Report says findings present “an important case study in how miscalculations and missteps in small but critical areas can result in significant damages… to a community.”
(TNS) - Days after the Orange County Fire Authority released a report critical of the agency’s response to the Canyon 2 Fire, the county is about to issue a separate investigative report that calls for OCFA employees to be disciplined.
Concluding that the fire agency’s response during the early minutes of the Canyon 2 Fire was rife with “human error and potential complacency,” an 80-page report from the county obtained by the Register — slated to be presented publicly later this month — says the findings present “an important case study in how miscalculations and missteps in small but critical areas can result in significant damages… to a community.”
The investigations by the county and the OCFA both say fire personnel essentially ignored early reports of flames on Oct. 9, 2017, the day the fire started. Both also say fire officials were too slow to send equipment and personnel to contain a blaze that burned for eight days, charred 9,200 acres, destroyed 15 houses and 10 other structures, and displaced thousands of residents of Anaheim Hills and North Tustin.
Specifically, the two reports say OCFA officials downplayed a 911 caller’s reports of flames in a canyon at 8:32 a.m. Instead of following protocol, which would require sending personnel and equipment to the scene, they directed firefighters at a station more than a mile away to look outside and report on what they saw.
Those firefighters dismissed the reported flames as wind-blown ashes, an error that prompted an OCFA dispatcher to tell CHP officials that fire reports were “unfounded.” Firefighting equipment wasn’t deployed for another 71 minutes.
But the county’s report also details additional lapses:
-A fire dispatch supervisor was “surprisingly unaware” of wind conditions that prompted the agency to issue a red-flag “high fire danger” warning for Oct. 9.
-In response to assurances from the OCFA that the initial fire reports were “unfounded,” a CHP dispatcher told at least ten 911 callers that there wasn’t a fire. Critically, the miscommunication also prompted the CHP to not forward any of those 911 calls back to the Fire Authority.
-The report also notes that during the county’s investigation of the fire response, CHP officials impeded the probe by withholding key documents and witness statements.
(CHP officials declined to comment.)
– Among the calls ignored by OCFA personnel were at least six reports that came from other firefighters and park rangers who said there was an active fire, not billowing ash, in the canyon.
– After they did determined the canyon was on fire, at 9:43 a.m., the OCFA failed to alert some other emergency agencies for up to 44 minutes.
County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who called for the county probe, said Monday he was outraged that OCFA staff had told a CHP dispatcher that the reports of flames were unfounded – a decision that may have set in motion a destructive chain of events.
“What they were really saying (to CHP) is, ‘Stop calling here,’” Nelson said. “That should never be put on CHP’s shoulders. I blame the Fire Authority for even having the possibility to say that. It just defies logic.”
Fire Authority Battalion Chief Marc Stone said the agency is reviewing an administrative investigation into how its dispatchers responded to two of the Canyon 2 Fire reports and that officials would “take any and all corrective action necessary.” On March 29, after the Fire Authority Report was issued, Dave Anderson, acting chief for OCFA, said he was “committed to making all the changes needed so this doesn’t happen again.”
In addition to recommending disciplinary action for unnamed dispatch personnel, the county report urges the Fire Authority to develop a new training regimen for dispatchers and to improve inter-agency communication. Specifically, the county wants to see development of an electronic system that could automatically notify some responders of wildfire reports.
The report is expected to be reviewed by county supervisors at their April 10 meeting.
Staff writer Tony Saavedra contributed to this report.
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