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U.S. Forest Service report: Station fire terrain too steep to fight safely

November 13, 2009 | 11:39 am

A U.S. Forest Service review has concluded that the Station fire in the San Gabriel Mountains raged out of control because it spread to terrain too steep for firefighters to safely confront the flames and not because of delays in ordering water-dropping aircraft and more crews.

The agency launched the inquiry after The Times reported that commanders had underestimated the threat posed by the blaze during its first day and reduced the number of helicopters and crews deployed for the following morning.

In a report released today, the Forest Service says commanders used “best professional practices” in trying to knock down the blaze when it was still small. The fire burned 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest, killed two Los Angeles County firefighters and destroyed about 90 dwellings.

The Times also reported that helicopters did not arrive in force on the critical second day of the fire, Aug. 27, until several hours after first light and after ground crews started to attack the flames along Angeles Crest Highway.

In addition, the Forest Service had issued a memorandum three weeks before the blaze ordering managers to cut firefighting costs by minimizing their use of reinforcements from local and state agencies. Today’s report says costs played no role in the Forest Service’s decisions to use fewer reinforcements from Los Angeles County on Day 2 of the Station fire.

-- Paul Pringle

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