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Was Orange County's devastating Canyon Fire 2 preventable?

Firemen survey the damage to homes in the Anaheim Hills neighborhood on October 9, after the Canyon Fire 2 spread quickly through the area. Some local leaders are now questioning whether the fire could have been stopped before it got out of control. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

The Orange County Board of Supervisors is demanding answers to alleged missteps in the OC Fire Authority’s response to the so-called Canyon Fire 2. At the board’s Tuesday meeting, Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Todd Spitzer  questioned why firefighters didn’t take initial reports of the fire more seriously, among other questions that have emerged about the fire response. 

Last week, the fire authority released a timeline of its actions on Oct. 9, the day the fire started, along with recordings of several 911 calls it received from people who reported seeing smoke and flames that morning. 

One man who was driving on the 91 freeway called at 8:32 a.m. to report seeing flames on a hill above the 241 toll road. 

After pressing the man on whether he actually saw flames, the dispatcher called the nearest fire station and asked them to "send somebody out there to go check outside and see if you guys see a fire over there by the 91 and like, I don’t know, 241 area."

Shortly afterwards, someone from the station called the dispatch center back to say it seemed to be just ash from the first Canyon Fire, which had burned an adjacent area less than two weeks earlier. 

Firefighters didn’t initiate a full response to the fire until more than an hour later. By that time, it was burning out of control and threatening homes. Several thousand residents were ordered to evacuate later that morning.   

On Tuesday, Supervisor Nelson slammed the Fire Authority for not taking the first 911 call more seriously. 

"The gentleman said 'fire,' 'flames,' and he was challenged, as if the average person wouldn’t know fire when they saw it."

Supervisor Spitzer called that initial response "inexcusable."

The supervisors also questioned why an engine from a fire station near the area where the Canyon Fire 2 started had been sent to Sonoma County earlier that morning, despite warnings from the National Weather Service of extreme fire danger in the area. 

"On a Santa Ana wind day in October, you could have a major problem instantly," Nelson said.

Interim Fire Chief Patrick McIntosh told supervisors he took the allegations about a slow response seriously.

"I do believe there are questions we need answers to," he said.

The OC Fire Authority’s Board of Directors has authorized an independent investigation of firefighters’ response to Canyon Fire 2. The board of supervisors is launching its own inquiry into the response via an ad hoc committee made up of Spitzer and Nelson.