Sunday's Eagle Rock Fire Could Have Easily Happened In Pasadena

Published : Tuesday, August 27, 2019 | 4:27 AM

It was sparked exactly one day before the 10th anniversary of the devastating Station Fire and, if conditions had been slightly different, if the winds had shifted, Sunday’s Eagle Rock fire could have easily spread to Pasadena. City officials say numerous precautions are being taken to ensure a similar experience doesn’t happen here at home.

The fire was reported on Sunday afternoon shortly after 4 p.m. along the north side of the 134 Freeway above the 2900 block of West Colorado Boulevard. It quickly clogged the sunny afternoon with a dense blanket of white-and-brown smoke. Both the 134 and the 2 freeways were shut down in the area.

Los Angeles fire officials sent helicopters and about 265 firefighters. About 6:30 p.m., Pasadena sent Battalion 3, Engine 39 and Water Tender 37.

By 9 a.m. Monday the fire had been held to 30 acres, no homes were damaged and there were no injuries.

But the fire’s impact on local freeways and smoke clouds so dense some Eagle Rock and Glendale businesses decided to close for the day unnerved some local residents.

Caltrans said Monday evening the 2 Freeway off-ramp onto Holly Drive, the connecting ramp from the north 2 Freeway to the west 134 Freeway, and the west 134 Freeway’s connecting ramps onto both the north and south 2 Freeway all remained closed.

“We have a great plan in place,” said City of Pasadena spokeswoman Lisa Derderian Monday, “if we do need help from our neighboring cities. But we can’t take any chances, because it was 10 years ago today that the Station fire burned through our entire foothill.”

Not taking chances means the City wants residents to be prepared, she explained.

After all, Derderian observed, wildfires are like earthquakes in that they’re not tangible, not in front of us every day. That means people tend to forget the importance of being truly ready for what can be considered, in these parts, an eventuality.

“Be ready to evacuate if you’re told to leave,” said Derderian. “Have your checklist on what you should take, because in a panic situation you’re not thinking about what you need. What you need is to evacuate.”

People tend to wait in such situations, she explained, which can gum-up roads as fire and police resources rush into a threatened neighborhood.

“Sometimes it’s a volatile situation when the two can’t fit,” she said. “So don’t wait to evacuate a home. It can be replaced. People can’t.”

The Eagle Rock blaze worked its way around freeways and the operation to extinguish it went on for hours, although there doesn’t appear to be much obvious kindling in the impacted areas.

Fires, Derderian explained, can give the impression, after several hours, that they are out, but one small ember hidden beneath some brush, coupled with a gust of wind to kick it up, are all that’s needed to start another.

“It’s a major inconvenience, yes,” she conceded. “Fortunately, it was a Sunday and there wasn’t much traffic. If it were a weekday, it would have been even more horrific, but you’re protecting lives by making sure people are not in harm’s way.”

While the blaze was still burning, Pasadena Fire Department officials were driving through the foothills in response to reports of a significant smoke plume in the Linda Vista area.

That, Derderian said, was a proactive measure.

“We have a patrol unit,” she explained. “It’s like a smaller fire unit that fits into some of these smaller areas. We had them just go patrol to ensure that there were no embers or any spot fires that could’ve developed in our city.”

Such a measure, she added, reassures residents that someone’s on the job, patrolling.

Putting out the Glendale fire was a tripartite effort involving L.A. City, Glendale, and Pasadena’s own firefighting units.

The Pasadena Fire Dept. can count on support from the Los Angeles County Fire Department with which it has a mutual aid agreement for water drops when it comes to areas bordering Hastings Ranch, Kinneloa, Eaton Canyon, and La Cañada Flintridge.

“We’re part of the master mutual aid system within California,” said Deputy Fire Chief Bryan Frieders in a July interview. “That means we will send our resources to another agency at a neighboring jurisdiction or another county that has an immediate need where you have structures and lives threatened.”

Specifically, that involves launching the strike team mentioned by Derderian and “back-filling” Pasadena Fire’s own staff with off-duty members. “We never deplete the entire city,” he explained.

In August, Frieders noted, Pasadena Fire Department’s chief officers met with the officials from Angeles National Forest and the Los Angeles County and City fire departments to drive through mutual threat zones for discussion of potential disaster scenarios.

“So we’re preparing and talking to our allied agencies so that when, and if, it does happen, we’re prepared,” he assured. “And when we have a response, it’ll be a very clear, logical and coherent, coordinated approach to dealing with it quickly.”

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