Fire declared arson

City of Ventura firefighter ponders the advancing flames in a backyard of a foothill neighborhood.

The horror of watching the hillsides surrounding the Crescenta Valley burn was amplified on Thursday when it was learned that the fires were purposely set.

“The Station fire has now been ruled arson,” confirmed Inspector Frederick Stowers of L.A. County Fire Department. The sight of the Angeles National Forest burning is something many residents along the foothills are going to find difficult to forget. As of Thursday afternoon, the fire which began on Aug. 26 has burned 144,753 acres, 64 confirmed residences destroyed, 27 out buildings and three commercial sites, said Esmeralda Bracamonte, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

“The fire is very active west of Pacioma, immediately west of Dillon Divide,” Bracamonte said.

She added it is also active on the east side of Chilao Flats. Firefighters continue to build fire lines around the active areas.

The Red Cross Shelter at Crescenta Valley High School was closed late Tuesday evening and La Cañada High School shelter closed on Thursday. When the fire initially broke out the emergency operations center at Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station was activated. The center was later closed down when the incident command station at Hansen Dam was opened.

“We had no one injured in our area, and lost no houses in La Crescenta or La Cañada,” said Capt. Dave Silversparre.

He added that they are now in the process of assessing where improvements need to be made regarding emergencies like the Station Fire.

“With every incident we learn and try to do better the next time,” he said. There has been some talk within the community of crime occurring in the evacuation areas.

“There are some rumors of [people] breaking into businesses,” he said. There are no confirmed reports of burglaries that have been directly related to the fire, however.

“We did make one arrest of a suspect that came to a check point in a stolen vehicle,” Silversparre said.

Whether that suspect was responsible for any burglaries or why he was in the area is still under investigation. Law enforcement controlled the evacuation area by sending patrols into neighborhoods. When residents were allowed to re-enter their homes, law enforcement remained on the evacuation lines checking identification allowing only residents to pass.

At the fire’s onset many Crescenta Valley volunteers came to the station to help. “I have to commend the many people that responded, the volunteers, deputy reserves and Montrose Search and Rescue,” Silversparre said. Silversparre met with Glendale Unified School District Superintendent Michael Escanlante every morning to update the district on the fire and air quality.

But communication was an issue in other areas. Supervisor Michael Antonovich has called for a review of Los Angeles County emergency notification efforts. From the beginning Antonovich had voiced his concern and disappointment in how the fire information was being communicated with residents especially in the La Crescenta area.

That feeling of frustration was echoed at meetings between community members and fire officials at the CVHS Red Cross Shelter.

“I just want to know what is going on,” said one frustrated La Crescenta resident.

“We hear about La Cañada but nothing about us,” another said.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Antonovich criticized the television media and said that the fire should get as much attention as who will be adopting the Michael Jackson children.

August 30-31 was the busiest night for the CVHS Red Cross shelter with about 95 people spending the night after a 2 a.m. evacuation notice.

Photos by Tristan BURNHAM, Steve GOLDSWORTHY and Charly SHELTON

Now is the time for recovering and cleaning up for Crescenta Valley. Verdugo Hills Hospital has seen an increase in patients entering their emergency room.

“We were inundated with multiple types of patients. Many injuries occurred while people were trying to evacuate, with broken wrists and ankles,” said Dr. Armand Dorian, emergency room doctor at Verdugo Hills Hospital.

There were some patients that came in due to smoke inhalation because they had stayed at the fire too long and some that were having difficulty breathing due to asthma or bronchitis. Stress and high anxiety also caused people to come to the hospital.

Dorian added that when possible people should contact and visit their own doctor before coming to the emergency room, unless it is life threatening.

He also suggested that now that the fire has moved on, residents need to make certain that they change their air conditioning filters often and when possible use a HEPA filter.

Sam Atwood, spokesman from South Coast Air Quality Management District, said residents in the fire and smoke area need to take the proper precautions when the air quality is listed as unhealthy.

Homes and structures that were built before 1984 can contain asbestos that will remain in the ash of old homes. That ash can be spread with winds.

“If there is any asbestos it will stay there until it is cleaned up. We encourage home owners to move rapidly and clean the debris. The dust you see that falls on your car and property is probably not as much of a concern as the microscopic particles you cannot see,” Atwood said.

From a preventive point of view, Atwood advised that residents limit their activity when the air quality is unhealthy and this is especially important for people who are sensitive to smoke.