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FSEER Suing Forest Service

by Chris Sorensen |

The Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics sued the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula this week over the agency's decision to withhold the identities of employees directly involved in a 2003 central Idaho wildfire that killed Firefighters Shane Heath and Jeff Allen last July 22 after they were left in the path of the Cramer fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. They were attempting to cut down trees to create a helicopter landing zone when they were overcome by smoke and then flames.

A Forest Service report released last January said the two were not warned of the area's potential for extreme fire danger, they were confused about the availability of helicopters and other firefighting resources and they were working under inadequate leadership.
But the report removed names and other identifying information about crew members directly involved. In May, Regional Forester Jack Troyer said six faced disciplinary action.
. The suit filed this week seeks the names under the Freedom of Information Act. The Forest Service has refused them, under the "personnel and medical files and similar files" exemption to the open records law.
Investigators concluded that Cramer Fire incident commander Alan Hackett violated all 10 standard orders to ensure firefighters operate safely, including posting lookouts, identifying escape routes and paying attention to weather. Hackett still works for the Salmon-Challis forest in a nonfire-related job.

Then-Forest Supervisor George Matejko and North Fork-Middle Fork district ranger Patty Bates were cited for lack of oversight and direction of Hackett. Matejko is working in Washington, D.C., as an assistant to Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.