Station fire panel postponed

A congressional panel scheduled for Tuesday in Pasadena on the firefighting problems during the devastating Station fire has been postponed while lawmakers return to Washington D.C. for a special session on jobs-related legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called lawmakers back for a rare August session to deal with a $26-billion jobs bill, meaning the four local representatives who scheduled the panel could no longer attend. No new date has been set for the hearing.

The cancellation comes a day after representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, said they would open a new inquiry into communications failures in the early stages of the fire.

The Station fire blackened 160,000 acres, destroyed dozens of homes and killed two firefighters last summer.

Controversy has lingered regarding early-morning communication on Aug. 27, 2009, between federal and state firefighters about what was at the time a small blaze in the Angeles National Forest.

U.S. Forest Service officials, who do not have authority or equipment for air fire attacks at night, said they asked state firefighters to use air tankers to attack the growing blaze. Officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the feds failed to order the air tankers.

The fire, which had started the previous day, grew out of control later that morning and was not fully contained for more than a month.

The new federal inquiry focuses on telephone calls between the two agencies as the fire was growing — recordings of which only recently surfaced, prompting a fresh round of criticism.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) called for the Aug. 10 panel at Pasadena City College, saying he wanted to end "speculation about the decision-making at the early hours of the fire" and that he wants to reinstate the Forest Service's ability to perform night flights during fires.

Lawmakers presiding over the meeting at were to include Reps. David Dreier (R-Pasadena,) Judy Chu (D-El Monte), Howard McKeon (R- Santa Clarita) and Schiff. Representatives of the Forest Service and other agencies were also expected to take part.

Schiff said in a statement Thursday that he and the other lawmakers sponsoring the meeting "are working together and with the panelists to find another date and time in the near future to convene the panel."

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