Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Utah National Guard Takes Responsibility for Herriman Fire

On Sunday September 19th, the Utah National Guard began conducting live fire machine gun training at Camp Williams about thirty miles south of Salt Lake City, despite the tinder dry conditions and hot winds that were blowing that afternoon.  Unfortunately the worst happened accordingly.

A fire started around 1:30 PM that afternoon due to that machine gun fire which rapidly spread out of control and eventually ended up charring over 4,300 acres. 

The Utah National Guard quickly acknowledged that live ammunition from the exercise was indeed the cause of that fire.  Lt. Colonel Hank McIntyre stated that Utah National Guard crews tried to immediately get the blaze under control but with no success.  The National Guard waited nearly two hours trying to fight the rapidly growing fire before calling for outside fire services to assist them, according to the Major General Brian Tarbet.

Unfortunately that blaze grew and spread to the Herriman mountainside, consuming more than 4,300 acres and destroying three homes while damaging a fourth.  Approximately 1600 homes and more than 5000 people in the town of Herriman near the northern border of Camp Williams had to be evacuated for several days due to the fire. 

According to the local Salt Lake ABC affiliate, "At a press conference Monday afternoon, Camp Williams Adjutant Maj. Gen. Brian L. Tarbet apologized for the chain of events that led to the fire. Gen. Tarbet says that the fire "literally exploded across Camp Williams," after Camp Williams fire crews were initially fighting a five acre fire at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday."

Maj. General Tarbet further stated that Guard officials erred when they allowed live-fire training despite high wind warnings and also said that no one from the Guard checked to see if the National Weather Service had posted a "red flag" high-wind warning before permitting the machine gun exercise to proceed in such dangerous conditions.

Despite the lack of good procedure and safety leading up to the event, I applaud General Tarbet for his taking quick responsibility for the blaze without making excuses or looking to shift blame for the responsibility.  In the press conference, he said to the media, "We say we're sorry, deeply sorry; these are the citizens we're sworn to protect and we did not do that Sunday."  He characterized the fire as a "systematic failure" at Camp Williams.  "Our mission is to support our citizens, not to endanger them, and we failed in that yesterday," Tarbet further said.

Despite the loss to the families whose homes were destroyed and the thousands of people inconvenienced for most of a week due to evacuation orders, I am heartened that the Utah National Guard stepped up, admitted fault without excuse and have promised to make things right for those affected by the fire.  The Utah National Guard had setup evacuation shelters immediately via the Red Cross and set up a mechanism for claims against the Guard for the replacement of lost property.  Luckily no human life was lost in this tragedy. 

Thankfully, Maj. General Tarbet and the Utah National Guard, despite their dreadful mistakes, are honorable people that took full and complete responsibility and are actively working to make things right.  Their example of contrition without shirking the blame and responsibility is refreshing and something from which we can all learn these days. 


Dave Splash said...

Hadn't heard anything about this story. Interesting.

T. Paine said...

Yeah, the whole Salt Lake Valley was pretty smokey that following Monday. Thankfully no one was hurt.