In his 27 years with the Montrose Search and Rescue Team, Mike Leum has become accustomed to grueling night missions that draw him deep into the Angeles National Forest in pursuit of haggard victims seeking rescue.
But lately, the subjects of the La Crescenta resident’s searches have not been of the human kind — Leum and a small cadre of outdoor enthusiasts have tasked themselves with locating and retrieving a series of mysterious lights that appeared atop Mt. Lukens sometime in February and simply will not go away.
“We enjoy living in between the Verdugo Mountains and Mt. Lukens, and we enjoy having an unfettered view, so I consider these to be basically light pollution,” Leum said in a recent interview.
Officials with the U.S. Forest Service are inclined to agree. Capt. R. Tuttle, a law enforcement officer for the federal agency’s South patrol zone, said he’s received several calls from people complaining, or inquiring, about the beacons.
Although some on social media claim to like the battery-operated solar lights, considering them perhaps a harmless art installation, Tuttle said their presence in a national park is a nuisance.
“It’s something not natural in a natural environment — it’s something that we need to take down and clean up,” he said. “One of the concerns I hear most about these lights is that they’re going to start a fire.”
Once Leum got confirmation from forest officials the small plastic lights were not permitted to be there, he and his cohorts began taking night treks to Mt. Lukens to track them down and remove them.
Calling themselves the “Light Brigade,” the group makes regular expeditions into the forest. But locating the tiny targets, many of which have been placed far from any path or trail, is no small feat.
“Whoever put them there did it in such a way that once you’re up there on the fire roads, you can’t see them because they’re pointed out at the city,” Leum said. “So we go at night on mountain bikes and have spotters down below [in La Cañada] to tell us where the lights are in comparison to where we are.”
The group has so far retrieved nine units but more keep appearing in the spots from which they were taken. Forest Service officials are continuing to investigate the lights in the hope of learning who’s behind the illegal installation.
“We’d really like to talk to the person responsible for putting them up and find out what the goal is and either ask them to stop or, if it’s an art project or something along that line, sit down with us so we can figure out a way to have them permitted.”
While Leum recognizes the lights could potentially pose a danger — two weeks ago a rescue helicopter on a rescue mission mistook one for a stranded hiker and called for backup — he’s willing to continue his service with the Light Brigade.
“They look fantastic in my yard,” he said of the lights.