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Station fire smoke lingers

Federal probes continue while push for night flights stalls.

August 26, 2011

The San Gabriel Mountains are clearly on the mend from the devastation of the Station fire, with flora and fauna coming back and areas reopened for public use. But as the two-year anniversary of the fire arrives, some important matters remain untended, leaving the region more at risk from inevitable future wildfires than it need be.

The mystery of who started the Station fire remains unsolved, but that may not be the most pressing question. What is more important today is developing a plan of action for future fires, as well as a clear understanding of the communication lapse between fire authorities that allowed the fire to explode from a minor wildland blaze to one that burned for seven weeks, wiped out more than 200 structures and took the lives of two firefighters.

On Aug. 27, 2009, the day after the fire started, a lack of coordination among U.S. Forest Service firefighters and county and local firefighters let the fire grow unchecked for hours. Two federal inquiries are under way, and lawmakers have held hearings in Altadena andWashington, D.C., but the smoke around these events lingers two years later.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has advocated that the U.S. Forest Service should scrap its decades-long ban on night flights over difficult terrain. Certainly it is a difficult choice: Flying emergency crews in darkness over uneven terrain in often difficult conditions has proven fatal. But with hundreds of thousands of people living at the forest’s edge, risking no action for hours is nonsensical.

The Forest Service needs to have a plan in place for night flights. This isn’t the only national forest at the edge of an urban area, and it is only a matter of time before a blaze erupts and the call goes out again.

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