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Fire touts new tactics

Fire Department shows off new equipment as pilots demonstrate latest techniques for officials

Posted: September 7, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: September 7, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Command pilot Bob Hawthorne shows controls in the cockpit of an Erickson Air-Crane -Helitanker at Van Nuys Airport on Tuesday.

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VAN NUYS — Lessons learned from the deadly Station Fire of 2009 have changed the way local firefighters do their jobs, fire officials said Tuesday.

Strategic changes made to fire-fighting protocol now call for a united response involving all local fire-fighting agencies, and calls for a consolidation of all available resources.

The revised strategy is intended to stop wildfires raging out of control simply because they happen outside a defined area of jurisdiction.

In August 2009, the Station Fire was allowed to rage for days because it occurred inside the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service.

Today, the same fire would be met with the full unified force of all local firefighting agencies, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries.

Such was the case Monday when a fire erupted in Agua Dulce and jumped to 500 acres within a short period of time.

“The Super Scoopers came on board Sept. 1, and they were immediately able to be utilized in the Santa Clarita Valley and put out that fire, save life and save property,” Los Angeles County Mayor Michael D. Antonovich said Tuesday.

“Had we had the use of the Super Scoopers at the Station Fire time, and had the federal government utilized them, we could have saved life and property.”

Station Fire
The Station Fire claimed the lives of two Los Angeles County firefighters, scorched almost 170,000 acres and destroyed more than 100 homes after it erupted Aug. 26, 2009. The blaze destroyed some structur02es in the Acton-Agua Dulce area but spared most of the SCV.

Antonovich, whose sprawling north county district takes in the Santa Clarita Valley, has been critical of the Forest Service’s policy on a number of issues such as deciding against water drops at night.

Failing to use Super Scoopers early in firefighting efforts is now unlikely to happen with revised strategy impacting federal land, county officials said Tuesday during a Fire Department “media day” at Van Nuys Airport.

“That was the federal government’s call. They did not want them.” Antonovich said of Super Scoopers and the Station Fire.

“Since that time, the Los Angeles County Fire Department is going to utilize all air support, regardless, when there is a fire in U.S. Forest property that impacts our citizens’ homes.”

When it was suggested that Agua Dulce is the perfect location to put that new strategy to the test, he said: “Absolutely, absolutely.”

Firefighting power
On Tuesday morning, Antonovich joined fellow county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and fire chiefs on the tarmac of the Van Nuys Airport on Daily Drive to watch pilots demonstrate key firefighting aircraft that included: the CL-415 SuperScooper, Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk, Erickson Air-Crane Helitanker and Bell 412 helicopter.

Only 24 hours earlier, the very same aircraft were dousing 500 acres of brush burning in Agua Dulce with aircraft-carried water, in one of the first wildfires of the county’s 2011 fire season.

Battalion Chief Jon O’Brien said a review of Monday’s firefighting efforts in Agua Dulce revealed all went according to plan.

“Aircraft were out there quick. We had ground units in there quick. We had additional units brought in really quick,”

O’Brien said. “We had the Santa Clarita Valley covered and units from the Basin up there, as well. So everything went well.”

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