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First engine broke en route to Woolsey brand, sources say. Blaze grew at a frightening pace

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When the Woolsey fire broke out a year ago at the Boeing test site with the shutter of nuclear and missile engines near Simi Valley, a private team working for the space giant was closest to the flames.

A fire brigade headed for the stage. But it didn't get far.

A few minutes after leaving the station, the older Boeing truck stopped, sources familiar with the events of the day, told the Los Angeles Times. It would be just one of a series of things that went wrong in the early fight against what would become the most devastating fire in modern history in Los Angeles County.

On that day, the crews of the Ventura County fire brigade were already fighting the Hill fire, which threatened dozens of homes and businesses.

It took nearly 20 minutes for the first firefighters to arrive on the scene of the Woolsey fire – which, fed by 25 kph of wind on a red flag day, grew on a terrifying clip through rocky, hilly terrain. It would then burn more than 1,000 homes from Oak Park to Malibu and cause the death of four people.

A Times study earlier this year found that in the early hours of the fire the efforts of first responders were hampered by the lack of a clear plan from incident leaders and the need for more front line firefighters in Ventura County. The fire department of the province of Los Angeles held dozens of firefighters in Agoura Hills, waiting for the fire that reached their jurisdiction.

A report from L.A. County, released last month, came to similar conclusions, noting that the pleas from local fire leaders to nearby agencies for more assistance with mutual assistance were not answered. In the draft report no mention is made of the breakdown of lorries, because Boeing refused to participate due to an ongoing legal case.

In February, residents filed a lawsuit against Boeing and Southern California Edison, claiming that the companies were negligent in their duties to protect the property from fire.

Edison said in a recent quarterly report that the company had seen an edited draft of the Woolsey fire report in which the Ventura County investigation team determined that electrical equipment owned and operated by Edison had caused the fire. "In the absence of additional evidence, SCE believes it is likely that its equipment was associated with the ignition of the Woolsey Fire," the company wrote.

Boamil's spokeswoman Chamila Nothum said in a statement that the company had stationed security and firefighters at its Santa Susana location and that on the day of the Woolsey fire, flames were reported at two locations.

"Fire authorities were immediately notified and four fire and security personnel posted at the Santa Susana site responded immediately to the fire report," Nothum said.

“Personnel based at the Santa Susana site continued to carry out fire-fighting activities and assisted provincial and municipal firefighters. While they responded to the fire, firefighting authorities had access to water from Boeing's property. … Boeing also took measures to inform personnel at the location of the fire. "

Fire truck at Santa Susana Field Lab

A white fire truck, seen in the background in the Santa Susana Field Lab in 2016, broke down after private firefighters tried to respond to the fire, sources say.

(Thanks to Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles)

A fireman who responded to the Woolsey fire told The Times that a Boeing staff member was helping to guide first responders around the facility, but he did not remember working with Boeing firefighters to fight the actual fire.

The facility was opened in 1948 when North American Aviation – which would eventually become part of Boeing – began researching, developing and testing rocket engines in collaboration with the US Air Force, according to NASA.

Boeing says on his website that "almost every major US space program, from the first manned Mercury flights to the Apollo lunar landings and the Space Shuttle fleet, has a share of its success" to complete the work on the 2,850-hectare site in the Simi Hills.

In recent years, the site and its cleansing have been the focus of several lawsuits filed by environmental and public health lawyers who have argued that the site needs to be thoroughly remediated. In 1959 the site experienced the first partial meltdown in America. In 2012, a study by the US Environmental Protection Agency found hundreds of radioactive hotspots.

470.350-W1-la-me-woolsey-fire-report-malibu.jpg

As part of the site's remediation, the facility's large fire station was recently demolished. It was near Edison's electrical substation in Southern California, which turned off two minutes before the Woolsey fire started.

Scott Promen, 62, who worked in the field laboratory as a firefighter until the 1980s, said the once-robust Santa Susana firefighter trained regularly and occasionally employed a nearby fire station in Ventura when the crew was on assignment.

Promen said that although only a fraction of people work in the Santa Susana Field Lab, the site still has people and power lines, two of the most common causes of fires.

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