Road Blamed in Fatal California Firefighter Accident

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Bad road conditions and driver inexperience contributed to an accident that killed three firefighters this summer, a U.S. Forest Service investigation found.

The crew was battling a fire in rugged northern California terrain July 28 when their fire engine rolled 800 feet down a steep mountainside in the middle of the night.

Three firefighters were ejected and killed; two survived.

The report, released Tuesday by the Forest Service, found that Steven Oustad, 51, the captain of the five-member crew, decided to let Heather DePolo, 29, drive despite her lack of experience driving at night after long hours of working.

DePolo, who was hired as a senior firefighter and being trained to become a fire engine operator, apparently moved the engine to the far left of the narrow road in order to pass two people on the shoulder when one wheel went off the narrow gravel road.

Also contributing to the accident were poor driver visibility - the large front hood of the engine blocked the view directly in front of the vehicle - and extended nighttime driving.