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Station Fire teaches fire department lessons

June 7, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Angeles Crest Highway remains closed down because of last year's Station Fire and the winter floods that followed. Los Angeles County Fire officials have learned many lessons from the devastating blaze that killed two firefighters. However they're still digging for the most important piece of information: who started it. It's been nine months since the Station Fire roared out of control in a canyon above La Canada and began its deadly march through 160,000 acres of brush and trees. Much has been made of the U.S. Forest Service's delay the second morning of the fire in calling in helicopters and aerial tankers.

L.A. County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said in the months since the fire started, coordination and communication have improved, and he said the Station Fire was not wind-driven, and that made it hard to read.

"This was not a wind-driven fire, but we saw the tremendous damage and devastation, and how difficult it was to contain this fire, and again that's an important lesson for everyone to learn about the importance of clearing brush, and being prepared, because it doesn't have to be a Santa Ana wind condition to have a tremendous fire growth," said Freeman.

Freeman said the firebug who started the worst blaze in county history has yet to be caught, but sheriff's homicide investigators continue to pursue every lead. The county recently extended the $50,000 reward to September to aid in the hunt.

"I know they've followed up on virtually every lead they received, and they continue to follow those leads," said Freeman. "I think there is a person of interest, but there are some other issues that they continue to work on."

When he or she is caught, the arsonist faces murder charges, because L.A. County Fire Captain Ted Hall and firefighter Arnie Quinones died fighting the blaze.

"It's been a very difficult time, because all of us in the fire service suffered the loss of two brother firefighters, but we continue to work, to hone our skills, our coordination and so that we are operating seamlessly to protect lives and property," said Freeman.

Freeman said that his department is now designing evacuation guidelines for the most exposed fire stations and camps, so in the future when a dangerous fire threatens, the decision to evacuate will be automatic and not left up to someone who may not want to go.

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