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2 Firefighters Killed Amid Massive S. Calif. Wildfire

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2 Firefighters Killed Amid Massive S. Calif. Wildfire

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2 Firefighters Killed Amid Massive S. Calif. Wildfire

2 Firefighters Killed Amid Massive S. Calif. Wildfire

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Two firefighters in Southern California have died trying to battle a massive wildfire north of Los Angeles. The two men were killed when their vehicle rolled down a mountain side amid the intense flames on Mount Gleason near the city of Acton. As that blaze continues to burn out of control, it's threatening a vital communications center on a mountaintop near Pasadena.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is away. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Here in Southern California, two firefighters have died battling a massive wildfire in the mountains just north of Los Angeles. The fire continues to burn out of control and one of the most worrisome areas is a mountain top near Pasadena filled with towers, containing TV and radio transmitters. Joining me now, to talk more about this is NPR's Mandalit del Barco. She's been monitoring the fires.

And good morning.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's begin with what happened overnight.

DEL BARCO: Well, reports are that, overnight, the fire doubled to more than 85,000 acres and it's destroyed at least homes. And, over the weekend, the fire turned deadly. You know, those two fire fighters died. Their names were Fire Captain Ted Hall and Firefighter Specialist Arnie Quinones, who reportedly were killed when their vehicle rolled over the side of the mountain. And last night, the supervisor of the Angeles National Forest, Jody Noiron, told reporters that they had been overrun by the fast-moving fire.

Ms. JODY NOIRON (Supervisor, Angeles National Forest): To say that this is a dangerous fire is a total understatement. Look at what this fire is doing and what it's capable of doing. You cannot outrun this fire.

DEL BARCO: Now, Renee, three people apparently ignored the repeated warnings to evacuate. One man narrowly escaped by driving through the flames in a truck, and two people were critically burned when they were trying to sit out the fire from inside their backyard hot tub.

MONTAGNE: You know, I just mentioned the threat to an important communications center, that would be on Mount Wilson, which is above the city of Pasadena. Nearly two dozen radio and TV stations, lots of cell phone providers, they all depend on these towers up there that hold transmitters. And, I mean, could these things actually get knocked out by this fire?

DEL BARCO: Well, that is a threat. And it continues to be a threat. Now, the TV stations say, if their antennas burn the broadcast signals would be affected, but viewers could still get satellite and cable signals. But, you know, communications could be interrupted for government offices like the FBI, the CIA and the Secret Service.

I talked to one forest spokesman who said the worst - in the worst case scenario, communications for LAX, the airport, could be disrupted.

MONTAGNE: You know, this is a rugged, mountainous area and very forested - hasn't burned for about four decades. Just briefly, what the plan is for today.

DEL BARCO: Well, today, they're planning to hit the fire hard with massive super scooper, water dropping airplanes and fire crews are moving in when they can. And they're hoping the wind doesn't kick up, but it's been very hot around here, around 100 degrees in some spots, and that makes the battle even more difficult.

MONTAGNE: And this whole conversation's about, more or less, one big, big fire, but there are eight different wildfires burning across California, and that means lots of smoke, and really bad air quality, I gather.

DEL BARCO: Yeah, the air quality is really horrible, and even far from the flames, people who live in and around LA have been suffering through the smoke and the ashes; schools are closed; animals have been taken to shelters. And even from as far as the beach, you can look over toward the mountain and see this massive mushroom cloud of smoke and vapor that's creating its own weather. And it's very impressive, it's very scary too - especially for those firefighters that are working so hard.

MONTAGNE: Mandalit, thanks very much.

DEL BARCO: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking with NPR's Mandalit del Barco about the various wildfires that are now burning in California.

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