Officials: Controversial small blaze ‘had no relationship to Canyon 2 Fire’

The glow from the massive Canyon Fire 2 was visible from Disneyland. Photo courtesy of Cal Fire.

Anaheim fire officials said Monday a small blaze that was spotted and allowed to burn itself out the night before the Canyon Fire 2 erupted in the Anaheim Hills was not the cause of the 9,200-acre brush fire that ultimately destroyed more than two dozen structures.

Anaheim fire Chief Randy Bruegman said Canyon Fire 2 was actually sparked the morning of Oct. 9 by 9-day old embers that rose from a smoldering clump of oak within the original Canyon Fire burn area. He said those embers were pushed by Santa Ana winds about 60 to 80 feet into unburned vegetation, touching off Canyon Fire 2.

The determination counters claims by a critic who has accused the Orange County Fire Authority of ignoring a report of flames in the original Canyon Fire burn area the night of Oct. 8. OCFA officials have vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

Bruegman said the flames spotted Oct. 8 in the Sierra Peak area were “several miles” from the flashpoint of Canyon Fire 2.

“That fire had no relationship to the Canyon 2 Fire,” he said, echoing comments made earlier by OCFA officials.

According to Anaheim fire officials, Canyon Fire 1 was ignited Sept. 25 by a flare that was dropped by members of a Caltrans sweeper-train crew. Bruegman said a motorist likely hit the flare, sending it spinning into a shrub alongside the Riverside (91) Freeway near Coal Canyon Road. That fire was contained by Sept. 30, and there were nine reports of smoke in the area between then and Oct. 9, with none of them leading to any new fires, officials said.

Bruegman acknowledged that questions over the response to Canyon Fire 2 have pointed out issues in the way computer networks interact between the OCFA and Anaheim. He said those issues could have slowed the response on Oct. 9, but not enough to make a difference.

While officials are working on fixing the computer glitches, Anaheim changed its policy to simply respond right away to reports of fires instead of waiting for permission from the OCFA. The new policy likely wouldn’t have made a difference in halting Canyon Fire 2, according to Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt, who is also a fire department spokesman.

The OCFA has also been criticized for its response to reports of flames along the 91 Freeway just before 8:30 a.m. Oct. 9, but a California Highway Patrol officer cruising along the freeway from Green River to Gypsum Canyon, where the flames were reported, never saw any fire, Bruegman and Wyatt said.

Bruegman said one important lessons firefighters learned from Canyon Fire 2 is they need to improve how they evacuate imperiled residents.

“As many people (were) trying to get out, we had as many trying to get in to take pictures,” Bruegman said. “So we didn’t control the traffic as well as we could.”

–City News Service