Following nearly a week of criticism of his agency's response to Canyon Fire 2, Orange County Fire Authority Interim Chief Patrick McIntosh announced Wednesday that he will ask his agency's board of directors on Thursday to authorize an independent review of the authority's actions when the blaze broke out.
OCFA officials uncovered information about a call to the California Highway Patrol at 8:28 a.m. on Oct. 9, reporting flames in the area where the 9,200-acre blaze broke out near the Riverside (91) Freeway and Gypsum Canyon Road, McIntosh said.
About 5:41 a.m. that morning, OCFA sent fire trucks from a station in Yorba Linda to help firefighters in the deadly Northern California wildfires, McIntosh said. That meant officials had to send out a call to off-duty firefighters in the agency to backfill that station, he added.
So when the 8:28 a.m. call came in to the CHP, that agency alerted OCFA by 8:32 a.m., McIntosh said.
Personnel at the station, who were not authorized to drive a truck to the blaze, were asked to go "take a quick look outside" to see if it was serious, McIntosh said.
The workers reported "a lot of ash coming off the canyon area, but they did not see any fire," McIntosh said.
At 9:27 a.m., another motorist passing by Gypsum Canyon Road reported seeing flames east of the 91 and south of the 241 in the burned-out area of the first Canyon Fire, McIntosh said.
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At that time, firefighters from another station near the Yorba Linda one were sent to do a "smoke check," McIntosh said. They reported a spot in the burned-out area, he added.
By 9:39 a.m., a "column of smoke" is seen, prompting a captain to roll out to the scene and alert another fire station so they could have a full response to it, which was a "good decision," McIntosh said.
The fire chief said he thinks "things could have been done differently" that morning, but wanted to leave it up to an independent reviewer to make recommendations before getting too specific about criticism.
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who also serves on the fire authority board, said the OCFA should not have deployed mutual aid to the Northern California blaze without having that station backfilled right away.
"When we know we're going to have red-flag conditions we can't deploy mutual aid outside our county and leave our flank unprotected,'' Spitzer said.
Also, Spitzer added, the fire authority should have had eyes on the Canyon Fire 1 area to make sure no hot spots or embers were kicked up.
Spitzer wants the Board of Supervisors to approve an independent review that could also go over the fire authority's independent analysis of the fire response.
McIntosh also said his investigators have all but ruled out that a fire reported by Anaheim police the evening before at Sierra Peak could have sparked the Canyon Fire 2 blaze, which destroyed 25 structures and injured four.