I just finished rereading the Billings Fire Department (BFD) and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation fire reports on the Rehberg ranch fire of July 2008 and talked to people on this fire and to neighbors.
I am an independent voter and was a wildland firefighter for 37 years (majority a smokejumper) and an initial attack or extended attack incident commander on nearly 200 of 600 fires.
The initial response to the Rehberg fire was on July 1, 2008. The fire was contained at 1 acre.
On July 2, the BFD report has crews leaving the fire at 3:30 p. m. Neighbors then called in that the fire had escaped and was actively re-burning, and engines raced back to the fire, arriving at 6 p. m. This time the fire was contained at 6 to 8 acres.
On July 3, the fire was held, and the next day the “Billings Fire had an engine crew patrolling the fire on the morning of July 4. The crew departed the fire at approximately noon to return to Station 1 for lunch. With the hot temperatures and moderate wind, the fire again flared up at approximately 3:15 p. m. on July 4. Mutual aid was requested from all fire departments in the Billings area, along with the BLM. ”
After this second re-burn, helicopters, heavy equipment and engines, etc., were thrown at the fire. The fire would ultimately burn a good deal of the Rehberg Ranch Estates. The fire went from 6-8 acres to 1,120 acres.
It’s one thing if a fire is continuously manned, but escapes despite the best efforts of the firefighters. But twice this fire was left unattended, and twice it quickly reburned. There were numerous private, state or BLM engines that could have been used to provide uninterrupted patrol. They were not used. There are numerous people qualified to be field observers that could have been used to monitor and patrol the fire. They were not.
The Rehberg lawsuit isn’t about not supporting firefighters, it is about command decisions to twice leave a fire unattended during the hottest, driest, windiest part of two different days that went on to do a lot of damage to the Rehberg property.
If there were a wildland fire next to your property that was fully contained (twice), then everyone left during the most critical part of two hot, dry, windy days and it roared back to life to burn your home or property, would you file a lawsuit to get at the truth?
I am calling for Rep. Rehberg’s opponent to take down his attack ads on this issue, and I question all of Rehberg opponent’s ads at this point.