A US Forest Service employee has been arrested after the prescribed burn he was managing set ablaze on 18 acres of private land in Oregon, authorities confirmed Friday.
The man, known as a “burn manager” for his duties planning and overseeing prescribed burns, which aim to reduce fuel for wildfires, was arrested on suspicion of reckless burning, the Los Angeles County District Attorney said. Grant, Grant Carpenter, in a statement.
The Grant County Sheriff’s Office responded to the fire Wednesday afternoon after it sparked a separate fire at the Darrel Holliday Ranch in the Bear Valley area, the prosecutor said.
Sheriff Todd McKinley made the arrest at the scene after determining he had “probable cause to arrest the USFS fire chief,” Carpenter’s office said in the statement.
Formal charges will be weighed once the sheriff’s investigation is complete, Carpenter said.
The man has since been released from jail. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
In the statement, Carpenter said the man’s employer and position “will not protect him if he is found to have acted recklessly.”
“The fact that the USFS was doing a prescribed burn may actually raise, rather than lower, the standard” to which it will be held, Carpenter said.
The US Forest Service did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Notifying residents of the fire this week, the Forest Service said in a statement that atmospheric parameters existed for a relatively safe prescribed burn, which had been planned for 300 acres. The burns are meant to prevent larger fires but, on rare occasions, they escape officials.
Wednesday’s fire in the Malheur National Forest may have sent an ember onto private land off the Izee Highway in Bear Valley, sparking an 18-acre blaze that was brought under control within an hour, US Forest Service officials. said.
The Darrel Holliday ranch, where the separate fire was lit, spawns and sells red angus cattle, according to its website. The ranch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
No injuries were reported.
The Forest Service halted prescribed burns for most of the summer in the wake of the 341,735-acre Hermits Peak fire, which began April 6 when a prescribed burn spun out of control in New Mexico and other releases noted in the West.
The agency cited extreme weather for the pause, saying climate change may have changed those weather parameters and added a level of uncertainty.
Announcing the return of prescribed burns on September 8, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said his green light was conditional on “key factors and conditions,” with officials required to “engage in those burns in real time.” .
Christopher Adlam, a regional fire specialist and an assistant professor in the fire program at the Oregon State University Extension Service, said a prescribed burn had not burned private land in Oregon in 20 years as of Wednesday.
The arrest may not bring more burn managers into custody, but it could affect how officials work with prescribed burns, the scholar said.
“I have never heard of a burn chief or any fire personnel being arrested for their actions as employees of the federal government,” Adlam said. “It’s easy to imagine that it could be hard on the morale of fire chiefs and firefighters who already face numerous obstacles to using prescribed burning, which is the cheapest and most effective tool we know of for reducing wildfire risk.”
Reckless burning is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and fines that can total more than $5,000.