By Mary O’KEEFE
The Station Fire aftermath is not just about the mudslides and coyotes and bears roaming the streets looking for food. Another part of the aftermath is analyzing what worked and perhaps more importantly what did not work while fighting the fire. Of particular interest to both officials and community members are those first few hours when the fire was in a small canyon in the Angeles National Forest.
“The Supervisor [Michael Antonovich] believes the U.S. Forest Service bungled the entire fire,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for Antonovich.
The Supervisor has been a sharp critic of the handling of the fire with regard to the U.S. Forest Service since the fire began. At several press conferences he asked why water-dropping planes were not being used. He did not stop requesting that support until the helicopters and planes joined in the fire battle.
On May 26 a hearing on firefighting policy was convened by the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Interior. Senator Diane Feinstein chaired the hearing and Congressman Adam Schiff testified before the committee.
During that testimony Schiff stated that attacking the fire early and aggressively is key to fighting wildfires. He added the Station Fire was in fact attacked promptly by U.S. Forest Service and Los Angeles County Fire on the Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 26. The fight continued through the evening when some resources were released.
“One night-flying helicopter, owned by L.A. County Fire Department, was dispatched to the fire but was quickly diverted to perform its other responsibility – medical evacuation,” he stated.
Then during the night several hot spots developed in areas inaccessible to ground crews. The incident commander ordered aircraft for the next morning, to arrive at 7 a.m. The aircrafts did not arrive until 9 a.m.
“As a post-action report
from the L.A. County Fire Department stated: “[no one, no fire chief, no firefighter, resident or reporter can provide definitive evidence that anything would have made a difference in the outcome. Still we must look hard at every action. We must question and we must make changes where we can,” Schiff added.
In the continuing effort to gather information on the Station Fire procedures Schiff will convene a panel of L.A.-area members of Congress to hear from experts, local fire officials and members of the community. The panel will discuss issues that have been raised about the decision-making in the early hours of the Station Fire that took place in August 2009.
The panel will convene on Aug. 10 at 10 a.m. at the Volosh Forum on the Pasadena City College campus, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd. It is free and open to the public.
“Fire officials agree that the most important part of fighting fires is often the initial attack, which if successful, keeps fires smaller, cheaper and much safer for residents and firefighters,” Schiff said. “There has been a great degree of speculation about the decision-making during the early hours of the fire, and I hope that this panel will help us get all the facts out, and give people a chance to raise issues and questions that haven’t been addressed. I also hope that this panel will reinforce the need for the Forest Service to reexamine its decades-old policy of not having the capacity to use aircraft to fight fires at night,” Schiff said.
Bell said Supervisor Antonovich appreciates both Senator Feinstein and Congressman Schiff’s efforts in this matter. Unfortunately he will not be able to attend the panel due to a scheduling conflict, the L.A. Supervisors meeting is on the same date.
“What the Supervisor would like to see is that County fire as the lead agency when a fire incident impacts lives and property in the [L.A. County area],” Bell said.