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

(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?


  1. OCFA uses a complicated formula to make decisions about adequate coverage. Our fundamental standard is that we are capable of responding to an incident within 7:22 minutes 80 percent of the time. In a jurisdiction as large and spread out as ours, we are naturally going to have some areas that are closer to fire stations and some that are farther away. Less densely populated, outlying areas are always going to be more difficult to service than urban parts of the community. Through our three fire stations, we meet the standard in most of Yorba Linda but not in some of the more remote areas.

    As for spending more money on equipment, staffing or fire stations, Yorba Linda, like several other cities, pays for its fire protection service through something called the Structural Fire Fund, which turns over a fixed percentage of property tax collected to OCFA. The formula for payment is locked into place and, therefore, so is the amount of available funds. Unfortunately, there is not enough money to purchase every piece of equipment we might like to have. While wildland fires occupy a significant part of our focus, we must also prepare for other important eventualities, such as HazMat, urban search and rescue and terrorism emergencies.

    OCFA’s two existing fire-fighting helicopters will be supplemented by two new Bell 412EP helicopters, which are scheduled for delivery in January and February of 2009. These helicopters were purchased for about $25 million in April of this year as a result of recommendations made after a review of last year’s Santiago Fire. Undoubtedly, the review of this year’s fires will also lead to further recommendations for continuing to improve our response to these major fires.

  2. 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.

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

    Donna Rinnert has left a new comment on your post "Comments":

    Hi. I live at Archstone/Yorba Linda Apartments. I was told that someone who stayed behind after we evacuated called OCFA to report that Archstone was on fire. Shouldn't a fire truck been onsite considering our proximity to the fire? We lost several buildings. I do appreciate all the do, however. Thank you.

  4. The reality of a fire of this magnitude is that there just is not enough equipment and personnel to protect every building. The example Donna raises is typical of the decisions incident commanders had to make in setting priorities. We hate to see any property destroyed, but when a wildfire is so widespread and out of control, sometimes it is impossible to protect every structure.

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

    phil450 has left a new comment on your post "Comments":

    I live in Molher Drive area of Anaheim Hills. We were ordered to evacuate the afternoon of Nov 15, which we did. We returned on the morning of Nov 16. Our area did not burn. No fire damage what so ever.

    My question is: Were areas west of Weir Canyon Road but east of Mohler Drive also required to evacuate ? Or was it just our area ?

  6. The specific location Phil450 asks about is outside OCFA’s jurisdiction and is in Anaheim. From the Orange County Emergency Operations Center, we understand that the following two areas were evacuated.

    The area within these boundaries: North boundary - 91 Freeway, East boundary - 241 Toll Road, West boundary - Weir Canyon Road or Serrano Avenue, South boundary - Marblehead Way.

    Also, the areas within these boundaries: North boundary - Mohler Drive, West boundary Del Giorgio Road, South boundary - Canyon Rim Road, East boundary - Deer Canyon Park and Fairmont Park.

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

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

    I need to buy a pool pump hose for backwash purposes. I might as well buy a fire hose, as I see they're only $50 to $100 while the junky hose from the pool store is $20 & needs replacing constantly due to its super cheap construction.

    If I do buy a fire hose, however, I might as well get the diameter and thread that is compatible with fire equipment.

    (Perhaps I'll even buy a gas-powered portable fire pump down the road to run off my pool in the event of a major fire. My house backs to substantial vegetation that I have no legal ability to mitigate.)

    However, there are literally dozens of thread types and diameters, creating 100s if not 1000s of possible combinations:
    Thread types I've found include: NST, NST(NH), NPT, NPSH, SIPT, BSP, IPT, TIPT, NYFD, NY Corp., "Chicago FD", "Pacific Coast" (aka PCT), etc. I've also seen tables of many large US cities with their own unique dimensions.
    Diameters I've seen include 1.5, 1.75, 2, & 2.5".
    How does one know what to select?
    More importantly for the general public to know, how does OCFA handle compatibility w/ so many fire services in mutual aid situations?
    I've looked all over many fire department websites and can find little info on either of these topics.

  8. On the West Coast, fire hose thread is standardized, so getting the right one should not be a problem. To protect a single house, a hose with a diameter of 1 ½” to 1 ¾” is sufficient. While OCFA does not encourage homeowners to purchase their own equipment, we are actively considering adopting a program called “Leave Early or Stay and Defend” (LEOSAD). If adopted, this program would allow residents with proper training to stay and defend their homes if they are of the right building construction and have adequate brush clearance. Stay tuned for more information about LEOSAD early next year.