Where’s The Fire?

In this day and age of instant information, I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated when I can’t find an answer immediately. Just this evening, I left work and noticed fire and smoke in some hills that looked like they might be near Burbank or Glendale. Driving along the 5, I saw that the flames were close to Glendale.

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Photo by Jodi

Wanting to know more, I tuned my radio to a “news” station. In the span of 14 minutes, I heard about some traffic in Sherman Oaks, a dead model’s car, a professional football game, and a kidnapping victim discovery. Finally…a fire update! Two fires were mentioned, but neither was the one I was driving alongside. When I got home, I scoured the internet with no luck. The LAFD site hasn’t been updated since Tuesday (granted, I know they are very busy) and most people on twitter were questioning and speculating as well.

So, what source do you turn to for breaking news in L.A.? Please help! I need to know NOW!

21 Replies to “Where’s The Fire?”

  1. The smoke you were seeing is from the Station fire burning just above La Canada/Flintridge. I live in Altadena and on my nightly run this evening I could see flames just over the second crest of the foothills northwest of Altadena (Table Mountain?). I agree though that coverage seems to be lacking in this regard! I’m just trying to find an updated google map of the fire with zero luck.

  2. Jodi,

    Please know that in keeping with protocol, emergency incident information is provided by the agency with jurisdictional and/or investigative authority where the incident occurred.

    In this case, the recent widfires in the “LA Metro area” (emphasis added) are far outside the City of Los Angeles, which is the LAFD’s service area.

    Therefore, the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) is neither responsible nor sadly able to provide official information regarding these fires.

    On a side note, our already lightly staffed office at LAFD has been carrying a 33% vacancy for nearly 90 days, and I have been out of town for several weeks since June. With budgetary and other constraints, it is indeed possible that our positions – seen as subessential by many policymakers, could be further curtailed.

    Whatever the case, trust that we will do our best when crisis falls within our geographical and legal areas of trust and responsibility.

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department*

    * The LAFD should not be confused with the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD), which handles many of the areas where current fires are burning. The LACoFD is not active in social media, but you can reach their Headquarters when necessary at: (323) 881-2411. -BH-

  3. Thank you, Kelly. I didn’t even realize (or hear) that there was a fire in Altadena, but that could definitely be where those flames were burning.

    Brian-I do now realize that I’m talking about areas outside of city limits, but didn’t think of it in context of the post. LAFD is one of my go-to spots for info since there actually is info! I do appreciate the active social media participation and all that LAFD does for the city, especially under a personnel shortage.

  4. I should’ve been more clear, the fire is not burning IN Altadena, but just west/northwest of, from what I can tell just north of the Hahamonga Wash. Keep in mind though I’m no geographic expert, still looking for that map…

  5. I’ve got some “news” for AM 1070 – not all of L.A. lives in Palos Verdes. On the way home from the airport last night and saw the Station fire – where was it? Anywhere near my house in Pasadena? NEVER GOT A REPORT FROM THAT SO-CALLED NEWS STATION – I will go elsewhere for news from now on.

  6. Hey Jodi
    Here’s an inspired idea I learned from a co-worker – Twitter Search. I was driving in Century City one day a couple months back to get some lunch and got stuck in an hour’s worth of traffic – I called my coworker to let him know I’d be running late, but both of us were mystified. He ran a twitter search for Century City and Traffic – lo and behold, we learned Obama had popped into town unannounced, which certainly explained the hold up. Not sure how your mobile technology situation is, but my coworkers and I all have twitter and blackberries. A number of blackberry twitter clients support Twitter search. It’s crowd-sourced, instantaneous and generally pretty accurate, once you cut through the chatter.
    Thought you might be interested
    ~J

  7. Rob-that’s what I was listening to also. So…where is the elsewhere you will go?

    Jay-thanks for the tip. I’m on twitter, but don’t have mobile machinery capable of that kind of search. I could always call someone to do it though.

  8. It is my understanding that as of September 8th, there will be no other news radio station in Los Angeles doing 24×7 news (with the quick ability/desire to break into scheduled programming with LIVE interviews from public safety officials) other than KNX AM-1070.

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

  9. I completely agree that in this day and age of high technology that some technology or media spokesperson or administrative assistant or just clerk should be tasked with geographical updates or fire map updates. During the Sylmar fires, it was nonsense trying to get through the LAFD telephone recording for fire location…and with that fire fast flying, it was only by luck that some news stations picked up the story. It just seems so absolutely incredible that there is no web-based notification system or twitter sign-up or map viewing system that residents can go to for up-to-the minute information. I mean, as was mentioned, the LAFD page contains literally nothing about the latest fires. Jurisdiction of fire fighting forces should not be the dispositve issue here because the LAFD site is where Los Angeles area residents go to see updated fire information. When the Metrolink train is delayed we receive a text message and can view the updated information on the computer but when one or more massive fires is flying towards our homes, we just sit around looking up in the sky and flipping TV and radio channels. Not right.

  10. Leslie,

    I for one deeply appreciate your passion and concern. I feel your comments deserve nothing less than a frank if not painful to read answer…

    To use our agency as but one example: policymakers have not updated the LAFD external relations staffing since 1968. There is still only one person on duty at any given time, working a 24 hour long shift.

    Needless to say, the demands of the media and expectations of the public have increased significantly in 41 years. While I know it sounds like a copout, there is no space-age command center overflowing with staff like you see on the television series “24”, but instead one of our Department’s lowest-ranking staff members handling 300+ phone calls each day in a cramped section of a subterranean bunker oft smelling of sewer odors and troubled with flies:

    http://lafd.blogspot.com/2006/04/day-in-life-lafd-ubergeek-brian.html

    Should one imagine largess, we pay for cable television out of our own pockets for the ‘right’ to watch (and possibly comment knowingly on) CNN, and as you nave noted – do our darndest to leverage free social media tools with a budget that oft causes us to buy our own supplies – including mice and computer keyboards.

    During the past 90 days, our office has had a 33% reduction in assigned staff, with work driving yours truly the point of physical collapse (and I use the term literally).

    If we can get the TEAM, TOOLS & TRAINING to do what you suggest and desire, please know we’d not only be happy but deeply honored to do so, but there is sadly no way for any of us to provide “up to the minute” (great emphasis added) for something as dynamic as a wildfire for a 470 square mile City with 4 million residents unless we are provided with the Three T’s mentioned above.

    Thanks for letting me share in such an uncomfortable but transparent fashion. If you’d ever like to visit and see our workplace, you’re more than welcome to join me on any ‘B’ Shift:

    http://lafd.org/shift.htm

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

    PS: Please know the LAFD Blog contained no information on the RPV or San Gabriel Mountain fires, as we were not in command of those fires.

    To assure that only consistent and accurate information is shared, the unswerving fire service protocol is for the agency in charge to keep you informed – and for that agency to be solely *accountable* for the information or lack thereof. During recent wildfires (all outside of Los Angeles), that responsibility was _not_ with your Los Angeles Fire Department. -BH-

  11. Agreed with Brian. LA City FD has a severe staffing problem in its public information office, caused by the economy, the cutbacks, and the failure of California’s leaders to create adequately prioritized budgets in a timely manner, year after year.

    Neither is it LAFD’s responsibility to provide information on other agencies’ incidents. In fact, it’s LAFD’s responsibility to defer to the lead agencies and/or their unified commands.

    In the case of the PV fire, adequate information was tweeted by LA County FD. Follow @lacfd .

    Now, the commercial news situation. Well, it’s bad. I’ve been complaining about this for years. KFWB, as Brian said, goes talk in early September, though you have probably noticed the station’s been deteriorating ever since it was consolidated with KNX. KNX has done an OK job, with the resources they have left, which aren’t much. Today they covered the Station Fire command’s press conference, in which an incident commander took the TV stations to task for not living up to their responsibility to serve the public with their broadcasting. They’ve pretty much ignored the Station Fire – and it’s the one burning straight toward their transmitters and their power lines!!!

    My only suggestion for the TV stations is to make your case in e-mail and hope someone reads it. It might be worthwhile to suggest that they re-read the part about public interest, convenience, and necessity in their FCC licenses. Say that if they won’t perform their public service responsibility in an emergency, you will let the FCC and their sponsors know this.

  12. I should add that any fire in the Angeles National Forest becomes a tangled web of Federal, State, and local jurisdictions, and information flows typically from whatever unified command is set up. This is typically updated a couple of times a day, when someone does a full assessment of what are always highly dynamic and rapidly evolving situations.

    The places I check in these cases are Inciweb, when it works, and CALFIRE. I can’t remember any links offhand, but Google can.

  13. Brian,

    I think most of us citizens understand the strain on your department. I have friends that have just traveled down with a Nevada County strike team, and after speaking with one of them from base camp, it sounds like they’re exhausted already. I know for me a lot of frustration is pointed directly at our media. I live in the Sun Valley/Shadow Hills area, and when it seemed like the smoke was coming from right over the next ridge, I scoured the news online and on TV, and all I could find was channel after channel of footage of Ted Kennedy’s funeral procession. I would think that the local news would be on a constant fire watch with small breaks to watch a funeral procession instead of the other way around.

    While your resources are strained to the max, the media has helicopters, they can get a good idea of what’s going on without you guys having to have constant contact with them. At the moment, I can look out my window and get more info on the fire than if I turn on the TV.

    Good luck to your guys out there, this one is a doozy…….

  14. Brian, You have explained the situation with great eloquence and now I have a much better understanding of the complexity of the situation and I appreciate your response and experience (and also your devotion to the service). I meant no disrespect to the firefighters with my frustration in searching out where the fire is heading. I can see the issue is complex and that funding is needed. In the meantime, I am pleased to have found some sources on this blog to help track the issues nearby at:
    http://wildfire.cr.usgs.gov/calfireplan/viewer.htm
    http://www.inciweb.org/incident/1856/
    http://www.kfwb.com/pages/5109032.php?
    http://www.fire.ca.gov/downloads/incidents/StatewideFireMap.pdf
    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&t=p&source=embed&msa=0&msid=117631292961056724014.0004720e21d9cded17ce4&ll=33.975253,-117.603149&spn=2.277601,3.295898&z=8

  15. Hiya… This is the most consistently updated info on wildfires (entire USA) that I know of…Please keep the link! A Federal site, the Forest Service. If you click on the tiny fire dot on the map, say the Station Fire for instance, a window will open with all current details. And as the Station fire apparently is not expected to be under control until at least Sept. 8th, as is still only 5% contained, you may wish to keep abreast of fire movements. Hope this helps you get some sleep at nights, and eases the info seeking :) Cheers~

    http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/

  16. Thank you all for the links. Also, thank you again Brian for your candid information on what is going on in your department, who is actually in charge of what fires, etc. Every time I go outside and complain about the heat, I think of those firefighters up against the flames in their heavy gear. They are true heroes.

  17. i was wondering where the fire is at now i was tryna find out but i cant find out i live in barstow ca and i was wondering if it was close or not

  18. I am receiving fire news via Nixle (www.nixle.com) They are new, but seem to be reliable and up to date. It is a free service offered to police and fire to reach their community. The LA Sheriff is sending the alerts in real time.

  19. Nixle is an very interesting system, and I wish them well. I had considered adding it last year to the LAFD outreach arsenal (contrary to the popular belief that we only use Twitter, we distribute info across multiple new media channels), I found – at least in their early days, that the greatly expressed emphasis was on Law Enforcement agencies, almost to the point of dissuading Fire Departments. While feeling unwelcome was not a particular barrier, I must admit the user agreement was a profound impediment to my unilaterally pursuing Nixle. That much said, it appears that our friends at LAPD & LASD did not have or overcame such concerns, and they are poised to be/are using the system with demonstrable success. When time permits, I’m hoping to meet with the folks from Nixle to see if our agency can agree to a modified user agreement for what seems like a system with great potential to please.

    Brian

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