Report says Forest Service slow to respond to Station Fire due to cost concerns

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Los Angeles County fire fighters Pat Dunham (L) and Steve Bermau look on as the out of control Station Fire threatens a home on near Ocean View Drive in the La Canada Flintridge foothills above Los Angeles on August 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.

A new report on last year’s Station Fire says the U.S. Forest Service was slow to react because it was worried about spending money. The report comes from the Agriculture Department – which oversees the Forest Service. Italso comes a day before a congressional hearing in Pasadena on the Station Fire battle plan.

The report says Forest Service managers were focused on holding down costs. The Service has strict rules for when to use its own air tankers against a fire – but it often calls in state and local agencies to do the job, and pays them back.

Those agencies were ready, but weren’t called. The report says Forest Service managers held back in part because of a standing instruction from higher-ups that told them to limit costs.

Without a strong first day air assault, the Station Fire moved quickly through the Angeles National Forest. The report says later, the Forest Service chose to protect homes and radio towers – and didn’t use a sustained firefighting effort to keep the flames out of the woods behind Mount Wilson.

A former Forest Service fire prevention officer told AP that “they let it burn one of the most valuable watersheds in the world.” Two firefighters died in the Station Fire – and 250 square miles of forest land was lost.

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