OSHA Finds Serious Forest Service Violations at Esperanza Fire

OSHA on July 19 released its findings after investigating the Esperanza fire, which killed five firefighters of the U.S. Forest Service on Oct. 26, 2006, in the Banning, Calif., community of Twin Pines. OSHA said it issued to USFS, a USDA agency, a Notice of Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions for alleged serious violations, including failing 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.

"OSHA is already working with the U.S. Forest Service to ensure that the utmost care is taken to prevent future loss of life," said Frank Strasheim, the agency's regional administrator in San Francisco. "We have already entered another fire season, and we are working together to prevent such tragedies from occurring again." USFS may meet informally with OSHA to discuss the violation notices, including methods of correction and length of abatement periods, OSHA said. The OSH Act defines a serious violation as one where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

In June 2007, USFS Chief Abigail Kimbell approved an Esperanza accident review board's action plan with seven recommendations. One, with a March 31, 2008, completion date, is to promote use of the Esperanza Fire Fatality Serious Accident Investigation Report as a learning tool "to deliver a variety of strong messages to the fire community to emphasize the importance of risk management and the priority of life over structure protection."

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