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Southland Firefighters, Equipment Join Battle Against Northern Blazes

September 05, 1987|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

More than 4,400 firefighters and 186 pieces of equipment have been sent from Southern California this week to help battle the fires that are ravaging the northern two-thirds of the state.

The support effort, directed from the California Department of Forestry's regional headquarters in Riverside, has been drawing on resources provided through four major agencies, including the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Los Angeles County, in turn, has been drawing on other resources--the Orange County Fire Department, for example--as well as providing its own personnel and equipment.

'They Haven't Asked'

The Los Angeles City Fire Department has aircraft, fire engines and firefighters ready to join the fray, "but they haven't asked for anything from us yet," public information officer Gary Svider said.

The personnel provided under the regional program so far include camp crew members who attack individual blazes with shovels and double-bladed hoes, engineers who man the pumper trucks that provide the water for the front-line firefighters and command personnel to direct their efforts.

The equipment includes bulldozers to cut fire breaks, helicopters and aerial tankers to drop water on hot spots and trucks of all types--fire trucks, tanker trucks, crew trucks, food trucks and trucks to haul in the heavy earth-moving equipment.

As the local firefighters and their machinery head north, other firefighting units in Southern California are redeployed to fill in the gaps.

"It's like fighting a war," said Sharon Stewart, a spokeswoman at the Riverside command center.

Organized under the statewide Master Mutual Aid Agreement, the regional support program is called FIRESCOPE, standing for Firefighting Resources of Southern California Organized Against Potential Emergencies. The program has been used repeatedly since it was developed in 1975, prompted by problems experienced during a series of fires in 1970, Stewart said.

In addition to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Stewart said, the other major agencies through which support is funneled are the U.S. Forest Service, the state Department of Forestry and the state's Office of Emergency Services.

Efforts Began Tuesday

Los Angeles County Battalion Chief Gordon Pearson said his department, working out of the county's Emergency Operations Center in East Los Angeles, began dispatching personnel Tuesday to fires in Kern, Madera and Mono counties.

By noon Friday, he said, more than 450 firefighters and as many as 90 vehicles from Los Angeles and nearby counties had been dispatched through the East Los Angeles center to front-line duty farther north.

The Forest Service has sent north more than 150 firefighters normally assigned to the Angeles National Forest, along with equipment that includes 11 fire engines, two air tankers and an "attack plane" that directs the tankers on their water drops.

Marilyn Hartley, a Forest Service spokeswoman, said that leaves the forest with only about half its normal firefighting force, but that resources can be deployed from the nearby Cleveland and Las Padres national forests and by the Los Angeles County Fire Department under the mutual aid pact if a fire breaks out in the mountains flanking the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

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