A television station in Los Angeles, KTLA, has put together more details about the Station fire and the events that led to the deaths of two Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters and the burn over of Camp 16 on August 30, a facility housing inmate firefighters. KTLA obtained, through federal and state disclosure laws, U. S. Forest Service and county dispatch logs, the “daily summaries” (ICS-209, Incident Status Summary?), e-mails, and volumes of other records. The Station fire started on August 26 near Los Angeles, burned 160,000 acres, and killed two county firefighters, Capt. Tedmund Hall and Spc. Arnaldo Quinones.
A key focus of KTLA’s inquiry was what led to the burn over of Camp 16, the destruction all of the facilities there, and the deaths of the two firefighters who were killed while trying to find an escape route for the others at the camp.
The burn over of Camp 16 occurred on day 4 of the fire, a period of time in the life of a fire by which most of the essential pieces of the fire suppression puzzle are in place and the typical chaos has been converted to an appearance of order.
Since the camp was never evacuated, it appears that the incident management team running the Station fire either forgot about Camp 16, assumed it was not occupied, hoped it was fire-safe, or thought they would take care of themselves, since the personnel at the camp were all firefighters. You have to wonder, also, what the thought process was on days 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the Los Angeles County Fire Department which managed the fire personnel at the facility, and if there was anything that could have been done before the fire to reduce the chances of the facility being totally destroyed when the inevitable fire visited the area.
Below is an excerpt from the article by KTLA.
…County Fire Chief Deputy John Tripp, the No. 2 executive in the department, said he did not believe that the camp had been an afterthought to the commanders. He also said that his agency had “some communications” with the crews during the firefight. A county review of the response to the Station blaze termed those communications “sporadic.”
Asked if it had been too risky for firefighters to stay at the camp, Tripp said, “That I can’t talk about yet.” He deferred to an inquiry into the deaths by the county and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, whose findings are due to be released in the coming days.
Don Feser, former fire chief of the Angeles National Forest, said it was senseless to have kept crews at the camp, especially because they were waiting for the blaze to reach them rather than actively confronting it.
“It wasn’t like there was any engagement going on,” he said. “It was an oversight, I’m guessing, in the county command system. . . . They either forgot about them, or the people who were calling shots for the county were oblivious about what could happen to them.”
Feser, who retired in 2007 after seven years as chief, said it was a mistake not to include the camp in the wider Station fire fight: “The incident command teams should have been double-checking to make sure that they didn’t have anybody out there, that everybody’s been evacuated.”
A preliminary county report and interviews show the crews had abandoned any hope of taking a stand against the fast-moving fire on that fateful Sunday morning, Aug. 30, and instead scrambled for cover in a dining hall and their vehicles.
“It got to the point where there was no oxygen to breathe,” said the firefighter who was at the camp.
At 4:15 p.m., “fire conditions around the camp began to deteriorate very rapidly,” the report states. At 5:15, it says, “an accounting of all personnel began, and it was determined that two personnel were missing.” At 5:41, this chilling entry appears in Forest Service dispatch logs: “Camp 16 has been burned over.”
As the flames roared up through the camp, exploding through the treetops, the crew members sought refuge in the dining hall, then were marshaled outside as the fire surrounded the building; they huddled in trucks and engines, and some unfolded hand-held shelters, according to witnesses and records. “We thought we were going to die,” said the firefighter who was on Mt. Gleason.