Did You Guys Miss The Lede?

Completely missing the lead on a story (spelled “lede” in journalism) , is among the worst mistakes a reporter can make.

Sometimes it happens.

I have to wonder if it didn’t happen on Saturday following a news conference at the scene of the mudslides in the La Canada/Flintridge area near Los Angeles.   Dozens of homes were damaged by the slides, some were left uninhabitable.

All of it was caused by the Station Fire that burned through the Angeles National Forest.  The fire broke out on August 26th and wasn’t fully contained until October 16th.

Burning 160,577 acres and claiming the lives of two firefighters, it “was the largest fire in the recorded history of Angeles National Forest (est. 1892) and the 10th largest fire in California since 1933.” -US Forest Service

Yesterday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, complained that it didn’t have to be as bad as it was.   According to the Supervisor, there was a dispute between Los Angeles County and the U.S. Forest Service over the question of how the fire should be fought.  Antonovich said that had the feds gone along with the County’s wishes, they could have prevented 160,000 acres from burning and as a consequence, he said, there would be no mudslides in the foothill area today.

I vaguely remember talk about whether the feds should have done more to contain the fire early on.  A quick search with google turned up the following from a piece in the Los Angeles Times on October 6, 2009.

“Reinforcements from Los Angeles County were scaled back early in the battle, and federal officials now say they are investigating the actions that allowed the blaze to rage out of control. The fire, which began Aug. 23 above La Canada Flintridge, became the largest in recorded county history and killed two county firefighters when their truck plunged off a mountain road.” -LA Times

A later blogged report in the LA Times on November 13, 2009, reported that commanders in charge of fighting the fire had “underestimated the threat…….and reduced the number of helicopters and crews.”

And there’s more.

The Times also reported that helicopters did not arrive in force on the critical second day of the fire, Aug. 27, until several hours after first light and after ground crews started to attack the flames along Angeles Crest Highway.

In addition, the Forest Service had issued a memorandum three weeks before the blaze ordering managers to cut firefighting costs by minimizing their use of reinforcements from local and state agencies. Today’s report says costs played no role in the Forest Service’s decisions to use fewer reinforcements from Los Angeles County on Day 2 of the Station fire.-LA Times

I’ve done a little looking around, but I have yet to find anyone doing any real reporting on the charge Supervisor Antonovich has leveled, on what can only be described as the possibility of a huge error in judgment by the US Forest service which led to the Station Fire spreading from around 577 acres to 160,577 acres.

It could have been stopped at just 577 acres, but the Forest Service elected to let it go?

Did you guys miss the lede?

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The top of a news story is spelled “lede” and not “lead,” to distinguish the written words in the lede from the metal (lead) the pressmen used to melt down to make typeface back in the old days.

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