The trial of the moron who started the fire that resulted in the deaths of the crew of Engine 57 is virtually over except for the judge’s decison about accepting or not accepting the recommendation of the jury to execute Raymond Oyler. But even more investigations will occur now, which could have significant implications for firefighters.
Here is an excerpt from the Press-Enterprise:
More than two years after flames trapped and killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters on a Riverside County hillside, federal officials are preparing to release the findings of an investigation into what led to the deaths.
Their report, which could lead to criminal charges against firefighters or command officials who battled the Esperanza Fire, comes on the heels of the conviction of Raymond Lee Oyler, the arsonist now facing the death penalty for setting the blaze.
In congressional testimony last week, U.S. Agriculture Department Inspector General Phyllis Fong, whose office conducted the investigation, said she expects to issue the report by the end of the month.
The investigation has focused on the actions and decisions made by fire personnel as they attacked the swirling 43,000-acre blaze near Cabazon in October of 2006. The crew of Forest Service Engine 57 arrived at the fire in support of Cal Fire, the lead agency on the fire. Ninety-foot flames overran the crew as they fought to save a lone, unoccupied home in the small community of Twin Pines.
Forest Service and Cal Fire officials declined to comment on the report before its release. Two previous federal investigations — one conducted jointly by the Forest Service and Cal Fire, the other by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — questioned firefighters’ decision to stay and fight the flames.
Firefighter union officials said they hoped the new findings would focus on preventing a repeat of the tragedy rather than placing blame.
“There’s still that concern that someone is going to get drug through the dirt,” said Casey Judd, manager for the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association. “If we’re going to learn something, that’s great. If we’re going to try to find someone to blame, it’s not so great.”
The probe was required by a 2002 law (editor: PL 107-203) mandating the office investigate deaths of federal firefighters who are killed in burnovers or entrapments. Similar investigations led to charges against two fire commanders in the deaths of federal firefighters in Washington State and Idaho.
The law was created after the 2001 Thirtymile Fire, which killed four firefighters in Washington. U.S. Forest Service supervisor Ellreese N. Daniels was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and lying to investigators.