another day at work."

Historic Observatory, Communications Center Still Standing

Dietrich said that bulldozers had carved up to 12 miles of lines and no new structures were lost overnight Tuesday.

Some 3,600 firefighters and aircraft were working across a 50-mile span to battle the blaze.

The Station Fire has not reached California's famed Mount Wilson Observatory and communications center, which houses vital equipment for the transmission of 22 California television stations, 25 FM radio stations and numerous cell phone providers.

"The fire is still likely to impact the area around Mount Wilson, but we have no way to know the predicted damage," Dietrich said Tuesday.

The Mount Wilson Observatory, a fixture in Southern California since its founding in 1904, is responsible for discovering "countless galaxies," and is home to the world's largest publicly accessible telescope, the observatory's Web site said.

Emergency Funds Requested, Fire Tornadoes Scorch Calif.

California has burned through nearly two-thirds of its emergency firefighting money early in the season. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other authorities called for more emergency funds Tuesday.

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