Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

    October, 1978
    The Mandeville Canyon Fire


Firemen Get Mixed Reviews On Brush Fires

Herald Examiner Staff Writer

Los Angeles firefighters have been both praised and criticized for their actions during last week's brush fires, which destroyed 38,000 acres and at least 215 homes.

Some residents in the Cornell area near Agoura, for instance, complained that firemen at times seemed confused and failed to leave the roadway when the blaze approached buildings.

But residents in the Mandeville Canyon area, on the other hand praised firemen for saving their homes.

The consensus among state officials and fire experts was that area fire departments did an excellent job in responding to a widespread, disaster-type situation.

A survey by The Herald Examiner revealed that:
The blazes were extraordinary, both in their speed and the wide area they covered. Pushed by hot Santa Ana winds of up to 50 mph, the fast-moving fire fronts ranged from two miles wide in Mandeville Canyon to eight miles across in the Agoura fire.
Manpower was not a major problem, but it took valuable hours for the mutual-aid agreements, by which fire departments from throughout the state can be called in, to go into effect.
Communications broke down at critical points in several mountain fires. The hilly terrain seemed to block radio contact at times. The fire burned out telephone lines. And radio frequencies were often jammed with official and unofficial traffic.

Whatever the problems, firefighters believe they put in their best effort--a conclusion generally supported by local officials.

"As far as we're concerned, it probably was one of the best-coordinated efforts we have ever seen." said R.G. Barrows, head of the state Office of Emergency Services firefighting section.

"For the three major fires Mandeville, Agoura and a fire in the Sierra Madre mountains north of Pasadena) within a 12-hour period, we had 81 trucks and engines, with some of them coming from as far away as Marin and Imperial counties.

Both Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and City Councilman Marvin Braude praised the work of the city Fire Department for the way it battled the Mandeville blaze.

This fire department, operating under the circumstances of one of the largest brush fires in the history of the city, did and outstanding job," Bradley said.

But some Palisades residents complained about the lack of firemen to save their houses.

"You have to make value judgments," Los Angeles City Fire Chief John Gerard said. "It's one of the toughest things I've had to do. I really can't think of anything we should have done differently.

"It's easy to focus on the 18 houses totally destroyed, but we saved hundreds more houses than we lost."

In addition to homes saved in Topanga Canyon, Gerard said any of the houses not damaged along Sunset Boulevard were saved as a direct result of the firemen."

But many residents in the Cornell area, near Agoura said they viewed the work of at least some firemen as not effective.

"We had some bad ones (firemen) in this area." said Ed Savko, whose home he and friends helped save is at 3054 Mulholland Highway. "You've got a lot of mad people up in these hills. I'm one of the mad ones.

"We had two or three trucks sitting out in the middle of the road and I begged them to go back around the buildings (to help fight the threatening fire). One guy told me he was sacred, and the other truck just refused.

By that time, the fire was well on its way to the coast.

In the future, firefighters say they hope to be able to use a satellite to relay radio signals into the rugged areas.

Barrows praised the efforts of the firefighters.

"The efforts were tremendous," he said. "It's hard to know just how much was saved."


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