Image: Station Fire
David McNew  /  Getty Images
The 241-square-mile Station Fire continues to blacken forests and race up rugged canyons along its eastern front deep in the Angeles National Forest on Saturday, Sept. 4, northeast of Pasadena, Calif. The fire is about 42 percent contained and firefighters expect to have it fully surrounded by defensible fire lines in mid-month.
updated 9/5/2009 5:54:12 PM ET 2009-09-05T21:54:12

The western flank of the deadly wildfire north of Los Angeles was under control Saturday, sparing foothill communities further threat as it burned east into a large wilderness area.

Investigators, meanwhile, were working to find the arsonist responsible for the huge wildfire that has killed two firefighters and burned nearly 242 square miles, or 154,655 acres, of the Angeles National Forest.

The fire's origin near Angeles Crest Highway remained cordoned off as authorities sought more clues in the case, but they were hesitant to release any findings to the media.

"Arsonists are not stupid. They can read," said U.S. Forest Service Cmdr. Rita Wears, who supervises federal agents investigating the fire. "I have to be very careful."

Los Angeles County firefighters Tedmund Hall and Arnaldo Quinones were killed Aug. 30 while seeking an escape route for their inmate fire crew after flames overran their camp on Mount Gleason.

Sheriff's detectives opened a homicide investigation after the fire was ruled arson earlier this week, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has offered $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprit.

49 percent contained
The fire, one of the largest in Southern California history, was 49 percent contained by early Saturday afternoon after crews built protective lines on the northwestern flank near Santa Clarita, according to Forest Service spokeswoman Jan Ulrich.

Firefighters were trying to slow the fire's eastern movement into the San Gabriel Wilderness and secure the southeastern flank north of Monrovia and other foothill communities. No homes were threatened, Ulrich said.

Mount Wilson — which holds a historic observatory and at least 20 television transmission towers, radio and cell phone antennas — appeared well-protected after flames came dangerously close earlier this week.

"They say Mount Wilson is prepped better than it's been in about the last 100 years," Forest Service spokeswoman Barbara Rebisky said. "That's looking real good."

Video: Fallen firefighters honored

Crews with local utilities were preparing to move into the fire zone to repair or replace more than 1,000 damaged or downed power lines, Rebisky said.

The weekend weather forecast called for cooler temperatures and slightly higher humidity that could help firefighters further surround the blaze, which has cost fire agencies $37 million to fight.

At least a dozen investigators were working to analyze clues found at a charred hillside, including incendiary material reported to have been found there. Officials said the fire was arson but were still investigating who started it and how.

"We are in the early stages, just beginning to put things together," said Los Angeles County sheriff's Lt. Liam Gallagher, who is heading the homicide investigation. "Firefighters losing their lives in the line of duty is an added incentive, but we work every case to the fullest."

Makeshift memorial
Near a large shade tree where crews get their twice daily briefings, firefighters set up a makeshift memorial to the two dead firefighters. They helped save about 60 members of an inmate fire crew last Sunday as flames approached their camp when they set a backfire that allowed the group to get to safety. The pair died when their truck plunged 800 feet down a steep mountain road as they sought an escape route.

Most wildfires are caused by human activity, and government statistics show that people were faulted for 5,208 wildfires in Southern California in 2008, the highest number since at least 2001. Between 2006 and 2008, Southern California was the only region of the country to see a significant jump in the number of wildfires blamed on people.

Still, very few of the forest fires lead to criminal or civil cases. The U.S. Forest Service recorded nearly 400 arson wildfires since 2005, records show.  

More on: California

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Blazes scorch L.A. canyons

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  1. The burned hillsides in the Angeles National Forest run to the edge of La Canada, Calif., seen at right on Thursday, Sept. 3. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Firefighters from Arizona's Blue Ridge Hotshots crew clear trees and brush on Thursday shortly after mandatory evacuations were ordered for 25 people living near this area within the Angeles National Forest. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. This fire crew was working inside San Gabriel Canyon, just outside Pasadena, Calif. (Michal Czerwonka / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Fire crews deploy inside San Gabriel Canyon early Thursday. (Michal Czerwonka / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Forest Service firefighters and law enforcement officials investigate the likely ignition point of the Station Fire on Angeles Crest Highway Wednesday in La Canada-Flintridge. Officials said that the deadly 140,000 acre blaze was probably human-caused. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Firefighter David Bryden, of New Cuyuma, Calif., mops up during a wildfire in the Sunland area of Los Angeles, Wednesday. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Firefighters set back fires trying to keep a blaze in the Deukmejian Wilderness Park from jumping into a neighborhood in La Crescenta on Tuesday. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Burnt out cars and a boat sit on a property that was devastated in the Angeles National Forest on Tuesday. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A resident, who would only give his name as Adi, right, cries as he looks through the charred remains of his home that was burned by the Station Fire, Tuesday, at Vogel Flats near Tujunga. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A firefighter monitors a fire burning behind houses in the suburb of Glendale on the outskirts of Los Angeles on Tuesday. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Firefighters work a fire threatening houses in the La Crescenta section of Glendale, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 1. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A helicopter fights against the wildfire to protect houses in La Crescenta, near Los Angeles on September 1. The monster blaze raging above Los Angeles grew in size as weary firefighters voiced hope that a break in searing temperatures would allow them to make inroads against the inferno. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Noel Rincon hoses the roof of his home in Tujunga, a suburb near Los Angeles, Tuesday. Rincon was one of many residents in the neighborhood who chose to ignore mandatory evacuation orders. (Sean Masterson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Firefighters pull a hose into position trying to keep a fire in the Deukmejian Wilderness Park from jumping a fire break into a neighborhood in La Crescenta, Tuesday. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Firefighters take a break during the Station Fire in La Crescenta, Tuesday. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The burned-out remains of a structure are shown Tuesday, near Acton. (Nick Ut / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A fire burns near a home in City Oak Glen, San Bernadino, on Monday. The wildfire north of Los Angeles threatens more than 12,000 homes. (Nick Ut / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Connie Kirchner kisses her cat, Buddy, after finding he had survived the 49er fire that destroyed her home in Auburn, Calif. on Monday. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Paul White, 46, who has evacuated several times since the start of the Station Fire, watches a backfire burn in front of his home in La Crescenta, Calif., on Monday. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A smoke cloud from the wildfires near Mount Wilson in Los Angeles, on Aug. 31. (Hector Mata / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A home owner returns for the first time to find his home in ruins after a wildfire in the Acton area in California on Aug. 31. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gives a hug to comfort Tami Higgs, who lost her home in a fire. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Jeff Trapani, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection hoses down a hot spot in the burned out remains of a home destroyed by the 49er fire in Auburn. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Lisa Avila pauses as she goes through the charred remains of her home in Auburn, Calif. on Monday. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Los Angeles skyline is obscured by smoke from the Station Fire north of the city. (Fred Prouser / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Fire crews work to contain the Station fire, burning in the hills above La Crescenta. (Michal Czerwonka / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Firefighters look for hot spots on a burnt landscape in Acton area on Monday. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A wall of flames burns next to a road and power lines near Acton on Sunday. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Firefighters inspect some of the damage in Big Tujunga Canyon on Sunday Aug. 30th. after the Station Fire burned through the area. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. This satellite view shows how spread out smoke from the fire was last Sunday. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Los Angeles County firefighters mop up hot spots on Sunday near Acton. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Residents of La Canada-Flintridge and Altadena, Calif., rest at an evacuation center in the gymnasium of La Canada High School. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies and residents help evacuate horses as the Station Fire burns in the hills above Acton. (Dan Steinberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Firefighters battle the Station Fire above La Canada-Flintridge in the Angeles National Forest. (Ringo Chiu / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Raymond Shing waters down the roof of his neighbor David Yeh's house as the Station Fire approaches houses on Canalda Drive in La Canada-Flintridge on Sunday. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A deer escapes a wildfire in the Angeles National Forest near Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. The Station Fire burns in the Angeles National Forest above the La Canada-Flintridge area of Los Angeles on Friday. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Los Angeles County fire fighters Kevin Klar, left, Eric Tucker, center, and home owner Henrik Hairapetian are illuminated by the glow of the Station Fire. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. An unknown structure burns during the Station Fire in the Big Tujunga canyon area of Los Angeles. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A firefighter rushes hoses to the backyard of a home for fire protection on Starlight Crest Drive during the Station Fire on Saturday. (Keith Birmingham / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. A Glendale Police officer helps residents evacuate from the La Canada-Flintridge area of Los Angeles. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Two horses are penned in a corral as fire burns around them during the Station Fire in the Big Tujunga area of Los Angeles. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A firefighter watches a water drop on the Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest above the La Canada-Flintridge area of Los Angeles. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Fire Camp crews come off the line deep in a ravine along Angeles Crest Highway during the Station Fire above La Canada-Flintridge on Friday, in Angeles National Forrest. (Keith Birmingham / San Gabriel Valley Tribune / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Sister Julia Castello and Sister Mary Jensch, right, of Daughters of Mary and Joseph, take refuge at a Red Cross disaster center at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School after a fast moving brush fire that broke out in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., on Friday. (Gus Ruelas / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. A helicopter make a water drop as firefighters battle the Station wildfire on Friday. (Jason Redmond / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. A firefighter is treated for dehydration and taken away in an ambulance along Angeles Crest Highway during the Station Fire on Friday. (Keith Birmingham / San Gabriel Valley Tribune / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Camp crew firefighters climb a ridge during a forest fire, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, in the Angeles National Forest, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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