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Supervisor calls for federal probe of Station fire operations after Times report raises questions

December 21, 2009 |  5:12 pm


Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich has called for a congressional inquiry into the U.S. Forest Service’s response to the Station fire in the wake of a Times report that a heavy attack with water-dropping aircraft was canceled on the critical second day of the blaze.

The Forest Service’s own records contradict the agency’s position that helicopters and tanker planes were withheld because the fire was burning in an Angeles National Forest canyon too steep for ground crews to take advantage of water dumps.

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,” Antonovich said in a statement. He asked for the investigation in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Two officers responsible for directing the Day 2 firefight on the ground and from the sky made separate requests for aircraft during a six-and-a-half-hour period, according to records and interviews. An order for three airtankers that morning was canceled and a helitanker reached the scene an hour or so after its scheduled arrival, the records and interviews show.

The blaze killed two county firefighters, destroyed about 90 dwellings and blackened 250 square miles of the forest. It was the largest fire in county history. 

In an interview, Antonovich said a Forest Service review last month that blamed the terrain for not deploying tankers and choppers sooner should have addressed the officers’ efforts to launch an air assault.

“Did the members of the investigative committee have access to this information? If they did, they are responsible for misleading the public,” he said. “As a result of the (Forest Service) leadership’s failure … we lost two fine, brave firefighters.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) said in a statement that he is “reviewing all information related to the Station fire, including today’s L.A. Times report.”

-- Paul Pringle

Photo: Los Angeles Times