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Residents demand Station Fire answers

September 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Monday night, angry Tujunga Canyon residents wanted to know why more wasn't done to protect their homes during the massive Station Fire. Fire officials held a public meeting Monday night in Tujunga. The residents didn't get all the answers that they wanted. They claim they were forgotten in the firefight, and that most of the vital resources they needed were never sent to their area when they needed them the most.

"Saturday was too late. What happens Friday? What about the decision-making progress on Friday?" asked one resident who attended Monday night's meeting.

Anger and frustration were on display as Tujunga Canyon residents demanded answers. Fire officials were on the hot seat Monday night for their decisions the day the massive Station Fire exploded out of control and roared through Big Tujunga Canyon, destroying numerous homes.

"It's like they don't even know our homes existed," said local resident Rob Driscoll, who lost his home in the fire. "And we still believe that somebody allowed resources to be taken other places, and nobody's admitting to it."

Officials said the fire behavior was like none they ever seen, and said the dangerous conditions forced crews to pull out before lives were lost.

"When you're saying that we didn't care, or you're saying, 'Where was the priority?' Our priority is everybody that's in this room," said L.A. County Fire Dept. Chief Deputy John Tripp.

The largest blaze in L.A. County history claimed the lives of two firefighters, destroyed 89 homes and blackened 250,000 square miles.

Residents say they appreciate all that was done, but feel their tiny community was lost in the chaos.

"La Canada got a lot of firefighters, La Crescenta did," said Bert Voorhees, Tujunga Canyon resident. "And thank god, you know. That saved a bunch of homes there. But we got none."

Monday night, fire officials promised the residents that they would get them the answers they wanted.

The 250-square-mile fire was 98 percent contained Monday night, but a 20-acre spot fire was still burning in an area inaccessible to ground crews.

The Forest Service has admitted that it underestimated the fire in its early onset, before it erupted into the largest wildfire in the history of Los Angeles County.

Angeles Forest Fire Chief David Conklin told The Los Angeles Times that officials thought they had the Station Fire "fairly well contained" on the first day and decided to scale back water-dropping helicopters and crews on the ground.

By the time crews were reassigned to the fire, it had grown out of control.

The Station Fire was set by an arsonist near a ranger station in the San Gabriel Mountains Aug. 26.

It burned more than 160,577 acres, destroyed 89 homes and killed two firefighters, Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, and firefighter Specialist Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 35, of Palmdale.

A $150,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible.

Eyewitness News Reporter Gene Gleeson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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