By Mary O’KEEFE
Congressman Adam Schiff held a meeting on April 28 for residents affected by the 2009 Station Fire, members of the U.S. Forest Service and a representative from Government Accountability Office.
Schiff has maintained a consistent line of questioning concerning the first few hours of the Station Fire and the resulting tragic results.
Local residents of the foothills, including those from Crescenta Valley, Altadena, La Cañada and Tujunga/Sunland, attended the meeting that was to give the public an update on the progress of the Station Fire investigation.
What residents found was that little progress had been made. In August 2010 a panel discussion was conducted at Schiff’s request. The panel that included representatives David Dreier, Brad Sherman, Buck McKeon and Judy Chu interviewed members of the U.S. Forest Service and Los Angeles County Fire Department, along with emergency responders and retired firefighters.
During that meeting the Forest Service was asked to supply answers to the panel on several procedural issues including how and when air support is ordered.
At the meeting last week Tom Harbour, director of fire and aviation for the U.S. Forest Service, met with some angry questions concerning the initial response to the Station Fire, the procedures of his agency and the slow response to questions concerning the fire battle that happened 19 months ago.
“I do hear [the residents] and Congressman Schiff. We do have to pick up the pace,” he said.
Residents continued to voice their concern about air support that most felt was needed in the early hours of the fire but did not arrive. They also asked about the procedure of fighting fires in the private and state leased properties.
Duncan Barid lost his Big Tujunga Canyon home during the fire. He is a retired Pasadena firefighter.
“I think everyone wants some finite investigation into these [issues],” he said. “[Like] what transpired the first day and the morning after.”
He added the fire started on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009. On Thursday and Friday he felt there was ample opportunity to conduct “serious mitigation” with air support to pretreated Big Tujunga and surrounding areas.
“There was zero work done,” he said.
Other residents were concerned that the procedures in place drew a line between private property and state leased property.
“The question is if you see an accident to do you stop or not get involved?” asked one resident.
The resident pointed out that a forest service station was within yards of Vogel Flat yet the firefighters did not respond to help save their homes. They had to wait for L.A. County Fire to respond.
“We always want to be good neighbors,” said Harbour. He added that he would look into the issue.
Stephen Gaty, assistant director, GAO, Natural Resources and Environment Team, was also on the panel.
In the fall of 2010, the GAO accepted the request by several California senators and representatives to investigate the Station Fire from its inception on Aug. 26, 2009 to its containment on Oct. 16.
There were some comparisons between the Forest Service and L.A. Fire Department.
“We won’t look at differences across agencies as much as the procedures in place for the [Forest Service],” Gaty said.
Schiff added if there were issues that GAO did not analyze but were legitimate questions that would not mean the investigation would stop.