CDF accused of dragging feet on Sierra fire report
TRUCKEE (AP) – Local fire officials are accusing the California Department of Forestry of dragging its feet on a probe into the cause of the 14,500-acre Martis forest fire east of here.
Truckee Fire Protection District Chief Mike Terwilliger and North Tahoe Fire Protection District division Chief Bryce Keller said they wonder if CDF officials are trying to cover up a mistake.
Terwilliger said he’s convinced the June 17 fire grew out of a small blaze near Hirschdale that CDF crews extinguished the day before but later failed to inspect.
Fire officials have said the Martis fire broke out about an hour before CDF crews were due to inspect the site.
The Martis fire destroyed a mobile home, cabin and three vehicles, and threatened hundreds of homes in the Reno area until it was contained July 1.
It also shut down Interstate 80 and a major rail line the first day. It cost about $18.5 million to suppress.
”I’m embarrassed for CDF on how they’re handling this,” Terwilliger told the Tahoe World newspaper in Tahoe City. ”Their inability to step up and admit a mistake is a blight on the whole fire service.
”In my mind, if they’d gone back and checked the (small) fire later that day and the next day, this (Martis) fire would not have happened.”
CDF investigators have ruled out a link between the Martis fire and a marijuana cultivation operation, the World reported.
”I think it’s safe to say the field investigation is completed. Which begs the question: How come nothing has been disseminated?” asked Keller, a former CDF battalion chief.
Tony Clarabut, a CDF unit chief, said a hectic fire season and the complexity of the case prolonged the investigation, but he expects the report to be released this week.
He stressed the importance of accuracy and the need for sufficient time to complete the report.
”The management people are the ones reviewing it, and they have other roles – in resource allocation and overall management,” Clarabut said.
He declined comment on allegations concerning the origins of the Martis fire.
Doug Rinella, CDF battalion chief for the Truckee unit, said his crew had plans to check the small fire the day after it was extinguished. The small blaze grew out of an escaped campfire.
”We got diverted. Our intentions were to go out there before lunch Sunday, but we decided to go out after lunch Sunday,” he said.
Terwilliger said CDF crews should have inspected the site at least twice before the Martis fire erupted at 12:04 p.m. that Sunday.
”There’s something that happened that distracted them … It fell through the cracks,” he said.
”To me, it’s an honest mistake. I’m not going to bash them for (the rekindle) because it could happen to me. It’s the nature of the business. But it’s time to come forward. This litigious society makes us afraid to admit mistakes.”
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