Accountability and the Davis escaped prescribed fire report

The Helena Independent Record has an excellent editorial about the report that was released on Monday on the prescribed fire that escaped on August 26, 2010 and burned over 2,000 acres of private and U.S. Forest Service land 28 miles northwest of Helena, Montana. The report, and the reaction to it from Kevin Riordan, the Helena National Forest Supervisor, indicates that the U. S. Forest Service is not fully aware of, or at least will not publicly admit, the impacts of the serious mistakes and errors in judgement that were made. Accountability did not seem to enter the minds of the 5-person review panel or the Helena National Forest.

Read the entire editorial, but here is an excerpt.

…Our disappointment with the Forest Service’s lack of accountability to accept responsibility is threefold:

First, the Forest Service’s top fire officials should have known the weather, fuels conditions and tree types. That’s what they’re paid and trained to do. The wildfire wouldn’t have ignited had the fire boss used common sense and called off the prescribed burn out of precautionary measures. If there is any blame to be had, it’s there. Right there.

Second, if this was a Regular Joe who didn’t put out a campfire which boomed into a $3 million firefighting effort, they’d be in jail, or at least facing stiff criminal charges. Instead, the Forest Service gets a free pass to “Go.”

Third, we expect more from our governmental leaders. If they goof, which happens, we expect them to own up to it and admit their mistakes. It’s OK to learn from those mistakes; that’s how we all grow to be better people and better citizens. But to blatantly disregard those mistakes is unacceptable.

Ultimately, the forest will grow back, and Forest Service officials will continue to rightfully use prescribed burns as an important forest-health mechanism. Ultimately, they might even learn a lesson or two from this debacle.

But it’s the public trust that has been burned the worst, and that is going to be hard to redeem.

The mistakes and errors in judgement before this prescribed fire was even lit are mind-boggling. Some Forest Supervisors, if their heads were not in the sand, would consider firing those responsible.

We have previously covered good and bad examples of accountability and accepting responsibility. We’ll make a mental note to add this incident to the bad example list.

Thanks Dick.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Accountability and the Davis escaped prescribed fire report”

  1. The Forest Service is never wrong! Sadly this is rather a common occurrence. There are tons of examples of Forest Service thinking they know it all and are just too good to fail.

    1. In looking at this report/review, remember that 2 of the 5 panel members were non-USFS: 1 was Montana DNRC and 1 was BLM. So this was not just the findings of all USFS folks covering up for the Angency or individual employees.
      That said, there certainly seems to be a serious lack of accountability for this burn-gone-bad.


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