California firefighters were 'distracted' as wealthy, high-profile residents kept asking about their properties during wildfires: Report

An after-action report of the wildfire said that the requests were mostly filed to ensure the safety of specific homes as the fires rapidly spread through the county


                            California firefighters were 'distracted' as wealthy, high-profile residents kept asking about their properties during wildfires: Report

Fire officials in Los Angeles were reportedly distracted by special requests that came in from politicians and high-profile residents in the first crucial hours of the massive Woolsey Fire that engulfed the area in November last year.

An after-action report of the wildfire said that the requests were mostly filed to ensure the safety of specific homes as the fires rapidly spread through the county.

The LA Times reported on April 26 that the review did not mention any specific politicians or VIPs who were involved or even how the requests affected the massive battle against the raging flames.

Buildings burn during the Woolsey Fire on November 9, 2018, in Malibu, California (Source: David McNew/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Fire Assistant Chief Tim Ernst said in the interview with the Times on Friday: "We have to understand we probably have some of the wealthiest communities in America, and with that comes a certain amount of political power."

He also said that any requests by citizens should go through the proper channels in order to make sure that they do not become a distraction to the larger problem at hand. Ernst then added that requests from politicians are common during most large-scale wildfires.

He added: "We don’t see probably the same type of requests if we’re in a poor community in Northern California, as opposed to in Southern California, where I think there’s a higher expectation with people being able to call someone in city government and ask questions about their properties, and I think that was the gist of this particular challenge."

Los Angeles County firefighter looks on as the out of control Woolsey Fire explodes behind a house in the West Hills neighborhood on November 9, 2018, in Los Angeles (Source: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

It was reported that four people died in the fire that began on November 8 and that ravaged 96,949 acres of land. It was considered the most destructive wildfire in modern California history having destroyed more than 1,600 structures in the blaze.

The Times reported that the Ventura County Fire Department had used up most of its resources on the Hill Fire which began before the Woolsey Fire but which burned less than 5,000 acres. This left the LAFD and the LA County Fire Department to bring the large Woolsey Fire under control all by themselves.

In the initial hours of the fire, the firefighters reportedly did not have enough water, direction, or communication from fire incident leaders. The scale of the Woolsey Fire quickly worsened the problems that normally occur during brush fire situations. There was also very dangerous fire weather conditions the week of the blaze.

Los Angeles County firefighters look on as the out of control Woolsey Fire explodes behind a house in the West Hills neighborhood on November 9, 2018, in Los Angeles (Source: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Meteorologists had warned the same day of the Hill and Woolsey fires that the humidity was low, grass and brush was dry, and that the Santa Ana winds would increase the same evening. LAFD Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said in the city fire commission meeting in November: "We knew the weather was going to be bad days in advance."

He continued: "We staffed up. We had the department operations center fully staffed. We were launching a lot of resources. At our peak, we had 10 strike teams, about 50 engines. About 1/3 of all our fire apparatus were in that fire, and we have to support the region, especially L.A County."