Decision-making faulted in deaths of five firefighters

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first_imgU.S. Forest Service Chief Forester Gail Kimbell told a news conference there were two “causal factors” involving the tragedy. “There was a loss of situational awareness concerning the dangers associated with potential fire behavior … while in a complex urban wildland situation,” Kimbell said. Decisions by command officers and supervisors to try to protect buildings also was a causal factor, Kimbell said. “They underestimated, accepted or misjudged the risk to firefighter safety,” Kimbell said. The individuals who made those decisions were not identified, and the officials at the news conference refused to answer questions about the contents of the report or to elaborate on the findings. They only answered questions about the procedure of the investigation and follow-up. Gary Helmer, the U.S. Forest Service’s safety and occupational health manager, said the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Agriculture has also begun an investigation. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! YUCAIPA, Calif. – Risky decisions to protect structures from a raging arson wildfire last fall, failure to fully scout escape routes and social pressure to work in a hazardous situation apparently led to the deaths of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters who were overrun, an investigative report released Tuesday found. “The human elements are critical factors in the evaluation of this investigation,” said the report on the Esperanza Fire. “A risky decision or a series of risky decisions appear to have contributed to this dangerous situation from which there was no room for error.” Families of the fallen firefighters were shown the report before its release, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes. The investigation was conducted by the federal agency and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the agency that was in command of the firefighting effort. The Esperanza Fire was ignited Oct. 26, 2006, and was spread by fierce Santa Ana winds. The five firefighters and their engine were overrun by flames as they tried to protect a house in a mountain community about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. The blaze eventually charred more than 60 square miles and destroyed 34 homes and 20 outbuildings. last_img

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