Congress holds another hearing about sexual harassment of firefighters

Congressional and Inspector General investigations into allegations of sexual harassment of federal firefighters are becoming frequent. After two hearings before the Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about sexual misconduct in the National Park Service, a number of employees of the U.S. Forest Service came forward with similar stories.

On December 1 the committee held another hearing “to address misconduct, sexual harassment, and disparate treatment of women within the U.S. Forest Service”, and, “to examine the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s management of its Office of Civil Rights and handling of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints.”

One of the witnesses to testify was Denice Rice, a Fire Prevention Technician on the Eldorado National Forest at El Dorado, California.

She told a horrifying story of being harassed for years by her supervisor and then being victimized again with reprisals. Here are some excerpts from her written testimony:

…From 2009 through 2011 my second line supervisor repeatedly sexually harassed me and he assaulted me in 2011. I filed a complaint and the instant I filed everything changed. Management removed all of my supervisory responsibilities, moved me from my location, and isolated me. This adverse action resulted in a prohibited personnel practice when they removed my supervisory responsibilities that were in my position description.

[—]

Numerous investigations were held. There was an OIG investigation, with interviews from multiple investigators and I had to relive the situation over and over. One of the investigators provided specific details to my peers on what the second line supervisor did to me, including sexual assault. I lost my reputation and my dignity when they made the situation public. My family life was affected. My husband felt helpless because he wasn’t allowed to protect me. My life was a living hell. I was diagnosed with PTSD.

[—]

After the OIG investigation and the Rangers read everything in the report, again violating my confidentiality, the decision was made to terminate him. But before they gave him the proposed removal letter, the Forest Supervisor took him out for coffee to give him advance notice that he was going to be fired. They let him quickly retire with no mark on his record whatsoever.

After his retirement he applied for and was hired on a California Incident Management Team. This put me in a situation where we could both be assigned to the same fire incident. It also allowed him to continue working with women.

[—]

In 2016 the fire organization brought this predator back to the Eldorado forest specifically to give a motivational speech to the Hotshots. So they are still supporting him while I have continued to be harassed by the same individuals that protected him before he left. I have had to file additional reprisal complaints.

The video of the hearing is below. It starts at about 8:30.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “sexual harassment”.

Update on wildfire at Gatlinburg, December 2, 2016

Above: Map showing the perimeter of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, Tennessee as of 11 p.m. ET December 1, 2016.

(UPDATED at 4:12 p.m. ET, December 2, 2016)

Today for the first time since Gatlinburg was evacuated residents will be allowed into the city to access their property. They can enter the area between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. today through December 6th.

According to CNN the number of confirmed fatalities has increased to 13:

Of the 13 who died, 12 were killed in the fires, and one person died of a heart attack after fleeing and being exposed to smoke, [Sevier County Mayor Larry] Waters and the county’s assistant medical examiner, Dr. Vincent Tolley, said.

The estimated number of structures destroyed officially remains at 700; it is likely that will change after the surveys are complete.

The Chimney Tops 2 Fire that burned into the city on November 29 has been mapped at 17,859 acres. Firefighting resources assigned to the fire include 17 hand crews, 31 engines, 6 helicopters, and 5 dozers for a total of 458 personnel.

The National Park Service Investigative Branch Services and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) continue to investigate the origin of the fire — it appears to be human caused. The park is asking for assistance from the public to gather information. 

For the most current information about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, see our articles tagged “Chimney 2 Fire”.

Going from snow to a fire

Above: Engines on the Eldorado National Forest in California were loaded on semi trucks November 26 to be hauled to North Carolina to fight fires. USFS photo.

Often when large fire engines operated by the Federal agencies are dispatched to fires in distant locations they are transported on lowboy trailers pulled by semi trucks. These fire trucks, some weighing more than 30,000 pounds, are not really made for multi-day trips carrying up to five people. And, the additional wear and tear of putting thousands of miles on a resource that costs *$220,000 to $255,000 can make the decision to put it on a lowboy an easy one.

 

*Costs updated Dec. 3, 2016 for standard and all wheel drive Type 3 USFS engines.

Wildfire potential, December through March

 

On December 1 the Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center issued their Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for December through March. The data represents the cumulative forecasts of the ten Geographic Area Predictive Services Units and the National Predictive Services Unit.

If their predictions are correct, the elevated wildfire danger that has plagued the southern states for weeks will be returning to normal. From January through March their analysis shows no areas with above normal wildfire potential.

January wildfire outlook

Continue reading “Wildfire potential, December through March”

Satellite photo shows virtually no wildfire smoke in southern states

Above: Thursday’s satellite photo shows no large quantities of smoke from wildfires in the southern states. NASA/Wildfire Today.

Thanks to the soaking rains over the last three days the satellite photo taken Thursday shows no large concentrations of smoke from wildfires in the southern states. Of course this photo was taken from hundreds of miles overhead and would not be capable of detecting smoking logs, stump holes, and the smouldering remains of burned structures at Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Here is an example of a satellite photo that showed large amounts of wildfire smoke on November 10, 2016.

And it does not mean the fires are out. Firefighters may still need to construct firelines around the perimeters of the fires and suppress still-burning materials that are near the fire’s edge.

The very dry soils and vegetation desiccated by the two-month drought will quickly soak up some of the precipitation making it less effective in suppressing a fire than it would have been if the weather had been closer to normal in recent months.

The Southern Area Coordination Center reported Thursday morning only two fires that were still spreading — the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, TN (+1,455 acres) and the Camp Branch Fire 9 miles west of Franklin, NC (+212 acres).

Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg

There are no major changes in the information provided by officials about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire. The estimated number of structures burned remains at 700 and they are still reporting 7 confirmed fatalities. The size is 17,108 acres.

A mandatory evacuation is still in effect for most of the City of Gatlinburg.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed from the Gatlinburg entrance along Highway 441 to Smokemont, near Cherokee, North Carolina. Cades Cove and Oconoluftee Visitor Centers reopened Thursday.

The incident management team disclosed information about another fire they are managing east of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire. The name of this fire is unclear, but it is reported to be in the Cobbly Nob area.

For the most current information about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, see our articles tagged “Chimney 2 Fire”.

Officials: 700 structures burned in Chimney Tops 2 Fire near Gatlinburg, TN

Above: A November 29 infrared image of an area within the Chimney Tops 2 Fire in Seivier County, Tennessee. The white areas represent heat, areas that either ARE burning or they previously burned and retained some of the heat. For example, a concrete slab, ashes, and bricks would stay hot for hours after most of the fire burned out or was extinguished. The larger white rectangular objects are most likely burned structures. 

On Wednesday afternoon officials confirmed that 700 structures burned in the Chimney Tops 2 Fire in Tennessee. Of that total, 300 were in Gatlinburg and 400 were in other parts of Sevier County.

The Tennessee Department of Health reported Wednesday that the death count in the fire has risen to seven and the number of injuries has increased to 45.

A mandatory evacuation is still in effect for most of the City of Gatlinburg.

Fire suppression resources assigned to the fire include 9 hand crews, 22 engines, 7 helicopters, 4 dozers — for a total of 285 personnel.

WBIR has a list of areas affected by the fire with brief descriptions of the damage.

As predicted, another round of rain assisted firefighters on Wednesday, dropping between 1.28 and 1.76 inches at four weather stations in the Gatlinburg area during the 24 hours ending at 11:50 p.m. EST.

precipitation Gatlinburg
Precipitation recorded at four weather stations in the Gatlinburg area during the 24-hour period ending at 11:50 p.m. EST November 30, 2016. Click to enlarge.

For the most current information about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, see our articles tagged “Chimney 2 Fire”.