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Fire Chief Criticized Over College Hills Blaze Gets New Post

August 15, 1991

Glendale Fire Chief John Montenero, who was heavily criticized for his handling of last year's College Hills fire, will leave his post to become chief of Santa Monica's 122-member department.

Montenero, 51, will start his new job next month, Santa Monica officials said.

His 6 1/2 years at the helm of the Glendale department were marred last year by the criticism from victims of the disastrous fire in June, 1990, which destroyed or damaged 64 homes and caused $19 million in damage.

Glenmore Canyon residents charged that the Fire Department sacrificed their neighborhood by allowing houses to burn for up to two hours before sending firefighters there. In November, protesters urged the Glendale City Council to oust the chief.

However, the council stood by Montenero's explanation that it was necessary to send available fire engines farther east to prevent the fire from burning into Pasadena. He said that the strategy may have saved 700 houses and that he would make the same decision again.

"I am very sorry to see him go," City Councilman Larry Zarian said. "He has been an excellent chief and done a very good job."

After the fire, Montenero urged the council to adopt ordinances to require residents to clear brush from around their homes and replace wood shingle roofs. The council adopted the brush clearance ordinance but made no change in current policy, which prohibits wood roofs from being installed.

The selection of Montenero to replace retiring Santa Monica Chief Tom Tolman was announced by Santa Monica City Manager John Jalili on Tuesday.

Jalili said Santa Monica investigated the complaints about Montenero's handling of the fire but found the charges were "absolutely not" a concern.

"When fire goes roof-to-roof, you can't always put it out," Jalili said.

Montenero, 51, is a San Francisco native. He was fire chief in Corte Madera and Monterey before taking over the Glendale department.

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