Signed by Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy and Sheriff Don Barnes, the June 9 statement called out the Register, who they say "relied heavily on the opinion" of retired OC Sheriff's Department Sgt. Bill Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, who ran the department's aviation team but was transferred due to "performance issues," according to the authorities, told the Register that local authorities' response to the devastating fire on May 11 was "negligent."
Fennessy and Barnes said the article's focal point rehashed a "years-old and long-resolved" issue between the two agencies involving a 2019 policy change that prohibited the sheriff's department from self-dispatching water-dumping helicopters to combat fires, unless invited by the fire department.
For one reason or another, the new rule prompted authorities to remove the chopper's water tanks, "leaving them unprepared, unmanned or out-for-maintenance," the Register reported.
As a result, only one Orange County Fire Authority helicopter took on the inferno while the sheriff's aircraft remained grounded.
However, Fennessy and Barnes said the Register reporter excluded pertinent information the agencies disseminated to the Register for the article.
"Information on our response was provided to the Register reporter, but much of it was not included in the article," the officials said in the statement.
"From our perspective, this led readers to draw the conclusion that, if not for this brief past issue, our efforts during the Coastal Fire may have been different," the authorities said. "This is not only untrue, it is unfair to the resident who lost their homes and the first responders who put themselves in harm's way to protect life and property."
Authorities said the sheriff's department's helicopter was on air patrol, relaying aerial information to the fire authority's battling the fire on the ground just after it erupted.
But the former air support sergeant told the Register that if authorities had access to the sheriff's fixed-wing aircraft that carry fire retardant or water, they could have responded to the Coastal fire rather than sitting idle at John Wayne Airport.
According to records obtained by the Register, it took the Fire Authority helicopter 30 minutes to arrive at the Coastal fire.
"We welcome questions about our response and the work we do," the authorities said. "We also welcome criticism and always look for opportunities to improve our techniques and tactics.
"However, when that criticism is rooted in unrealistic and inaccurate information, it can cause additional trauma for a community still recovering and rebuilding."
A spokesperson from the Orange County Register was not immediately available for comment.