By Aaron C. Davis
The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday ordered a review of California's response to the deadly wildfires that destroyed more than 2,000 homes last month, including whether home and business construction should be allowed in fire-prone areas.
He asked the state's Blue Ribbon Task Force on wildfires, made up of fire chiefs and state appointees, to identify weaknesses that could be fixed.
Schwarzenegger initially was impressed with the state's actions, saying for days after the fires grew out of control on Oct. 21 that its disaster response was textbook.
Only after Southern California fire officials clamored for additional support and The Associated Press revealed government rules delayed dozens of water-dumping aircraft from reaching the blazes did Schwarzenegger acknowledge the state may have been able to do better.
He asked the task force to study not only whether California had enough fire engines and personnel to coordinate its response, but also to look at whether the state should allow homes and businesses to be built in areas most prone to wildfires.
If that construction is allowed, he asked the group to determine if the buildings should have to meet higher fire-resistance standards.
"The governor believes the state did a great job in its response to the fires, but we should always be asking ourselves what additional steps we need to take to do even better," said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear. "He is calling on the experts to examine the most recent fires and to make additional recommendations to ensure we are always improving our fire response."
The Blue Ribbon Task Force was set up after the 2003 fires that destroyed more than 3,600 homes, many in the same areas.
The panel's chairman, Corona Fire Department Chief Mike Warren, said the group would review recommendations generated after the 2003 blazes and determine what was implemented and whether or not it worked in the recent fires.
Delays launching aircraft revealed a system still suffering from communication and planning shortfalls.
The AP reported on Oct. 25 that Marine, Navy and National Guard helicopters were grounded for days because state personnel required to be on board were not immediately available. The National Guard's two newest C-130 cargo planes also could not help because they had yet to be outfitted with tanks needed to carry thousands of gallons of fire retardant.
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Associated Press Writer Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles contributed to this report.