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OSHA faults Forest Service in deaths of 5 firefighters (7/25)

July 25, 2007
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The U.S. Forest Service failed to follow a series of safety protocols before five federal firefighters died in an arson-set wildfire near Palm Springs in October, according to a report released last week by OSHA.

The agency found six "serious" health and safety violations that put the firefighters in peril by "exposing them to hazardous conditions of a burnover," the report says.

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, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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 OSHA.

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