A Cost Too Great
The most devastating fire in the history of Los Angeles County started this week two years ago.
The Station Fire began as a small – and many think containable – fire in the Angeles National Forest on Aug. 26, 2009. The catastrophe actually started further east in Azusa. The Morris Fire was already burning when the first inkling of the Station Fire was detected.
That was just before I launched the CV Weekly and I was attending a Crescenta Valley Community Assn. meeting at the newly opened community room at Dunsmore Park. At about 8 p.m. my husband Steve, a volunteer with the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, who had helped out with traffic and other duties regarding the fledgling blaze and was still wearing a smoky uniform, came in and quietly said that the fire should be contained shortly and that “everything will be fine.” Famous last words.
As we all know, everything didn’t end up being “fine,” and in fact questions still remain as to why exactly this fire wasn’t knocked down quickly.
Why weren’t resources on-scene deployed? Why was a Martin Mars airtanker flying over head with 6,000 gallons of water allegedly told to go away?
Later that night and early the next morning when it became obvious that the fire was out of control, Division Chief on the Angeles National Forest and the Incident Commander of the Station Fire Wil Spyrison ordered water dropping aircraft. According to records, he requested one air attack, one lead plane and three of any type air tanker. However, to his surprise on the morning of Aug. 27, he received no support.
The air tankers assigned to fill his order were assigned to the Morris Fire. The Station Fire was to rely on aircraft assigned to the Morris Fire to fill their early morning orders due to a shortage of other available aircraft in the area at that time.
Shortage? There were reportedly 12 other firefighting aircraft available, ready for the asking. But some question whether the U.S. Forest Service hesitated to make the call to an outside agency as that agency – for example, L.A. County Fire and L.A. City Fire – would charge a fee for the use of their equipment. Did the U.S. Forest Service fail to utilize the eleven water dropping helicopters which were all less than 10 minutes away due to the cost?
Los Angeles County Arson Unit later determined the fire to be caused by arson. The Station Fire consumed not only acreage and homes, but ended up taking the lives of two firefighters, Arnaldo Quinones and Tedmund Hall.
It burned 1,174 acres in the first burning cycle, 57,160 acres on Aug. 30, 2009 alone (for a total of 94,137 to that date) and a final total of 160,557 acres before being declared fully contained on Oct. 16, 2009 at 7 p.m. The Station Fire was the largest vegetation fire in Los Angeles County history and the 10th largest vegetation fire in California history.
Kudos to Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Congressman Adam Schiff for continuing to put pressure on officials to find answers. But as Californians – as foothill residents who lived through this devastation – we need to know the answers to these questions.
Robin Goldsworthy is the publisher of the Crescenta
Valley Weekly. She can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (818) 248-2740.