Seven Years After the Station Fire

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Last week marked the seven-year anniversary of the Station Fire that started in the Angeles National Forest on Aug. 26, 2009.  The fire burned over 160,000 acres and threatened over 12,000 structures. The Station Fire was Los Angeles County’s largest and California’s 10th largest wildfire in recorded history. While arson was determined to be the cause of the Station Fire, the perpetrator remains unknown.

Jeff Ziegler, a firefighter
engineer at La Cañada Flintridge Fire Station 82, shared his experience of the Station Fire. Ziegler began working for the Los Angeles Fire Dept. in 1989 and Station 82
in 1997.

“I had never seen anything like it,” Ziegler said of his experience with the Station Fire. In particular, he talked about Camp 16, where Captain Tedmund Hall and firefighter Arnie Quinones lost their lives. The camp was designed to teach inmates the necessary skills to become a wild land firefighter. The firefighters were there to see what they could do to protect the structures at the camp, but according to Ziegler “nature had a different plan.”

While Camp 16 is now in a new location, the old site remains abandoned. Ziegler shared that every year firefighters and family members of the fallen firefighters visit the site to remember the fallen. Station 82 also hosts its
own memorial for the two firefighters.

Ziegler also spoke about some of the changes the station has made since the Station Fire. Station personnel have refined how they teach structure protection. There is now a larger emphasis on contingency planning. They make sure to discuss all the possible scenarios ahead of time; whether they should stay and fight, prepare the area as much as possible and leave, or do nothing. Ziegler tries to bring a personal touch to the training by talking to the new firefighters about his experience with the Station Fire so that they are mentally prepared for what could happen.

Ziegler also spoke about how different stations and departments have worked to create more universal terminology so that firefighters on the scene can communicate more effectively.

Other changes are a result of having longer and consequently more expensive fire seasons.  Firefighters now see fires in May that they did not previously see until the Santa Ana season in September or October. As a result, Ziegler has noticed an increase of units on duty and airplanes dropping fire retardant into fires earlier and earlier. Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Richard Licon shared that earlier this month Los Angeles County supervisors voted to renew a five-year contract for the Canadian super scoopers.  The planes have historically been leased for 90-day periods, but due to the hotter and riskier season, the county decided to bring the planes in a month earlier and for a 120-day period instead.

Ziegler noted that every year firefighters warn, “this will be the worst fire season yet” as fire season starts earlier and earlier and lasts longer.  He wonders if this prolonged fire season is the new normal, or if things will ever go back to the way they were.

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