SALMON, Idaho (AP) - The new supervisor of eastern Idaho's
Salmon-Challis National Forest is pledging quick action to prevent
wildfire-related fatalities like the two last summer.
"Fire is risky business under the best of conditions, but there
are no circumstances at all that warrant the loss of life," said
Bill Wood, who becomes supervisor next month.
Wood takes over amid intense scrutiny since the July 22 deaths
of helitack crewmen Jeff Allen, 24, of Salmon, and Shane Heath, 22,
of Melba. An investigative report earlier this week found that
safety violations and poor decision-making by forest managers led
to the deaths.
Investigators recommended overhauling the training program for
fire commanders overseeing smaller, less complex blazes like the
deadly Cramer fire in their early stages.
The fire deaths are also being investigated internally by the
Forest Service, the agency's inspector general and the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration.
Wood said he will quickly name an operations staff officer, who
has fire responsibilities, in an attempt to jump-start planning for
this fire season. The job opened after Rich Hafenfeld took another
assignment.
"I know a lot of people directly involved are experiencing pain
and anguish," Wood said. "As I told employees the other day,
we'll get reminders of the incident in recurring intervals. Just
when people are starting to heal, something will come along and
bring it all back. This will be with us for a long, long time."
But this week, he focused on the firefighters' grieving
families.
"As a father of two young adult children myself, I don't even
want to think how it would be to lose one," he said.
Wood has considerable experience dealing with a forest facing
criticism. In 2002, as deputy supervisor of the Pike-San Isabel
National Forest and Cimarron-Comanche National Grasslands in
Colorado, Wood had to handle the news that one of the forest's fire
technicians was behind what became the largest blaze in Colorado
history. Wood also was among the agency's point men in 1994 when 14
firefighters died on Colorado's Storm King Mountain.
"There's nothing more difficult in jobs like mine than dealing
with the loss of employees or co-workers," Wood said. "It's a
real challenge for the leadership team."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)