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Fire probe intensifies

Officials, property owners demand answers about firefighting mistakes.

December 24, 2009|By Megan O’Neil

Fallout surrounding firefighting tactics used during the Station fire intensified this week as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) joined Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich in calling for a federal investigation.

“I think there have been sufficient questions raised about whether the early stages of the fire could have been handled differently that may have resulted in a much better outcome, and that a federal investigation is warranted,” Schiff said Tuesday.

Inquiries center around whether the U.S. Forest Service was sufficiently aggressive in its tactics during the first 48 hours of the fire — specifically, whether a targeted aerial attack might have subdued the blaze before it grew out of control.

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The Station fire, which started along Angeles Crest Highway just north of La Cañada Flintridge on Aug. 26, eventually burned more than 160,000 acres, destroyed 100 structures and was blamed for the deaths of two county firefighters.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Forest Service dispatch logs showed two requests made by officers on the ground for airtankers and helitankers to be employed in the early morning hours of the second day of the fire. But the airtankers were canceled and the helitankers delayed, according to the Times.

The Times also reported that records fail to support statements made by the U.S. Forest Service, as part of an internal review conducted last month, claiming that the steep grade of the San Gabriel Mountains would have rendered an aerial attack ineffective and a ground attack highly dangerous.

The 66-page document, which was signed by top officials from the Forest Service, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, was released on Nov. 13.

Who canceled the airtankers, and why, remains unclear, officials said.

“Originally the Forest Service reasoned that mountainous terrain prevented aircraft water drops,” Antonovich said in statement. “However, their logbooks reveal that their own incident commanders repeatedly asked for air support. What’s needed is a congressional investigation into the false reports by the Forest Service and its failure to stop the fire before it spread.”

Property owners who lost their homes during the Station fire applauded the call for a federal probe.

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