Monday, December 21, 2009

New Records Contradict Forest Service Claims On Station Fire

Newly released records contradict a finding by the U.S. Forest Service that steep terrain prevented the agency from using aircraft to attack -- and potentially contain -- the Station fire just before it began raging out of control. Experts on Forest Service tactics also dispute the agency's conclusion that helicopters and tanker planes would have been ineffective because the canyon in the Angeles National Forest was too treacherous for ground crews to take advantage of aerial water dumps. Two officers who helped direct the fight on the ground and from the sky made separate requests for choppers and tankers during a critical period on the deadly fire's second day, according to records and interviews. At 12:49 a.m. on Aug. 27, Forest Service dispatch logs show, a division chief made this call for aircraft: "Fire has spotted below the road, about five acres. Order one helitanker, three airtankers, any type. . . . Have them over the fire by 0700 hours." But the airtankers were canceled and the helitanker was significantly delayed, according to dispatch logs, deployment reports and interviews. The Times obtained the logs, reports and volumes of other documents through the federal Freedom of Information Act. Records of the Day 2 battle do not cite the sheerness of the canyon above La CaƱada Flintridge as a reason for withholding the aircraft, which firefighters who were at the scene say might have stopped the blaze from erupting into the disaster that it became. The fire was the largest in Los Angeles County history, killing two firefighters, destroying about 90 dwellings and charring 250 square miles in one of America's most-visited national more

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