Congressman Tom McClintock has launched an investigation into the U.S. Forest Service’s response during the first few days of the Rim Fire, when the now-historic blaze was still confined to the remote Clavey River canyon.
The probe is focused on decisions that were made during the initial attack and whether available resources were used or not, the Granite Bay Republican told The Union Democrat this week.
The Rim Fire has burned more than 256,000 acres since it started Aug. 17 and incident teams are expected to achieve full containment Friday.
“We’re starting to ask questions in hopes of getting a hearing on the fire at a later date,” said McClintock, whose district includes fire-stricken Tuolumne and Mariposa counties, as well as smoke-impacted Calaveras County. “This is no reflection upon firefighters but on particular management decisions that have been of great concern.”
The fire burned 800 acres as it climbed the south canyon wall of the Clavey River during the first two days. It picked up steam the afternoon of Aug. 19, jumped Highway 120 and grew to more than 10,000 acres overnight.
A hunter’s illegal campfire has been determined as the cause, but the hunter has not been arrested or publicly identified.
The Forest Service requested more resources Aug. 21, including additional air support as well as a “Type 1” incident management team — the most highly trained and experienced — and four “Type 2” teams.
The fire continued burning mostly out of control throughout the rest of the week, threatening thousands of structures and prompting evacuations along the Highway 120 and warnings in the Tuolumne area and along the Highway 108 corridor from Soulsbyville to Mi-Wuk Village.
Since that time, containment on the fire has reached 84 percent, all evacuation orders and advisories have been lifted and no structures were still considered threatened. At last count, 98 outbuildings, 11 residences and three commercial structures had been destroyed.
“What decisions were made — and by whom — that a fire growing slowly for a couple days was allowed to explode into this conflagration that has consumed 400 square miles?” McClintock said. “These are issues that need to be researched and addressed.”
Rocky Deal, McClintock’s district director, said it was too early to release more details about the probe, but added that the congressman’s office “wasn’t pointing any fingers” and would continue gathering information until all questions have been answered.
Stanislaus National Forest spokesman Jerry Snyder said he wasn’t aware of any records requests filed by McClintock’s office.
“We’ll wait to see what he might send forward and then we’ll have a response to his concerns, but it’s probably not something that we’re going to comment on at this point,” Snyder said.