By Sara Lin and Jonathan Abrams, Times Staff Writers
July 20, 2007
The crew of Engine Co. 57 arrived at an isolated knoll in the San Jacinto Mountains at night, had no maps of the area and were positioned in front of the wind-driven fire and at the top of a grassy slope — situations considered major hazards when fighting wildfires, the report stated.
"The fire festered in the drainage below the firefighters' position leaving Engine 57 in an indefensible position," the report states. The crew had also not been properly briefed on the fire situation, the Santa Ana wind conditions and danger areas, the report says.
Forest Service spokesperson Allison Stewart declined to comment on the OSHA report, saying the agency had not had a chance to review it.
"Our Forest Service safety staff and fire management team will review it, and we have the opportunity presented by OSHA for an informal conference, and that may take place at that point in the future," Stewart said.
The report is not intended to cast blame for the deaths, said Roger Gayman, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor.
"The real bottom line is OSHA and the Forest Service will hopefully work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future…. It's not about providing a scapegoat," he said.
Overall, the Forest Service failed to comply with three of 10 "standard fire orders" and six of 18 "watch-out situations" listed in the Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations, the safety protocols for fighting wildfires, according to the report.