By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
and MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
RAFU STAFF WRITERS
The Station fire continued to rage out of control Monday, consuming nearly 105,000 acres with only a 5 percent containment level. Temperatures in the mountain areas continued to hover toward the 100-degree mark, with the smoke creating hazardous air quality across the Los Angeles basin.
The six-day-old blaze has affected the areas of La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Tujunga, Altadena, and Mount Wilson, and appears to be moving towards Santa Clarita. Fire officials said they have changed their estimated date for containment to Sept. 15, a week later than their previous target.
At least 21 homes have been destroyed and more than 12,500 houses were threatened Sunday night, resulting in the evacuation of many residents to safer locations.
In spite of its close proximity, the Pasadena Japanese Cultural Institute has not been directly affected by the fire.
“The smoke is really irritating,” said Bryan Takeda, a board member of the JCI. “But we’re safe–we were never in imminent danger.”
He added that some of the institute’s martial arts classes might be curtailed because of the air quality, but that no plans have been finalized for cancellation.
However, the Pasadena Bruins basketball organization, which is sponsored by the institute, faced a minor setback from the blaze this past weekend during their annual basketball tournament.
After one of the gym sites for the tournament was converted into an alternate evacuation site, tournament organizers were forced to find another location for the games.
At La Cañada High School, one of six Red Cross shelter sites in the immediate area, there was little activity before lunchtime Monday. Evacuation orders continued for several neighborhoods in La Cañada and La Crescenta, as well as for Altadena to the east and the Tujunga Canyons to the northwest, but there were few displaced residents at the high school.
Crescenta Valley High School, also being used as an evacuation center, was to have opened for the first day of the school year Monday, but was closed to students along with all the campuses in the Glendale Unified School District. Officials said they will evaluate the school closures on a day-to-day basis.
Angeles Crest Highway was reopened to residents of La Cañada, with at least of few of them driving up the road to survey the damage. A woman was taking photos of the decimated landscape from the window of her black Mercedes, as small gusts of wind kicked up waves of irritating ash.
“This is unbelievable,” said the woman who declined to be identified. “I knew there was going to be damage, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Along the winding route toward the Mount Wilson summit–which was still being threatened by flames Monday afternoon–the hillsides and canyons had been laid bare by the inferno. Roadside signs were melted, the ash-covered ground resembled the surface of the moon and even the road asphalt itself had burned in places. Forestry crews waited a few miles from Mount Wilson as firefighters worked to keep the blaze from the mountaintop, home to a historic observatory as well as several towers used for television, radio and emergency communications broadcasts.
In the neighborhood accessed via Briartree Road, a father and son were busy unloading a van as their family has just moved into the neighborhood, noting the unusual circumstances that welcomed them to their new home.
“I hope this means that living here will only get better from here on,” said the father, not providing his name.
Down the hill, along La Cañada’s main drag of Foothill Blvd., life seemed to be slowly returning to normal, with teenagers chatting over pizza in sidewalk cafes and businesses open as usual. At the Ichiban Japanese restaurant, a manager named Yumi said despite the nearby chaos, her customer traffic has seen little change.
“Everyone is talking about the fire, for sure,” she said.
The poor air conditions also had Dodger Stadium officials closely monitoring pollution levels prior to Monday night’s game between the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, but no postponement had been issued as of around 4:30 p.m.
In Little Tokyo, the scent of burning wood and a slight haze were the only signs of the devastating inferno. As a result, many businesses have not seen major effects from the blaze.
“So far, there is no significant influence,” said Ryo Yamada, corporate office general manager of the Miyako Hotel, adding that guests have not been given any advice relating to the fire. “We’re checking information, but so far, it’s no problem.”
At nearby Mikawaya, workers reported similar conditions.
“There’s no change, just white smoke in the air,” said Mia Bonilla, a cashier at the ice cream store. “Everyone just comes here for ice cream, so whatever trouble they’ve had, they forget about it with ice cream.”
However, some businesses experienced a direct influence on their clientele.
“Sales were down this weekend,” said Irene Tsukada Simonian, owner of Japanese gift store Bunkado, Inc. “Maybe it’s the heat and people avoid downtown with excessive heat, but fires affect people’s moods, so they avoid shopping when it’s a serious event. I have a feeling that people hunker down when something like this goes on.”
The Keiro Nursing Homes have also taken precautions in light of the health concerns associated with the fire.
“Residents have been advised to stay indoors,” said Beverly Ito, chief compliance officer of Keiro Senior HealthCare. “Outdoor activities have been temporarily suspended and residents are encouraged to participate in exercise and other activities offered inside the buildings.