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This Is Irritating

CBS has an article up that apparently ran on their nightly news that asks the question: Was Massive L.A.-Area Blaze Mismanaged?

The basis for questioning the response to the Station Fire:

  • There was a memo sent to Forest Service offices to watch their budgets, especially overtime, about three weeks before the fire.
  • People who lost property to the fire didn’t think the response was adequate.
  • At one point early in the fire, the resources used for the fire were reduced.

First off, the Federal fiscal year ends on September 30. In August of every year I was in the Air Force there was a commander’s call about watching expenditures, and I assume that the same thing happened in every Federal agency. When I worked for the state and for corporations the year usually ended June 30, and the memo was sent in May.

The man with the severe burns ignored the order to evacuate, which resulted in his injuries. He and his friend thought the hot tub would protect them, and they were wrong.

As for the resource issue, I would point out that Morris Fire started the day before the Station Fire in the Angeles Forest which split local resources. Further, with the budgetary woes of every level of government in California, the mutual aid system was not operating as it had in earlier years. There were fewer resources available, and people were slow to respond.

On August 29, there were Fires All Over California, as reported on the CBS News site, further stretching available resources.

The Station Fire was arson. It was set deliberately, with full knowledge that resources were tied up fighting the Morris Fire. There were triple digit temperatures, and single digit humidity over a wide area of the state, which was experiencing a major drought.

The people in charge have been playing back everything they did since the crisis ended. Two firefighters died, and structures were lost. That bothers professionals, and they are looking for answers, and wondering what they could have done differently. If CBS is going to question the decision-making process, at a minimum they should put things is context, and supply the context to their viewers.

3 comments

1 Jack K., the Grumpy Forester { 10.15.09 at 10:08 am }

…I don’t think this bubble-headed sort of second-guessing will ever go away. Most people don’t know, because the bobbleheads are always chattering about The Deficit, that federal agencies like the Forest Service are forbidden by law from deficit spending and, yes, these letters are seen on an almost annual basis. Beyond that, nobody ever thinks the response was adequate in cases where fires get away (even though none of them usually has sufficient experience or judgement to make such a call), and it would seem to make sense to me that – if the early fire was inaccessible to crews as the report says – pulling the equivalent of two crews off this fire makes sense if there are other incidents needing resources…

It seems like there is always, after the fact, some effort to fix blame in fires like this, although those efforts don’t always make it all the way to a national media outlet. As is usually the case, here we have uninformed context-free speculation that gets the stage of public attention all to itself because the agency isn’t going to comment without a clear after-action understanding of what went down…
.-= last blog ..Breaking: Obama Doesn’t Travel to Crawford =-.

2 Lab Kat { 10.15.09 at 10:24 am }

Completely off-topic: I love the Halloween graphic! 🙂
.-= last blog ..Perhaps “Father of the Year” might have been more appropriate =-.

3 Bryan { 10.15.09 at 1:38 pm }

Jack, when I was in law enforcement one of the things I got saddled with was dealing with the inter-governmental hassles over coverage. Someone wanted extra patrols and I got to tell them that if they were ready to give me part of their budget to pay for them, or to back our budget requests instead of fighting them every year, they might get them, but we were out of money and it wasn’t going to happen.

I seem to remember that the number of aircraft shot up on September 1 because a state contract started on that date, making those resources available, specifically the DC-10s, the Mars Superscooper, and the 747.

The winds were light for the first days, and there was nothing in the forecast to indicate any massive break-through. There weren’t any roads for a direct attack, so I don’t know what the ground crews could have done. I do know that people still hadn’t cleared around their buildings.

The Morris Fire was near a dam that was very important to the water supply, and vital during a drought. I would assume that it had a much higher priority that widely dispersed cabins that were generally vacation homes.

With everything they could muster, they almost lost Mount Wilson and a lot of underground cable melted. I don’t know what they thought a few water drops were going to do against a fire fueled by bone-dry chaparral.

Locally, we had three houses burn to the ground in the last month with under 10 minute responses and fire hydrants within 300 feet. People died and the fire departments don’t understand why, because it shouldn’t have happened. Everything worked, and yet, they lost the buildings and people died.

It was a big fire, and it will take a long time to analyze, much less issue any conclusions. The same people making accusations still vote for people who refuse to adequately fund the government, so, in the end, you get what you are willing to pay for, and always will. You may get less, but I have never known a situation where you got more.

LK, thank you.