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Forest Service punishes 11 for Thirtymile fire deaths

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Fri Feb 14 12:34:47 EST 2003

>From The Oregonian, Feb. 13, 2003, p C12 (Metro)

Forest Service punishes 11 for Thirtymile fire deaths
The federal agency refuses to name who was disciplined or how,
angering the families of the deceased
	YAKIMA - The U.S. Forest Service has taken final disciplinary action
against 11 employees stemming from the fatal Thirtymile fire but is
withholding the details, citing privacy laws.
	The agency told families of the four central Washington firefighters
who died in the 2001 blaze that it wouldn't reveal who was disciplined
or what actions were taken.
	"My understanding is the Privacy Act prohibits release of that
information," Forest Service spokesman Rex Holloway said Tuesday from
the agency's regional office in Portland.
	The Forest Service concluded last year that fire bosses failed to
follow basic safety rules and ignored numerous signs of danger,
resulting in the deaths of Tom Craven, 30, of Ellensburg, Wash., and
Yakima residents Devin Weaver, 21, Jessica Johnson, 19, and Karen
FitzPatrick, 18.
	The four died in their emergency fire shelters July 10, 2001, when
they were trapped by an inferno with 10 other firefighters and two
campers in the Chewuch River Canyon in the Okanogan National Forest.
	The secrecy and the long wait for discipline have outraged the
victims' families.
	"Why didn't they guard my son's right to life as jealously as they
guard the privacy of their employees?" said Ken Weaver, Devin Weaver's
	The unspecified discipline followed months of administrative
wrangling and any action taken by the agency could still be appealed
by the employees involved, Holloway said.
	In May 2002, the agency announced that it would seek discipline
against the 11 employees, ranging from firing to letters of reprimand.
	"The families have a right to know, and the public has a right to
know," said Kathie FitzPatrick, Karen's mother.
	Weaver and FitzPatrick said it remains unclear whether the Forest
Service did anything to punish its employees for mistakes at
	A review concluded that commanders broke all 10 of the agency's
standard safety rules. In the end, the mistakes left firefighters cut
off from their only escape route in a dead-end canyon with fire fast

Posted by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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