“The Bobcat Fire” got within 500 feet of the Mount Wilson Observatory, and firefighters were in place to defend the structure from the flames, the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday in a tweet at 12:30 p.m. local time.  “Strategic firing is taking place in the south were air operations are strengthening dozerlines.”

Creating “dozerlines” is a firefighting technique in which bulldozers remove plants and other flammable material to leave a line of bare soil and stop the fire from spreading.

The Observatory is located in the Angeles National Forest outside of Los Angeles.  It is the historic astronomic viewpoint where Edwin Hubble explored the universe.

By Tuesday night, the Angeles National Forest praised the firefighters’ work around the mountain.   Firefighters installed hand and dozer lines and dropped water on the fire, “creating a strong protection point for Mount Wilson,” the national forest said.

Founded by astronomer George Ellery Hale in 1904, the Mount Wilson Observatory once boasted the world’s largest telescope, the 100-inch Hooker Telescope.  Edwin Hubble worked at the observatory for more than three decades and used the telescope to prove the existence of other galaxies outside the Milky Way.

For the first half of the 20th Century, Mount Wilson was the most famous observatory in the world.  The biggest telescopes were located there, and their new designs were changing the way astronomy was done.  Among the many discoveries made on the mountain, a few revolutionized our understanding of our place in the Universe.  Here, during WWI, Harlow Shapley measured the size of the Milky Way Galaxy for the first time and located our position in it, far from the center.

Then, in 1924, Edwin Hubble proved that the mysterious spiral nebulae, which astronomers had speculated about for decades, were in fact distant galaxies similar to our own.  Then Hubble teamed with Milton Huason and confirmed that this immense Universe was expanding.  Space itself was getting bigger.  This finding, when run backwards in time, led a few decades later to the Big Bang Theory.  Mt. Wilson is where modern observatinal cosmology began.  It holds a unique place in humanity’s search for our most distant origins.  

We are grateful to the many firefighters who worked tirelessly to save this historic piece of astronomy history.

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