USA — Requests for air tankers and other resources initially went unfulfilled last summer in what would become the largest blaze in Los Angeles County history, a newspaper reported Monday.
In a report to the U.S. Forest Service obtained by the Los Angeles Times, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. Perri Hall said he asked for tankers, a lead plane and helicopters shortly before 7 a.m. on the fire’s second day, when it had only burned a few acres.
The tankers Hall requested did not take off for nearly two hours, after the fire jumped the Angeles Crest Highway and began its rapid spread. The Station Fire scorched 250 square miles, destroyed 89 homes and left two firefighters dead.
“The fire began a good run up a ridge perpendicular to the highway,” wrote Hall, who had been deployed Aug. 27 to direct an air assault on what began as a few acres of brush burning in the Angeles National Forest. “This run resulted in the fire jumping the highway.”
Hall’s report appeared to contradict findings of a Forest Service review, which concluded that an aerial assault on the fire’s second day would not have stopped its spread, since mop-up crews would be kept from reaching the site by rough terrain.
Hall had concluded that conditions were good for knocking down the blaze with air tankers during his early morning flight and made no mention of terrain problems in his report.
A California Fire spokeswoman told The Associated Press that Hall was on vacation and not immediately available for comment. A message seeking comment on Monday form the Forest Service was not immediately returned.
Hall said in his report that his first attempts to radio in a request for air tankers was not answered.
When he finally reached Angeles National Forest dispatchers by radio, he requested the deployment of water-dropping airplanes planes and helicopters to put out what was then a three- to four-acre blaze, but was told that the aircraft would not be available until 9 a.m.
The planes were deployed at 8:40 a.m., but by then winds had picked up and the sun had started drying the surrounding chaparral into highly combustible tinder.
“As the sun came up from behind the ridge to the east the down canyon wind began to increase and started pushing this new fire parallel to the highway,” he said.