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L.A. County considers automated wildfire detection system

January 12, 2010 |  9:49 am

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich wants Los Angeles County to maintain an automated early detection and response system that could put out wildfires within minutes after they break out.

Antonovich called for a study into establishing the 24-hour, all-weather system in a motion filed today in response to last summer's Station fire, the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County history, which scorched more than 160,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest and killed two firefighters.

L.A. County fire officials have been critical of the U.S. Forest Service's response to the Station fire, which began Aug. 26, including the decision to withhold water-dropping aircraft while the blaze was still small.

Antonovich and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) have called for a congressional inquiry into the agency's response. 

"The Station Fire graphically spotlights the need to study and identify solutions for establishing an automated early detection system," the motion reads. "The goal of a technology-based system would be to identify new fires as they start and have a programmed airborne response within minutes to suppress the fire before it spreads."

The Board of Supervisors will consider the motion at its meeting today. If approved, the county's Quality and Productivity Commission would be directed to study options and report back in four months.

Tony Bell, a spokesman for Antonovich, said the commission would be instructed to look far and wide for technology that could be applied to local wildfires, including satellite imagery and military surveillance systems.

"It would involve looking at other states, counties and what's being used anywhere in the world to provide early notification of a fire hazard and allow us an opportunity to suppress it before it becomes a disaster," Bell said. "At this point, it's our obligation to look at any possible technological advances that will help us fight fires."

Changes to policy or technology should be made before the next fire season begins, Antonovich wrote.

--Tony Barboza