LA County FD releases report about the Station Fire

The Los Angeles County Fire Department has released a report about the 160,000-acre Station Fire which started on August 26 near Los Angeles in the Angeles National Forest and killed two firefighters.  This comes as a surprise, since the U.S. Forest Service, which was the lead agency for the fire, released their official report five days ago. One of the members of the five-member panel that wrote the USFS report was John Tripp, the LA County FD Chief Deputy for Emergency Operations, the second in command to the Fire Chief, P. Michael Freeman.

The LA County FD was of course heavily involved in the Station Fire along with the USFS, and they have been named, at least secondarily, in some criticisms reported in the media related to the number of resources assigned to the fire during the first 46 hours, until the Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command.

We have requested a copy of the report from the LA County FD, but until we receive it, an article in the Pasadena Star News provides some insight about the report’s key details. Here is an excerpt.

The U.S. Forest Service should change how it attacks fires in the Angeles National Forest, implementing techniques and policies more in line with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, according to a county report on the Station Fire released Tuesday night.

The report calls for a “vastly different approach” to both fire prevention and response to wildfires that break out in the Angeles National Forest, specifically because of “its proximity to highly populated urban areas.”

In a key recommendation, the report – which was authored by a group of county fire chiefs – officials said the U.S. Forest Service should reinstitute night-time aerial water drops.

Unlike the county, the U.S. Forest Service does not allow water-dropping helicopters to fly at night. Last week Jim Hubbard, deputy chief for the U.S. Forest Service, said that the agency suspended the nighttime flights because the practice is extremely risky.

U.S. Forest Service could not be reached for comment after the report was released Tuesday night.

While no “particular action or tool may not have changed the outcome of the Station Fire,” the absence of nighttime flights “raises a valid question for the future,” the report said.

“There is no debate that a critical time period existed from initial dispatch on August 26, 2009, until approximately 8:00 a.m. on August 27, 2009, when the fire crossed the Angeles Crest Highway. What was not used were LACoFD firefighting helicopters during the hours of darkness on August 26, 2009, until dawn on August 27, 2009.”

In a phone interview, county Fire Chief Michael Freeman said officials “understand the history of helicopters operating at night and that there have been some tragedies,” but added that his experience in firefighting “says you need to have all the tools available …as opposed to some absolute that says that we do not fly at night.”

“Would such an attack have made a difference in the outcome? No one can say for sure, but such a tactical practice should be the norm for wildland fires in the forest,” the report stated.

The executive report also recommended that the U.S. Forest Service increase its focus on brush clearance around structures in the forest. Currently, the vegetation around structures is cleared for 30 feet.

UPDATE at 10:00 MT, Nov. 18:

We heard from the LA County FD, and they let us know that the report has been posted on an LA County web site. We also have a copy of it on the Wildfire Today site.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.