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A SIEGE OF FIRE : Glendale Blaze Victims Meet to Air Concerns, Seek Answers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 250 long-faced victims of the fire that destroyed 46 homes and damaged 20 others in Glendale’s San Rafael Hills gathered at a town hall meeting Friday night called by the city to calm their concerns.

Some had complaints about the way the fire was fought, some were angry because police wouldn’t let them through to protect their homes and others were disgusted by the wave of strangers crawling over their streets in the wake of the blaze. Most, however, came to find out how to go about rebuilding.

Meanwhile, Glendale arson investigators culled dozens of tips from the public Friday but said they had come up with no new useful information in an expanding search for an arson suspect.

Glendale Fire Capt. John Orr said Friday that a flood of about 50 tips and sightings of possibly suspicious behavior of people in five automobiles had only made the picture more complicated.

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At the town hall meeting, Glendale Fire Chief John Montenero came prepared to face anger from residents who could not get firefighters to turn hoses on their burning houses.

In opening remarks, he told the crowd at the Civic Auditorium that the fire spread too fast for fire units from other cities to get in position to protect every home.

“In the meantime, homes are burning,” Montenero said. “Your homes are burning and they’re not being attended to. And that makes you angry.

“We didn’t have the resources because of the magnitude of the fire.”

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Montenero asked residents to work with the city to start a program for replacing wood roofs with fire-retardant materials and developing greenbelts around residential housing areas.

“We now have learned from first-hand experience our limitations and the power of nature,” he said.

However, Don Reece, a resident of Sweetbriar Drive, complained that some firemen didn’t seem to be doing their jobs. Reece said he saw several fire trucks standing idle on Verdugo Road while houses on his street were burning.

“They refused,” he said. “They were sassy.”

Reece said he finally got one fireman to come to his neighbor’s house with a hose, but the fireman then handed it over to the neighbor’s son and left.

“To me, that’s criminal,” Reece said.

Montenero promised Reece that a complete retracing of every engine’s movements during the fire would be completed and made public within a month.

Others were unhappy about police roadblocks that kept them from their homes.

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Reuben Torres, whose house on Foxkirk Drive burned to the ground, said he had installed sprinklers to water the brush along the banks of the Glendale Freeway, but they were never turned on because his wife was stopped by police as she tried to reach the house.

But Torres, like many residents, seemed more unhappy about the dozens of contractors and insurance adjusters milling about the neighborhood, calling them “vultures.”

Although such complaints produced some cheers, most in the audience had practical questions such as whether they had to continue paying their mortgages and how they could get building permits.

They listened politely as a panel of city, county, state and federal officials outlined building permit procedures, applications for disaster loans and property tax allowances.

Throughout the day Friday, an arson task force headed by Orr continued to search for occupants of a late 1970s blue Honda seen near the source of Wednesday’s fire just as it started.

Fire officials initially described that car as the focus of the investigation.

Subsequent eyewitness accounts placed two other cars near the Honda, Orr said. In addition, two more cars aroused suspicions in nearby brushy areas on Tuesday and Thursday.

Witnesses provided the license plate numbers for three of the five cars whose owners are being sought. He said the owners of two of those cars had been contacted by Friday afternoon and cleared of any connection to the fire.

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Arson is suspected because firefighters found an altered butane lighter in the area where the fire began on Verdugo Road.

On Thursday, Glendale Fire Department spokesman Chris Gray said investigators were seeking two men, age 20 to 25, who were seen in the blue Honda.

“The possibility is the blue car is a witness only,” Orr said. “We are urging them to come forward to eliminate them as suspects.”

AIRCRAFT USED TO FIGHT FIRES S-2 Grumman Tracker: Drops phoscheck fire retardant or water as a salvo to douse hot spots or create a control line over which the fire cannot jump. Helicopters: Used to spot fires and drop water from “bambi bucket,” a canvas container with a remote controlled opening at the bottom. In addition to the fire fighting ground crews, airplanes and helicopters re deployed to fight the flames from above. The airplanes have been modified to hold 8 to 12 250 gallon fire retardant/water containers. C-130/Lockheed: Type: Military transport Engines: 4, piston Span: 132 ft. 7 in. Length: 112 ft. 9 in. Fire retardant load: 2,000 gallons DC-4/McDonald Douglas: Type: Transport Engines: 4, piston Span: 117 ft. 6 in. Length: 93 ft. 10 in. Fire retardant load: 2,000 gallons S-2/Grumman Tracker: Type: Anti-submarine Engines: 2, piston Span: 72 ft. 7 in. Length: 43 ft. 6 in. Fire retardant load: 800 gallons Phoscheck is a fire retardant chemical that is added to the water loads of firefighting aircraft. It gives a slimy consistency and turns it bright orange. The chemical, which has fertilizer base, is not harmful to plants or animals. But it enhances the fire quenching properties of water by making it heavier and enabling it to smother as well as douse and cool embers. The orange dye is added so that airborne firefighters can see where they have dumped it.

Sources: The Fresno Bee, U.S. Forest Service, Encyclopedia of the World’s Commercial and Private Aircraft, Jane’s World Aircraft Recognition Handbook.


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