SEATTLE (AP) -- The mop-up crew that was overtaken by a quickly spreading forest fire, killing four, had twice the number of rookies as experts recommend, authorities said.
The 21-member team included eight who were inexperienced in fighting wildfires, The Seattle Times reported Friday. The paper and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also said firefighters generally were not supposed to fight forest fires aggressively in the area where the four died.
A five-member squad should not have more than one rookie on it, said Billy Terry, branch chief for fire training at the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, D.C. Two of the four who died were teen-agers, and a third, a 21-year-old, had limited training, according to his father.
The fifth, squad leader Jason Emhoff, 21, of Yakima, survived but may lose his hands because of severe burns.
"Very, very seldom would you have more than one or two people on a squad at the very basic level," Terry told The Seattle Times. "We try not to compromise that."
Firefighters Tom L. Craven, 30; Karen L. Fitzpatrick, 18; Devin A. Weaver, 21; and Jessica L. Johnson, 19, were killed Tuesday when a 25-acre fire, fueled by wind and heat, blasted out of a canyon in the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests in the northern Cascade Range.
Weaver's father, Ken Weaver, told the Post-Intelligencer his son had 40 hours of training before being sent to the fire.
"What kind of idiot would send a kid with no experience into a situation like that?" Weaver said.
Officials have noted for more than a year that a tight labor market has hampered efforts to recruit, train and retain seasonal firefighters in the nation's forests.
The fire was in a federally designated 8,500-acre research natural area with limits on firefighting efforts. The area's management plan specifies that in the event of fire, "the preferred suppression strategy is confinement."
Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics in Eugene, Ore., told the newspapers that firefighters did not know they were in a minimum fire suppression area and thus never contacted the area's managers or followed the guidelines.
"I know hindsight is 20-20," Stahl said, "but it's when you fight fire aggressively that people can get hurt."
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