Arsonists paint disaster with brush
Many of the fires that raced through southern California last July left behind evidence of unnatural ignition. In some cases, an arsonist was setting new fires while earlier ones were still burning out of control.
Fire spread was aided in large part by high temperatures (over 90°F), low humidity, and critically low (45% to 60%) live fuel moisture (this is the amount of moisture that is contained in living plants). Flame lengths of 35 feet were witnessed.
The mutual aid plan of the State of California was fully operational during this period of intense fire activity. Strike teams (consisting of one battalion chief and five engines) from many departments were sent throughout the state to assist other agencies. The Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) alone had 16 strike teams out of the city. Three of these teams assisted Ventura County and the United States Forest Service with structural fire protection during the Wheeler Fire.
Closer to home, the Baldwin Hills Fire in Los Angeles called for 29.8% of LAFD’s total resources, which included 27 engines, 16 light forces (one truck and one engine), five helicopters, 11 ambulances, and 35 command and support personnel. Three people died and 50 homes were destroyed in this incident.
All of southern California’s resources were coordinated by Firescope. Several major fire departments belong to this organization, which is operational year round. However, as the number of fire incidents accelerate in southern California, Firescope brings in people to fully staff their command center and control the movement of equipment.
July 4, ordinarily LAFD’s busiest day of the year, brought in a record 3,523 calls and 993 incidents.
All fire agencies are now investigating the incidents and, at presstime, were regrouping for the next period of heavy fire activity—the normal fire season in southern California which extends from September to November when the Santa Ana winds blow 30-50 mph.