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Fire Panel Offers Its To-Do List

March 19, 2004|Cynthia Daniels | Times Staff Writer

A review of aerial firefighting operations, a new wild-vegetation management plan and a request for more federal funding were recommended Thursday by state's new Blue Ribbon Fire Commission.

"The most important thing we can do in fighting the fires is before the fire starts," said retired state Sen. William Campbell, the commission chairman. "Once the Santa Ana winds hit and the fires start, there's not much we can do to stop it."

Formed in November by former Gov. Gray Davis and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after last fall's devastating wildfires, the advisory commission comprises 34 members of federal, state and local agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense and the California Fire Chiefs Assn.

At its meeting Thursday at a Westchester hotel, the group hammered out its final version of about 50 recommendations that focus mainly on public policies, fire prevention and land-use management. The ideas will be passed on to the governor next month.

Southern California residents and fire officials have complained of a lack of communication and improper clearing of wild vegetation, both before and during the fires that struck Southern California in October, burning more than 700,000 acres, damaging more than 3,000 homes and taking 22 lives .

The commission responded to these complaints, suggesting that state, federal and local fire agencies agree on equipment, communications and training criteria and that federal and local agencies expand efforts to reduce combustible vegetation in fire-threatened areas.

Several recommendations would require additional funds, such as buying 50 fire engines, more training for smaller fire departments and replacement of the Department of Forestry and Fire's helicopter fleet.

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