Sta­tion fire

The For­est Ser­vice de­fends tac­tics, but data show an or­der for air­craft wasn’t placed.

Los Angeles Times - - Late Extra - Paul Pringle paul.pringle@latimes.com

The For­est Ser­vice of­fers doc­u­ments in its de­fense, but they again raise ques­tions.

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice said Thurs­day that dispatch record­ings il­lus­trate that the agency ag­gres­sively at­tacked last year’s Sta­tion fire with the near­est avail­able planes, but the con­ver­sa­tions also show that of­fi­cials did not place a com­man­der’s or­ders for air tankers on the crit­i­cal sec­ond morn­ing of the blaze.

In the tele­phone ex­changes, dis­patch­ers and fire­fight­ers be­come alarmed at the overnight spread of the flames in the An­ge­les Na­tional For­est and note that the com­man­der has asked that the tankers and other air­craft ar­rive by 7 a.m.

Shortly af­ter mid­night, how­ever, dis­patch­ers say that the For­est Ser­vice will di­vert tankers from a nearby fire in the morn­ing, in­stead of or­der­ing them through a re­gional op­er­a­tions cen­ter. “We’re go­ing to be as­sign­ing two air tankers from [the] fire over there,” a dis­patcher says.

“… di­vert­ing two air tankers?” says an­other speaker iden­ti­fied only as Op­er­a­tions. (Names were redacted from the tran­scripts.)

“Yeah,” the dis­patcher says.

The di­verted tankers did not start reach­ing the Sta­tion fire un­til about 9 a.m., af­ter the flames had jumped a key de­fense line and be­gan rag­ing out of con­trol. The fire be­came the largest in Los An­ge­les County his­tory, burn­ing 250 square miles and de­stroy­ing scores of homes and other struc­tures. Two county fire­fight­ers died while de­fend­ing their Mt. Glea­son camp.

The tran­scripts re­leased Thurs­day largely echo ra­dio dispatch record­ings The Times ob­tained ear­lier. For­est Ser­vice of­fi­cials have said they did not dis­cover the tele­phone record­ings un­til this sum­mer.

A fed­eral in­spec­tor gen­eral is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether laws were bro­ken when the record­ings were not turned over last year to a For­est Ser­vice re­view team and The Times.

The in­ves­tiga­tive arm of Congress is con­duct­ing a broader probe of the fire, ex­am­in­ing the For­est Ser­vice’s de­ci­sions and tac­tics, in­clud­ing whether there were avoid­able de­lays in get­ting air­craft to the blaze on the morn­ing of Day 2.

In an in­ter­view, For­est Ser­vice Chief Tom Tid­well said the tran­scripts show that “the dis­patch­ers did un­der­stand the se­ri­ous­ness of this fire … and they found the clos­est avail­able air tankers.”

But Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cials have said that they had tankers avail­able that could have been over the flames at 7 a.m. or soon af­ter.

Don Feser, for­mer fire chief for the An­ge­les Na­tional For­est, said the tran­scripts un­der­score that not enough was done to de­ploy the air­craft as quickly as pos­si­ble and raise ques­tions of whether there was a “void in com­mand and con­trol.”

The tran­scripts also con­tain ap­par­ently jok­ing com­ments about the fire burn­ing the en­tire for­est. In a state­ment, Tid­well said the re­marks were “un­for­tu­nate.”

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