Two firefighters are dead and another is in critical condition after a shooting Tuesday at L.A. County Fire Station 81 in Agua Dulce and a subsequent fire that destroyed the Acton home of an off-duty firefighter suspected to be the shooter.
Santa Clarita Valley, Palmdale and Lancaster sheriff’s station deputies converged on the fire station shortly before 11 a.m. for the reported active shooter, and their investigation led them to a burning home on Bent Spur Drive in Acton, where the shooter was believed to have fled before setting his home ablaze.
The off-duty firefighter specialist suspected in the shooting at the station where he worked was found dead outside the burnt home from a gunshot wound believed to be self-inflicted, according to Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Matheny.
A 44-year-old firefighter specialist who was with the department for more than 20 years was shot multiple times and succumbed to his injuries at the scene, while a 54-year-old fire captain also sustained multiple gunshot wounds and remained in critical but stable condition following surgery at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, Fire Chief Daryl Osby and Lt. Brandon Dean of the Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau confirmed at a news conference that afternoon.
As of 8 p.m., the county Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office had not yet released the identifies of either of the deceased.
“I stand here with a heavy heart. … I just never thought it would be me, nor our Fire Department family, that would suffer this type of loss,” Osby added, noting that it was some of the worst news that he’d heard in his career, as he held back tears. “We all recognize that the work that our firefighters and firefighter-paramedics do is a very dangerous and arduous profession, and in many times, they put their lives in danger to protect and serve others when they receive 911 calls for service, but yet as a fire chief, I never thought that when our firefighters face danger that they would face that danger in one of our community fire stations.”
The incident was reported shortly before 11 a.m. at the station, located on the 8700 block of Sierra Highway, according to Fire Department Supervisor Leslie Lua.
“We’re responding to reports of a gunshot wound, and two ambulances were requested,” Lua said minutes after the incident was reported, later adding that two Fire Department helicopters had also been called to the scene, one of which ended up airlifting the wounded fire captain.
Around 30 minutes later, firefighters were called to a structure fire on the 2600 block of Bent Spur Drive, which was discovered to be the shooting suspect’s home.
Firefighters on the ground stayed clear of the scene as it was unclear whether there were any active suspects, while water-dropping helicopters attacked the blaze from the air.
Searches for the suspect continued into the afternoon as the Sheriff’s Department helicopter, Air Rescue 5, deployed sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau personnel in Acton to assist.
Neighbor Michael May saw the smoke and heard the helicopters circling overhead.
“When you hear them that close over the house, you know something’s up,” May said.
Three other neighbors to the burning home stood at the base of the hill on Bent Spur Drive and Briar Glen Road. Among them was Jayme Mills, who had her horse trailer ready to go in order to rescue her animals up top.
The neighborhood, according to those neighbors interviewed by The Signal, had been quiet for years, and the resident who lived inside the burned-down home had only recently moved to the neighborhood.
Palmdale Sheriff’s Station officials were in unified command with SCV Sheriff’s Station and the Fire Department at both scenes, holding the perimeter about a quarter-mile from the home and station, with a contingent of multiple agencies assisting, including California Highway Patrol, L.A. Police Department and others.
All schools in the Acton-Agua Dulce School District were placed under lockdown Tuesday morning as a precaution, with the lockdown lifted just before 1 p.m. and parents able to pick up their children, Superintendent Larry King said.
“We locked down schools because it was a little close to home, and we make safety a priority here,” King told The Signal by phone Tuesday afternoon.
Residents were also asked to avoid the area, as there was a high volume of law enforcement presence in the area.
Additional Fire Department personnel were called in to relieve Fire Station 81’s crew, and the station is expected to remain closed, with nearby fire stations set to cover the area as long as needed, according to Matheny.
“These men and women are our family members, in a respect, and to have this tragedy hit so close to home — and not only that (but) by someone who is also a brother — is completely unexpected,” Matheny said. “(There’s) no way to verbalize what this is going to mean emotionally and mentally for the personnel, both at this station and across the entire department.”
The motive, weapon used and cause of the incident were unknown, and the multi-agency investigation remained ongoing as of Tuesday.
Signal Staff Writer Caleb Lunetta contributed to this report.