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Station Fire still burning strong

September 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fire officials said a night of cooler temperatures and higher humidity helped them gain ground on the massive Station Fire and report the blaze is more than half contained.The fire has burned 157,220 acres of the Angeles National Forest and is 51 percent contained. It is now the largest fire in L.A. County history, and the cost of fighting it is up to $43.5 million so far. Full containment on the blaze is expected on Sept. 15. Sunday, crews were able to contain the fire's western flank from Pacoima to Eaton Canyon. The focus will continue on to the fire's eastern edge which is still burning out of control in the San Gabriel Wilderness along Highway 39.

Fire officials say active flames are still burning despite the 1.5 million gallons of retardant and 2.5 million gallons of water dropped on the blaze. Firefighters report a small flare up near Mount Wilson, but they got it under control.

The weather is also a big factor in the firefight, and officials say that the winds are helping to keep the fires away from the Monrovia, Arcadia, Duarte and Sierra Madre areas.

U.S. Forest Service investigators say forensic evidence collected from the Station Fire's point of origin shows the wildfire was deliberately set. So far no arrests have been made, but after the deaths of two firefighters, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has launched a homicide investigation.

"The sheriff's homicide is known as the bulldogs," says Jim Lopez of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

"They will not rest, I can guarantee you. As you know, homicide investigations are never closed out, they always remain active," Lopez added.

An emotional tribute was held Friday morning as 1,200 to 1,500 firefighters that gathered to say their personal goodbyes to the two firefighters killed in the Station Fire.

Capt. Ted Hall and firefighter Arnie Quinones both died Sunday afternoon when their vehicle went over the side of a steep mountain road.

The hearse carrying Hall's body and a procession of firefighters and police officers made their way from North Hollywood to an Inland Empire mortuary.

Eyewitness News was told that one of the vehicles in the procession is the same vehicle that Hall was driving on the day of the accident, which was also the vehicle that he drove everyday on the job.

Friends of the two firefighters say the pair had just finished a crucial firing operation that helped save fellow firefighters.

"Those crews up there got to an area that they pre-lit, and that's where they got enough air to survive," said Capt. Larry Tucker of the Los Angeles Fire Deparment, "and that's how 60 other people survived, but unfortunately, Ted and Arnie didn't make it back to the safe zone."

"Arnie, he had a motto on the back of his tattoo. It said, 'First in, last out.' He truly lived by that," said Tucker.

"Ted, he was just a giver. He gave of himself, was a true leader," said Capt. Glenn Goulet of his fellow firefighter.

Quinones' body was taken to a mortuary on Thursday. He was just about to become a father when he died.

"It was just important to bring closure," said Paul Lowenthal from the Santa Rosa Fire Department.

"It's not only a family within your own station. It's a family across the state, across the country, so we all look out for one another, and take it seriously," he said.

A public memorial is set up for the firefighters on Sept.12 at Dodgers Stadium.

The latest on the fire is as follows:

  • 157,220 acres
  • 51 percent contained
  • 7,000 structures threatened
  • 76 homes destroyed
  • 86 outbuildings destroyed (including garages, sheds, gazebos)
  • 3 commercial buildings destroyed
  • 2 communication sites
  • 10 homes damaged
  • 17 outbuildings damaged
  • 2 firefighter fatalities
  • 7 injuries
The Station Fire broke out Aug. 26 at mile marker 29. The heavy brush and low humidity caused the fire to spread rapidly.

Dietrich, the Station Fire incident commander, said fire crews made excellent progress battling the blaze Thursday.

However, six firefighters were injured Thursday after being exposed to hazardous material while conducting mop-up operations on the northeast corner of the fire.

"They were mopping up on the ground and hit some hot spots. And some gas of some type came up from the site and they felt nauseous and were transported to the hospital," said Dietrich.

The firefighters were not seriously injured and were recovering.

Flareups prompted authorities to evacuate 25 homes Thursday morning in the Pacoima Canyon area. Officials asked residents in the Dillon Divide, Pacoima Creek area to clear out by 7 a.m.

These evacuation orders as well as all othesr have been lifted. However, the Dukmejian Wilderness Park and bulk of the Angeles National Forest was closed and will remain off-limits at least through the holiday weekend.

Despite concluding that the fire was arson, fire and sheriff's officials did not immediately say exactly how the fire was started.

Authorities are asking for the public's help to find the person or persons responsible for starting the Station Fire. Anyone with information is asked to call L.A. County Sheriff's homicide detectives at (323) 890-5500.

People wishing to donate money to help the families of the two fatally injured firefighters can send donations to: Memorial fund at the F&A Credit Union
P.O. Box 30831
Los Angeles, CA 90030-9972

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