Friday, October 16, 2015

Armed ranchers confront firefighters on Tepee Springs fire

The Forest Service is investigating a report by a firefighter that he and others fighting the Tepee Springs Fire near Riggins were harassed and threatened with guns by landowners. The unidentified firefighter said the landowners were unhappy that firefighters were not directly fighting the fire that was burning in a steep watershed that drained into the Salmon River. Fire managers had decided to use an indirect strategy to fight the fire because of safety concerns. The report, filed on the National Interagency Fire Center’s SAFENET page, is designed to give firefighters a voice in safety decisions and to direct managers to safety concerns. The report was published in the online firefighter’s web magazine Wildfire Today, along with a response from the landowners of Mountain View Elk Ranch on the West Fork of Lake Creek, three miles east of Riggins. “The landowners, on multiple occasions, expressed frustration towards firefighters (for) their suppression actions, which ranged from verbal threats to aggressive posturing. Law enforcement officers were called on multiple occasions and the incident eventually resulted in two of the landowners verbally accosting a BLM employee while armed with a weapon,” the firefighter said in the report. “The landowners made multiple unsafe demands to firefighters, such as downhill line construction in extremely rugged terrain with fire below them; attempting burnouts on mid-slope (bull)dozer lines with no escape routes or safety zones, and to drop water from helicopters with (the landowners) in the work zone. Brad and Sarah Walters, the son and daughter-in-law of the elk ranch owners, published a detailed response to the firefighter’s filing on Wildfire Today. I spoke with Sarah Walters Tuesday; she said she was a firefighter for five years, and her family didn’t want firefighters to take any action that risked lives. She denied that the ranchers made any threats, started any fires or did anything wrong. She did acknowledge family members carried sidearms when federal law enforcement officers arrived on the ranch. “They brought the federal agents on our ground first,” Walters said. “We never threatened anybody with anything.” Walters said they carry sidearms on the ranch 90 percent of the time. “We said there was no reason for federal officers to be there,” she added. “We were just trying to save what was left of our animals and our ranch.”...more

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