16 Jun 2010, 8:56am
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Station Fire Questions Not Going Away

The LA Times continues to probe alleged mistakes made in fighting the Station Fire [here, here]. Last September the Station Fire (Angeles NF) burned 160,600 acres, and destroyed 90 homes. Two Los Angeles County firefighters were fatally injured during the fire. The Station Fire was the largest fire in LA County history, cost nearly $100 million in suppression expenses alone, and inflicted economic damages of 10 to 50 times that amount.

U.S. failed to fill order for aircraft in Station fire

The agency didn’t press to get tankers in the air quickly, despite its own commanders’ urgent request, records and interviews show.

By Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2010 [here]

The U.S. Forest Service failed to fill an order for air tankers that its own commanders urgently requested for an assault on the disastrous Station fire before it began raging out of control, according to records and state officials — a finding that rebuts months of assertions by the federal agency that it took every step to deploy the planes as quickly as possible.

The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said it could have made as many as four tankers available to the Forest Service on the fateful second morning of the blaze. Two could have reached the fire by 7 a.m. and a third shortly after 7:30 a.m., but the Forest Service did not order them, said Janet Upton, a spokeswoman for the state agency, known as CalFire.

“We never received an order for the aircraft,” she said.

An early assault by the heavy tankers could have helped ground crews contain the blaze that morning, when it was still small, firefighters at the scene have said. The fire jumped a key defense line about 8 a.m. and spread rapidly. It eventually killed two firefighters, destroyed scores of structures and became the largest fire in Los Angeles County history. …

Former Forest Service officials and other experts termed the failure to fill the tanker order a monumental error. They said it was unfathomable that the agency could have overlooked such a critical misstep in its official review of the blaze, a probe that found no faults in the management of the fire fight.

“It’s an absolute cover-up,” said Don Feser, the Forest Service’s former fire chief for the Angeles.

He said Congress should investigate whether the order was deliberately not placed, perhaps as a cost-saving measure. Three weeks before the Station fire, the Forest Service issued a memorandum directing its supervisors to keep expenses down by limiting use of aircraft and ground crews from other agencies. …

Most of the questions about how the fire became so destructive have focused on the absence of a fierce air attack in the hours after dawn on Day 2. The flames had been nearly contained the evening before, in part because of a sustained pounding by helicopters and planes. …

The Times has reported that deployment documents showed the tanker request had been canceled. Noiron said the request was marked canceled by mistake because, due to “messy paperwork,” a dispatcher identified it as a duplicate of the order placed later in the morning.

By the time the planes were over the flames, the fire had scaled Angeles Crest Highway, a crucial battle line, and was exploding through tall trees and paper-dry brush. … [more]



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