GAO will probe Forest Service’s handling of Station fire

A resident talks on her cellphone as a smoky hillside looms behind homes on Boston Avenue in La Crescenta on Tuesday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times

Acting on a request by California lawmakers, the investigative arm of Congress has agreed to conduct a broad inquiry into the U.S. Forest Service’s handling of last year’s devastating Station fire, officials said Wednesday.

The state’s two U.S. senators and several House members last month urged the Government Accountability Office to examine the Forest Service’s decisions and tactics in the fire fight, including its use of aircraft and whether enough was done to protect homes that burned in Big Tujunga Canyon.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said in a statement that the GAO investigation would “help us to better understand the events surrounding the initial response to the Station fire to improve the response to future fires.”

Schiff and other local House members plan to convene a panel in the Los Angeles area in the near future to look into the first stages of the Station fire operation.

A session scheduled for last month was canceled because the legislators were called back to Washington.

In addition, a U.S. inspector general is investigating the Forest Service’s failure to release recordings of telephone dispatch calls to a federal review team and the public.

The Times sought the recordings last year and again this year under the Freedom of Information Act, but Forest Service officials said they did not exist.

The inspector general’s probe could lead to criminal charges, depending on its findings.

The Station fire was the largest in Los Angeles County history, burning 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest and destroying scores of homes and other structures.

Two county firefighters were killed while defending their camp on Mt. Gleason.

The Times reported that the Forest Service misjudged the threat posed by the fire at the end of Day 1, scaled back its attack that evening and did not fill its own commander’s order for a heavy aerial assault shortly after sunup the following morning.

The lawmakers asked the GAO to investigate all those matters.

A GAO spokesman said the inquiry would not begin in earnest for about three months because of other commitments and preparatory work.

Typically, GAO probes produce detailed reports and testimony before Congress.

The office also can refer findings to law enforcement authorities for criminal investigation.