Remembering the Sierra Madre (Santa Anita) Fire

Santa Anita fire about 15 minutes after ignition, shot taken from AM/PM at Santa Anita and Foothill, click to enlarge

Three years ago yesterday, at about 3pm on Saturday, April 26th, 2008, a fire broke out in the mountains above Sierra Madre.  The fire burned for several days, ultimately burning 584 acres at the time of its containment on May 1st.  Two hundred thirty eight acres were in the Angeles National Forest, and three hundred forty six acres were within the corporate boundaries of Sierra Madre.  Five minor injuries were reported, at one point more than 1,000 firefighters were assigned to the fire.   Just after midnight Sunday morning, the City Council under the leadership of Mayor Kurt Zimmerman had an emergency meeting to declare the City to be in a state of emergency, freeing up resources from outside agencies to assist in fighting the fire.

Two Red Cross shelters were set up.  Approximately 1000 people were evacuated from Oak Crest Drive across Carter Avenue to East Mira Monte Avenue, continuing down Mountain Trail Avenue, across Grandview Avenue to Santa Anita Avenue.  A wedding party of 45 people and four pets were helicoptered out from Sturtevant Camp, it took five helicopter trips to move them all.

The people of Sierra Madre banded together as a community to help each other and the emergency personnel fighting the fire, controlling traffic, and keeping out looters (there was a false report that houses in the evacuation area were robbed). 

In the end, only one small non-residential structure was destroyed, and the people of Sierra Madre had a new sense of

Picture taken just east of Canon on Montecito, Saturday evening, click to enlarge

community and appreciation for one another and emergency personnel. 

The Mt. Wilson Trail Race of 2008 (the 100 year anniversary of the first running of the race) was postponed until June 7th, from its scheduled May 24th date, so that the trail could be prepared.  Kudos to Charlie Bell, Pete Siberell, Gary Hilliard, John Grace, Pete McNulty, Mark Gage, and Mark Hacker and a crew of volunteers that helped get the trail in shape to be run just over a month after such a major fire.

The entire Sierra Madre Fire Department was named Grand Marshal of the 2008 4th of July Parade. 

To view our coverage of the 2008 Sierra Madre fire (officially named the Santa Anita fire by incident command personnel), click here.

On May 6th, 16th and 31st, I was able to take photos on the Mt. Wilson Trail, even though for some of that time the trail was closed.  The trail had burned most of the way to First Water, but there was very little damage along the trail from that point up to Orchard Camp.  But up to first water, there was almost complete devastation, with much of the hillside looking more like a moonscape than a hillside on planet Earth.  The other day, April 17th, 2011, I took my camera up on the trail with me, with printouts of some of the pictures I had taken in May of 2008, so that I could try to recreate as closely as possible the photos from 2008, giving us a side by side comparison of what the trail looked like then and now.  All but one or two of the photos on the left below were taken on May 6th.  The right side photos are what the area looks like today.  Click on the thumbnail to enlarge it.  Most browsers will then shrink the image to fit your screen size again, so if you want to see it larger, click on it again, but you will have to scroll to see the full image.

As you can see, there has been significant re-growth along the trail, and I think we can largely credit that growth for how little mudflow problems we had despite some very heavy rains this past winter.

1 Comment on "Remembering the Sierra Madre (Santa Anita) Fire"

  1. Nice pictures Bill Keep up the good work

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