Cal Fire crew at Canyon Fire
Officials battling Canyon Fire 2. Courtesy Cal Fire

Amid questions over the Orange County Fire Authority’s response time to the Canyon Fire 2, Anaheim officials announced Monday the agency has changed its protocol for responding to mutual-aid blazes.

Anaheim firefighters were first called about the brush fire — which eventually charred 9,200 acres, destroyed 25 structures and injured four people — at 9:26 a.m. Oct. 9, according to Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt, who also serves as a spokesman for the city’s fire department.

The city forwarded the information to the OCFA, because it is in charge of quarterbacking the deployment of resources in the area of the Riverside (91) Freeway and Gypsum Canyon, Wyatt said.

At 9:43 a.m., the OCFA called Anaheim back and asked the city to respond to the blaze, Wyatt said.

“So we’ve changed our procedures, effective immediately,” Wyatt said. “We will send resources (to the fire) and forward the call to OCFA … just to be on the safe side rather than waiting for them to call and ask for us.”

On Monday, Anaheim firefighters responded to three calls in the area of the Canyon Fire 2’s origin, but they were all unfounded, Wyatt said.

Jim Slikker, a retired Orange County sheriff’s deputy who now serves as a volunteer medic for the agency, again ramped up his criticism of the OCFA Monday by producing copies of California Highway Patrol dispatch logs that indicate calls were coming in to authorities at 8:32 a.m. Oct. 9 about a blaze in the area of the first Canyon Fire, which torched about 2,600 acres in late September.

A minute later there were calls of a blaze on the eastbound side of the 241 toll road, prompting a response from the fire authority that “the fire is unfounded, it’s only ashes.”

At 9:33 a.m., firefighters responded to the calls of a blaze by launching a helicopter, according to the dispatch logs.

Slikker has criticized the OCFA for not responding to a hot spot at Sierra Peak reported by Anaheim police the night of Oct. 8. Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Marc Stone on Friday said it was impossible for the Sierra Peak hot spot to have sparked Canyon Fire 2, arguing the embers would have had to travel three miles upwind.

Slikker questioned that assessment Monday.

“All he’s doing is he’s trying to muddy the waters with a smoke screen,” Slikker said. “The Santa Ana winds go east to west.”

He said the embers could have been carried east to west and downwind, Slikker said.

Stone did not immediately respond to calls Monday for a response.

Slikker said he hopes the county hires an independent agency to investigate the fire authority’s response.

At the board’s meeting Oct. 31, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson wants the board to discuss how to best investigate whether the county’s response to the fire was correct.

“It’s important that (county CEO) Frank Kim gets a majority of the board instruction on what his orders are,” Nelson said.

According to Nelson, there’s a growing sense that disputes between the fire authority and sheriff over protocols on deployment of helicopters for rescues and emergencies had an impact on the response to Canyon Fire 2.

“That has us all concerned,” Nelson said. “We’re expecting people to be above that and it’s just not acceptable and it needs to be resolved once and for all.”

Nelson said he has been told the fire authority did not order water drops immediately when alerted to the blaze.

“I was told it was Code 2, which is check out at your leisure,” Nelson said.

If the claims are true, then the fire authority violated its own protocols in directing fire resources immediately, Nelson said.

“I don’t know what’s right. They’re all throwing out a bunch of allegations, which is not helpful to anybody,” Nelson said of the claims and counterclaims. “But I do know something’s wrong here. Somebody didn’t do what they should have. Somebody’s having turf wars when we’re trying to put out fires and we can’t have that.”

–City News Service

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