Bobcat fire becomes one of the largest in Los Angeles county history

The Bobcat fire has become one of the largest in Los Angeles county history, scorching structures, homes and a nature center in a famed southern California wildlife sanctuary in foothill desert communities.

The wind-driven wildfire in the mountains north-east of Los Angeles approached 165 sq miles (404 sq km) Monday and is 15% contained.

But officials said calmer winds could help crews corral the flames. “It’s slightly cooler too, so hopefully that will be a help to firefighters,” said US Forest Service fire spokesman Larry Smith.

Thousands of residents in the foothill communities of the Antelope Valley were ordered to evacuate Saturday as winds pushed the flames into Juniper Hills, and additional evacuation warnings were issued Sunday afternoon.

Firefighters were, however, able to defend Mount Wilson this weekend, which overlooks greater Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains and has a historic observatory founded more than a century ago and numerous broadcast antennas serving southern California.

The Bobcat fire started 6 September and has already doubled in size over the last week, becoming one of Los Angeles county’s largest wildfires in history, according to the Los Angeles Times. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The wildfire also destroyed the nature center at Devil’s Punchbowl natural area, a geological wonder that attracts some 130,000 visitors a year.

Though the Bobcat fire neared the high desert community of Valyermo, a Benedictine monastery there appeared to have escaped major damage, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Air quality in Los Angeles county improved for the first time in nearly two weeks over the weekend.

Across California, nearly 19,000 firefighters continue to fight more than two dozen major wildfires. More than 7,900 wildfires have burned more than 5,468 sq miles (14,164 sq km) in California this year, including many since a mid-August barrage of dry lightning ignited parched vegetation.

Meanwhile, officials were investigating the death of a firefighter on the lines of another southern California wildfire that erupted earlier this month from a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal their baby’s gender.

The death occurred Thursday in the San Bernardino national forest as crews battled the El Dorado fire about 75 miles (120km) east of Los Angeles, the US Forest Service said in a statement.

The name of the firefighter killed has not yet been released. A statement from the California department of forestry and fire protection, or Cal Fire, said it was the 26th death involving wildfires besieging the state.

Authorities also have not released the identities of the couple, who could face criminal charges and be held liable for the cost of fighting the fire.

In Wyoming, a rapidly growing wildfire in the south-eastern part of the state was closing in on a reservoir that’s a major source of water for the capital city, Cheyenne.

The water system remained safe and able to filter out ash and other burned material that flows through streams and reservoirs after wildfires, said Clint Bassett, the water treatment manager for the Cheyenne board of public utilities.

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