Palisades Fire Update: Questions about the Use of Drones and Phos-Chek

Steven Stilwell captured this photo of the land surrounding the Palisades Highlands  after the fire was completely extinguished on May 26.

The Palisades Fire, which started on May 14 at 10:02 p.m. in the 1800 block of Michael Lane in the Highlands, had 100 percent containment on May 26. The fire burned about 1,202 acres and there were no homes damaged or destroyed nor civilians injured.

According to LAFD, when crews initially arrived on the site, they encountered multiple, separate, slow-moving fires in steep and remote terrain in an area that had not burned in more than 50 years. The fire required mandatory evacuation in parts of Topanga Canyon, and parts of the Highlands were put on alert.

The next day, a Fire Department spokesperson wrote: “LAFD helicopter pilots observed an adult male moving around in the brush along a steep hillside near the fire. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) air patrol was dispatched to monitor the individual. Officers from the West Los Angeles Community Police Station kept watch on the ground while the Air Support Division provided eyes in the sky. During an aerial observation, the Tactical Flight Officer witnessed the individual ignite multiple additional fires.”

The individual was arrested when he emerged from the brush in the 1200 block of Palisades Drive. The suspect, Ramon Santos Rodriguez, was transported to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation and then charged with the crime, as per Section 451 (c) of the California Penal Code of Arson on Forest Land. He was transferred to Twin Towers Correctional Facility and held for $355,000 bail. The case will eventually be presented to L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.

On June 2, a reader wrote CTN that “The helicopters are filling up at the Highlands reservoir and are doing water drops this AM (10:15 Wednesday), but I can’t see the fire in the upper canyon. Could you clarify with LAFD the extent to which–if at all–drones were used in last month’s fire fight?

“Also, could you check why Phos-Chek [fire-fighting foam]- dropping fixed-wing aircraft were not more extensively used?” The reader wondered if perhaps it was because of the expense.

CTN spoke to Deputy Chief Armando Hogan, of the LAFD Operations West Bureau, on June 7.

He said, “We never use drones in conjunction with helicopters.”

But, post incident they will use drones. “I still have eyes on the incident, without the actual equipment and personnel,” Hogan said, noting that LAFD does not use drones to find people — that would be an LAPD issue.

Concerning Phos-Chek, Hogan said that fixed-wing airplanes are expensive, but “We would never spare an expense to save a life or property.”

“The reason fixed-wing aircraft were not used was because of the low cloud cover. For a majority of the fire there was a low ceiling,” Hogan said.

At a June 17 briefing at Will Rogers State Beach, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said the cloud cover was about 2,500 feet every morning, but as soon as it lifted to 4,000 feet, they could bring in the aircraft. Helicopters had been operating 24/7.

Hogan said that Highlands residents might have seen LAFD workers on site after the fire. “Even though the fire is out, we’re still doing suppression,” he said, noting that firefighters might be repairing fire roads and doing other repairs with bulldozers. “It’s more like maintenance.”

After the Palisades Fire, the land surrounding the Highlands is desolate.                                                        Photo: Steven Stilwell


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One Response to Palisades Fire Update: Questions about the Use of Drones and Phos-Chek

  1. Eileen says:

    The LAFD did a fantastic job and we are so very grateful for all your hard work.

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