MOUNT HAMILTON (KPIX) — The SCU Lightning Complex Fire is one of the largest in California history scorching hundreds of thousands of acres. One Northern California landmark in the fire’s destructive path was saved, but just barely.


University of California’s Lick Observatory has survived more than 100 years atop Mt. Hamilton, but the raging wildfire had the astronomy research facility under siege.

“It’s indescribable to see flames, 200-foot flames go through,” said Lick Observatory Superintendent Kostas Chloros.

Chloros said the flames surrounded the mountaintop last Wednesday afternoon with trees and brush exploding in fire.

“The fire was maybe 50 or 100 feet away and the brush would self-ignite just from the radiant heat,” Chloros explained.

Chloros said observatory staff evacuated the night before but he stayed behind with CalFire crews and strike teams from Montclair, Porterville, Bakersfield, Tulare & San Luis Obispo.

They huddled in a safety zone next to the refracting telescope dome, and fought the fire when they could. Flames came within feet of their position but no one was injured and they saved the most of the observatory.

One unused but original building did burn to the ground but there could be as yet unseen damage to the telescopes.


“With all the smoke, ash and so on. We’ll have to see how the equipment, the mirrors, the instruments, what the damage is there. But we’re very relieved that the entire site received minimum damage,” Chloros said.


Surrounding properties were not so lucky. Although a garage and vehicles inside it were somehow saved, three homes on the Sky Ranch property burned to the ground.

A horse survived in its corral, and several chickens somehow survived in their coop next to a burned out shed.

Residents have still not been allowed back in to the area to survey the damage and there is no
count yet on how many homes and cabins were lost in the fire.

Damage in the San Antonio Valley area was nearly complete with just a few barns and buildings the rare but welcome exception.