Update, Sept. 8th: Great news! Visual sightings and photos made from Mount Wilson show that Stony Ridge Observatory has been spared with minimal damage. Details are here.
Original post, Sept. 2, 2009: For the past week firefighters have staged an all-out effort to save the historic observatory atop Mount Wilson in Southern California from the devastating Station Fire, which by Wednesday had engulfed some 200 square miles of the rugged San Gabriel Mountains.
But the fate of a second big scope in the area remains unknown — and prospects for its survival are much more dire.
Located just 5 miles northeast of Mount Wilson, Stony Ridge Observatory is home to a 30-inch (76-cm) f/6 Newtonian-Cassegrain. It's historic in its own right, a facility built by and for amateurs. When completed by its 15 founders in 1963, its big eye was the eighth largest telescope in California and likely ranked as the largest amateur scope in the United States.
Since then the organization's members have upgraded the telescope to maintain its value both as a research instrument and as a tool for educational outreach. These days much of the observing time is devoted to "FOFU" (faint-object follow-up). Observers there are credited with two asteroid discoveries: (10168) Stony Ridge, spotted in 1995; and (144633) Georgecarroll, found in 2004 and named after the telescope's designer.
Despite this rich history, Stony Ridge Observatory hasn't been singled out for the extraordinary countermeasures by firefighters that Mount Wilson has. Maps of the Station Fire's extent suggest that its eastern flank — currently the fastest-spreading section — has already swept through the grove of Coulter pines that surround the facility. "It doesn't look good at all," sighs Kay Meyer, Stony Ridge's webmaster.
But it might be days before Stony Ridge Observatory's fate is known. Trying to find out what's actually going on, admits Meyer, has been "a roller-coaster ride for us."
Stony Ridge Observatory was on the cover of the July 1973 Sky & Telescope. See also the November 1963 issue, page 248.
More background: LA Times story.