No cause named yet for Cannon Fire

More than a year after three people died fighting the Cannon fire in Walker, Calif., the U.S. Forest Service still has not named a culprit. Speculation on the cause involves U.S. Marine Corps wilderness training, but no charges have been filed by the U.S. Attorney's office.

Results of a review by the Forest Service were released Friday, but did not name a cause.

The news release said the fire remains under investigation and that no problems were found in the Forest Service's fire suppression preparedness and initial attack, communication between air and ground personnel, tactical use of air tankers and fire team transition.

In February, the Marines received a $10 million bill for costs to extinguish the more than 23,000-acre Sierra Nevada wildfire.

The Cannon Fire started June 15, 2002, on the Bridgeport Ranger District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Pilot Steve Wass, co-pilot Craig LaBare and flight engineer Mike Davis were killed June 17, 2002, when the wings broke off the plane while they were trying to make a retardant drop.

The Forest Service's Review Team's findings confirm that "no obvious problems occurred with air-to-ground communications during the fire, air tanker use was appropriate for structure protection in Walker due to extreme fire behavior, low fuel-moisture conditions, weather predictions, and terrain and fire team transition during the fire's initial phases responsibly recognized and responded to the fire's changing conditions."

Forest Supervisor Robert Vaught said the first firefighters "are to be commended for responsibly considering safety first and foremost in their tactical fire-line planning and actions,"

The review team's findings were released to forest officials in May and Vaught said the findings have been helpful in making changes to this year's fire suppression efforts.

He said fire restrictions were implemented last month, additional fire severity funding to provide overtime pay and allow firefighters to order needed equipment was requested and received, stations are being staffed seven days a week rather than five and extra patrols over the holiday weekend are in place.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated Press writer Brendan Riley contributed to this report.


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