Station Fire Strikes Close to Campus

Isiah Reyes

Los Angeles County’s largest fire in history smoldered houses, blazed trees and burned through the state’s firefighting budget as thousands of residents, including GCC students, were affected by the raging inferno.

According to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the Station Fire has burned 157,220 acres of land, destroyed 78 homes and threatened another 7,000 structures. It is only one of the many fires that have been consuming the foothills near Los Angeles since it broke out on Aug. 26, at 3:20 p.m.
Other fires include the Morris Fire (at least five injuries reported); the Oak Glen Fire (threatened 2,000 homes) and the Rancho Palos Verdes Fire (near Long Beach, burning 235 acres).

The estimated cost of damage is $57.6 million. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has stated that the funding to fight the fires does not come from the state budget. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been authorized to use federal funds to help fight the Station Fire.

“The bottom line is we will take whatever actions are necessary to ensure the budget will never be an obstacle to put crews on these wildfires,” Schwarzenegger’s finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said.

The government has already spent more than half of its annual firefighting budget two months into the fiscal year.

About 27,000 or more low-risk inmates were released to fight the fires. They are useful for their cheap, abundant labor.

Tragically, Fire Fighter Specialist Arnaldo “Arnie” Quinones, 34, and Fire Captain Tedmund D. “Ted” Hall, 47, lost their lives to the fire as they tried to protect their fire-crew camp, made up mostly of prison inmates.

Around 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 30, in the Mount Gleason area, south of Acton, Hall and Quinones guided 55 inmates and several corrections and fire personnel into a dining hall to protect them from the fire.

Soon after, as they searched for an escape on an engine truck, they plummeted 800 feet down the mountainside, falling to their deaths.

Quinones leaves behind his pregnant wife, Loressa, who is awaiting the couple’s first child in the next few weeks. Hall is survived by his wife, Katherine, sons Randall, 21, and Steven, 20, and parents, Roland Ray and Donna Marie Hall.

Officials state that the fires were set by an arsonist. Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials started a homicide investigation Sept. 3, while the L.A. City Council added $50,000 to the already established $100,000 reward set by the state of California for the arrest and conviction of the arsonist responsible for the fires.

To determine how the flames began, Jeff Tunnell, a wildfire investigator for the Bureau of Land Management, said, “Fire creates evidence as well as destroys it. We can follow fire progression back to the point at which it started.”

More than 4,800 firefighters have been battling the fires. A total of seven helicopters, 11 air tankers, 433 fire engines, and 60 bull dozers were being used in the firefight, officials said.
About 21 firefighters have been injured battling the Station Fire.

The fires eventually lowered in intensity due to favorable weather conditions.
According to the Air Quality Management District, the air quality from Santa Clarita through Riverside all the way to Palm Springs and even further out east is at moderate, which is a step more harmful than “good” air.

Although air quality is often unhealthy without fires, the quality of air during the firestorm was almost hazardous when the firestorm was at its strongest and any outdoor activity was discouraged.

The Salvation Army set up a mobile kitchen at La Canada High School in the West San Gabriel Valley to help feed evacuees who have taken off from their homes. It is only one of the many evacuation centers established in response to the fires.

Some evacuation centers for residents include La Canada High School, Verdugo Hills High School and Golden Valley High School. Several animal evacuation centers include Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, Pierce College (for horses, mules and donkeys) and Agoura Animal Shelter (for small animals only).

The Wildlife Waystation, located in Little Tujunga Canyon, provides sanctuary to wild and exotic animals from around the world. About 90 percent of the 400 animals that reside at the Waystation were evacuated to safety.

Some members of the GCC faculty were affected as well. Ken Gray, theater arts professor, lost his home to the flames in Tujunga and Jean Perry, department chairperson of the language arts division, evacuated to her friend’s house in Tujunga rather than the La Canada’s High School gym.

The fires have raised many questions about home insurance. Allstate was among other insurance companies answering questions to concerned evacuees in tents outside evacuation centers.

The estimated containment date for the Station Fire was Sept. 15, and as the fire proved to be less and less of a threat to houses, evacuees were being let back into their homes to see what still remains.

People wishing to donate money to help the families of the two fatally injured firefighters can send donations to:
Memorial fund at the
F&A Credit Union,
P.O. Box 30831,
Los Angeles, CA 90030-9972.