The U.S. Forest Service says the death of a 20-year-old firefighter in Idaho last summer was a “chance” occurrence. The new report is in sharp contrast to the findings of federal workplace safety investigators.
The newly released report determines fire managers did not violate any safety protocols at the fire where Anne Veseth died. She was killed when a 150-foot fire-damaged cedar came crashing down last August. The young firefighter from Moscow, Idaho, was working the Steep Corner Fire in the northwest part of the state.
The day before she was killed, a federal Hotshot crew refused to work the fire because of safety problems.
But while the Forest Service’s own report found some confusion on the ground, investigators say all the decisions made were appropriate.
Phil Sammon is a spokesman at the regional Forest Service office in Missoula, Montana. “We didn't go in there looking for: 'Someone did something wrong and we're going to punish them.' The intent of this is to identify all of the mitigating factors surrounding this serious accident and determine how we can improve protocols and procedures for future incidents.”
But in another recent report, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, inspectors determined the Forest Service had violated seven out of 10 federal firefighting rules. OSHA says poor tactics, planning and communication added to the dangers firefighters faced.
OSHA inspectors issued citations for the safety violations they saw to the Forest Service and a private timber association that managed the fire. Fire managers at both are considering whether to contest the charges.
Anne Veseth died during her second season on the firelines. Her mother declined to comment on the reports about her death.