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Federal officials to review their handling of Station fire after Times investigation raises questions

September 30, 2009 | 11:00 am
Station fire 

The U.S. Forest Service said today it would review the way the agency fought the Station fire amid questions raised in a Times investigation.

The Times reported that the Forest Service had been confident that the fire was nearly contained on the first day, and the agency decided that evening to order just three water-dropping helicopters to hit the blaze shortly after dawn on its second day -- down from five on Day One, documents and interviews show.

The Forest Service also prepared to go into mop-up mode with fewer firefighters on the ground, according to records and officials.

Early in the morning on the second day, the Forest Service realized that three helicopters would not be enough and summoned two more later in the morning, Angeles Forest Fire Chief David Conklin said. More engine companies and ground crews were also deployed, but it would prove to be too late.


On Day Two, the Los Angeles County Fire Department lent the Forest Service a heli-tanker but denied a request for another smaller chopper -- an action that residents say should be reviewed. Deputy Chief John Tripp, the No. 2 official in the County Fire Department, said he withheld the second aircraft because he did not believe the fire was endangering neighborhoods near its suspected ignition point above La Cañada Flintridge, and because the county must hold on to some helicopters for other emergencies.

The Station fire would become the largest in the county's recorded history, blackening more than 160,000 acres of the forest, destroying dozens of dwellings and killing two county firefighters who died when their truck fell off a mountain road.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell said today that the new review will look at how the Forest Service worked with other agencies and decisions that were made on how to fight the fire, according to the Associated Press.

At a public hearing Monday, Big Tujunga Canyon residents and others called for a federal investigation into what they termed a poor initial response to the deadly blaze by the U.S. Forest Service.

"It was beyond irresponsibility, beyond neglect," said Cindy Marie Pain, who lost her Big Tujunga Canyon home to the fire, which broke out in the Angeles National Forest on Aug. 26.

"When it's small, that's when you jump on it," said Bronwen Aker, a Vogel Flats resident who set up a website, www.angelesrising.org, for fire victims.

--Paul Pringle

Photo: Neighbors in La Cañada Flintridge watch as hills nearby burn Aug. 30 in the Station fire. The U.S. Forest Service has been criticized for its decision to scale back response. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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