Friday, March 22, 2013

Idaho Group Reaches Settlement With OSHA Over Wildfire Death

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2013 at 9:06 AM

The Clearwater Potlatch Timber Protective Association has reached a settlement with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in connection with the death of a 20-year-old Moscow woman, who was killed while battling a 2012 wildfire near Orofino.

Anne Veseth of Moscow was killed when one tree fell and crashed into another tree, causing it to fall in a domino effect. The tragedy occurred while Veseth was battling the Streep Corner Fire on Aug. 12, 2012.

OSHA conducted an investigation, leading to citations and fines. Among the several violations listed in OSHA's report were failure to keep crews informed of weather reports and not knowing what the fire was doing at all times. The report also pointed to "communication problems" and inadequate "maintaining control of workforces."

The Orofino-based firefighting organization agreed to pay a $10,500 fine in the settlement.

The U.S. Forest Service, in its own report, concluded that human error was not responsible for the accident. The report said Veseth died instantly when a green cedar that had been weakened by fire struck her in the head.

The report included a chilling narrative:

"With his fists and teeth clenched, [another firefighter] expects to be hit. He hears a tremendous sound as the trees crash downward and feels the whip of limbs on each side of him. He falls down, but upon realizing he is uninjured, quickly gets up and looks for [Veseth], who he thought had been right behind him. He finds her three or four strides uphill under the tree branches. After quickly clearing them away, he determines she did not survive."

The report adds that "numerous individuals at the accident scene performed admirably."

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