LOS ANGELES (AP) — The battle against a devastating November wildfire in Los Angeles County was hampered by politicians asking firefighters to check on certain homes.
The conclusion comes from an after-action review by the Los Angeles Fire Department, which joined Los Angeles and Ventura county departments in battling the November blaze, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
“A significant number of requests by political figures to check on specific addresses of homes to ensure their protection distracted from Department leadership to accomplish priority objectives,” the review said.
It didn’t provide specifics, the paper said.
Assistant Chief Tim Ernst told the Times that he didn’t know which politicians were involved or exactly how those requests affected the firefighting efforts. He provided details from the report during a brushfire training for the department’s chief officers last week.
The Woolsey Fire destroyed more than 1,600 homes and other buildings from north of Los Angeles to Malibu before it was controlled. Four people died.
It was one of the largest wildfires in modern California history.
Ernst said that requests to check on specific addresses were not uncommon during large fires.
“Living in the city of L.A. or the county of L.A., we have to understand we probably have some of the wealthiest communities in America, and with that comes a certain amount of political power,” Ernst told the Times.
“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,” he added.
During the training session, Ernst said such requests should be sent through proper channels to ensure they don’t become a distraction while fighting fires.
The report says field observers should be deployed to “provide real time information and reconnaissance to address specific requests from political figures during a large-scale incident.”