Orange County Fire Authority

Welcome to the Orange County Fire Authority’s blog on the Freeway Complex Fire. We have created this blog as a way for OCFA to conduct a conversation with the people we serve about the fire that recently caused so much destruction and disruption of people’s lives.

On this blog, we will provide basic facts about the fire and will share any new information that develops. More important, though, this is the place for you to ask the questions that are on your mind and have them answered. For example, if you do not understand some aspect of the way we fight fires in general or fought this fire in particular, this is the place to ask about it. If you have concerns about decisions made, tell us, and we’ll do our best to explain.

I also hope we will receive constructive ideas about how we can do our jobs better and how you and your fellow residents can work with us to reduce the chances of a recurrence of a fire like this.

As firefighters, we are always saddened when people lose their homes. We never get used to that, and we never want to accept it as an inevitable outcome. Only the loss of a life is more heart-breaking for us. And yet we also know that wildfires – like earthquakes – are part of life in Southern California. With the help of our residents, we will always do our best to prevent them. But eventually there comes a day when we must put them out. A significant portion of our budget, training and equipment is geared to that.

This blog is a first-time effort for us, and we don’t quite know what to expect. My goal is for us to read every question or comment within a day and to respond in no more than another day. Of course, that will depend on the volume we receive and how many different questions are asked. Priority will be given to those questions that are asked by multiple writers.

We’ll begin by addressing some questions that already have been asked, and we will add to it as your questions come in.

Thank you for your participation in this forum. I promise we’ll do our best to make it as informative and meaningful as possible.

Chip Prather, Fire Chief

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When did the fire start and what were the conditions like?
A: The Freeway fire was initially reported around 9 am on Saturday, November 15, 2008 along the 91 freeway between the 71 and Green River. At the time of the fire, the temperature was around 75 degrees with relative humidity at 8%. Winds were sustained at 30 – 40 mph, with gusts reported above 60 mph.

Q: Why did the fire spread so quickly?
A: The fire moved so quickly and erratically primarily because of the weather conditions at the time. Topography (the way the canyons were in line with the wind) was also a factor in the rapid growth of the fire. Because of the winds, the fire was blowing embers miles ahead of the fire front. At one point, the fire crossed the 91 freeway from Yorba Linda into Anaheim Hills aided by the winds.

Q: Just how devastating was the Freeway Complex Fire, and how does it compare with other Orange County wildfires?
A: In all, 190 residences were destroyed, and 123 were damaged. Hardest hit was the city of Yorba Linda where 118 homes were destroyed. The Freeway Complex fire burned 30,305 acres – this is more than last year’s Santiago Fire as well as the Laguna Beach Fire in 1993.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Some fire engines – those used to fight wildland fires – do carry portable pumps. In this situation, however, with so much fire threatening the area, the leadership on the ground made the decision to move the engines to locations where water was available and where the engines were needed just as badly. The floating pumps are not meant to fight the volume of fire that existed in this incident.
(This post was inadvertently deleted and is re-posted here verbatim.)

Daniel has left a new comment on your post "Comments":

Some of the residents reported low water pressure or none at all in some areas leading to firefighters being unable to defend homes from wind driven embers and flames. With that said, my question is... do all OCFA fire apparatus carry portable pumps for drafting operations from such places as residential pool sources? If so, were these items put to use during the complex fire and how well did they perform? It would seem that a simple portable floating pump would allow for a quick defensive attack with a 1 1/2 handline while a back-up water source is obtained, however, knowing where these sources are in the community may be a bit problematic as well.

(This post was inadvertently deleted and is re-posted here verbatim.)

exmokina has left a new comment on your post "Comments":

Daniel,'had nothing to do w/ residential water usage. The hydrant systems weren't working, rendering the Fire department impotant. (They didn't even try to fight fires in my nieghborhood). Also a pump broke and by the time a replacement arrived from Laguna, it was too late. The City council and YL water district have some explaining to do. That's probably why the water Board has hired a fancy PR firmed to "manage" the publicity. Is this what our taxes are for?

(This post was inadvertently deleted and is reposted here vertabim.)

trapport has left a new comment on your post "Comments":

There is not enough fire equipment in Yorba Linda. 3 full time fire engines staffed with 3 firefighters each (some cities have 4) and 1 paramedic van. This is not adequate for anything but the mildest incident. The city and OCFA need to work together to increase staffing on a regular, full time basis. Time for the city council to step up and demand more coverage even though it would cost more money. Look at Anaheim, there have many more stations that Yorba Linda does. The only reason Yorba Linda had such a good response to the train wreck on Esperanza several years ago is because a large amount of fire units and ambulances were doing a drill at Brea Community hospital and were able to respond en masse to the train wreck. What will happen at the next major incident?