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Critics say firefighting changes slow to come since Station fire

April 28, 2011 |  1:56 pm

Burned pines in Angeles National Forest. The Station fire burned more than 160,000 acres.

Foothill residents and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) criticized U.S. Forest Service officials on Thursday for taking too long to change some of their firefighting tactics in light of the devastating Station blaze.

At a packed meeting in Altadena, residents who lost their homes in the 2009 conflagration also pleaded with federal investigators to determine why the fire was allowed to escape.

"Hold people accountable," said one resident, Bert Voorhees.

Schiff convened the meeting with representatives of the Forest Service and the Government Accountability Office, which is investigating the handling of the fire.

The congressman expressed frustration with delays in a Forest Service study of whether it should launch a fleet of night-flying aircraft to battle fires.

"It has taken an unacceptably long time," Schiff said.

The Station fire was nearly extinguished on the first day, then gathered strength overnight. Air tankers ordered for 7 a.m. the next day did not arrive until hours later.

Tom Harbour, the Forest Service's head of fire and aviation, said the study on night-flying craft  should be completed in about two months. The examination has been complicated by the potential financial costs and safety concerns associated with night missions, he said.

"But I got the message," Harbour said. "They want us to move faster."

The Station blaze burned 250 square miles of Angeles National Forest, destroyed scores of homes and killed two Los Angeles County firefighters.

Stephen Gaty, an assistant director for the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, told Thursday's gathering at the Altadena Library that the probe was looking at "all phases" of the Station fire response. He said the investigation would continue until the end of the year.

The GAO inquiry grew out of a series of Times reports on the Forest Service's actions early in the fire.


GAO will probe Forest Service's handling of Station fire

Former Forest Service officials want a wider probe of the Station fire

Lawmakers seek broad probe into Forest Service response to Station fire

-- Paul Pringle

Photo: Burned pines in Angeles National Forest. The Station fire burned more than 160,000 acres. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times