Several months ago
, we discussed the role of federalism in fighting the Station Fire, the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County history. Since then, news reports have suggested severe problems in coordination. The Los Angeles Times
has uncovered documents relating to the deaths of two county firefighters:
A U.S. Forest Service e-mail written shortly after the deaths addresses the hazards of the fire and refers to the loss of "two people who stayed too long." The e-mail was obtained by The Times along with other records that show that the camp crews were not formally assigned to the Station operation and thus might have been excluded from the commanders' broader strategy of defending critical structures in the forest while ensuring the safety of firefighters. The battle against the fire was managed jointly by the county and the U.S. Forest Service.
The unusual disconnect between the camp and those leading the attack on the biggest fire in county history is evident in dispatch logs that reveal scant contact between the Mt. Gleason crews and the command center. Experts say that violates long-established firefighting protocols that require all agencies to work together on major blazes in the forest, maintaining good communications with each other and sharing information about fire behavior, weather conditions and escape routes.
On December 21, the Times reported
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.