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Report: USFS Ordered Calif. Firefighters Reduced

The U.S. Forest Service ordered its supervisors to reduce the use of state and local firefighters three weeks before a deadly Los Angeles County wildfire erupted, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

An internal memorandum obtained by the Times instructed forest supervisors in the Pacific Southwest region to replace non-federal crews "as appropriate" and with the service's own personnel and equipment "as quickly as possible," the newspaper reported.

The memo, from Regional Forester Randy Moore, was dated Aug. 5. The Station fire erupted Aug. 26.

The memo warned that looming budget shortfalls require that "fire resources be managed to ensure no deficits." It called for minimizing overtime expenses and equipment purchases and limiting the use of other agencies and contractors, the Times reported.

Forest Service Associate Chief Hank Kashdan said the memo should have had "nothing to do with our approach to suppressing a large fire, or a fire that's going at any present time."

Forest Service officials have denied that cost concerns led them to deploy fewer firefighters and air support from Los Angeles County on the second morning of the fire, hours before it exploded into one of the largest wildfires in Southern California history.

The Forest Service asked for two county helicopters on the second day, but the department sent only one, a large tanker. County Chief Deputy John Tripp has said he withheld the second chopper because he did not believe the fire threatened neighborhoods, and because he must keep some helicopters on standby for other emergencies.

Angeles Forest Fire Chief David Conklin has said that he ordered enough reinforcements on the second day, without regard to cost, but that the flames simply had moved too fast.

The Forest Service said last month that it was examining the way it worked with other agencies and decisions that were made on how to fight the fire.

"It's fair to everybody to let that investigation run its course and see what the review finds," Kashdan said.

Residents have been calling for a federal probe into what they say was a poor initial response to the blaze.

The suspected arson fire destroyed 89 homes, ravaged more than 250 square miles and killed two firefighters whose truck plunged off a mountain road. The estimated cost of fighting the fire is approaching $100 million.