Senator Lisa Murkowski today received the results of the United States Army Alaska's (USARAK) investigation into the 85,000 acre Stuart Creek 2 fire in the Yukon Training Area earlier this summer, with the official findings confirming suspicions that artillery training caused the fire despite high fire danger warnings at the time -- and not lighting, recreation or other human involvement suggested at the time.
The report -- made available to the Senator and the public after Murkowski added language to the 2014 Defense Appropriations bill requiring this additional, transparent step be taken -- also:
Found USARAK's Training and Safety Regulations were not strictly followed, leading to the fire -- which as of early August was estimated to be $19 million worth of damage.
Immediately enacted an internal policy change requiring future approvals for training during similarly sensitive weather conditions to be done by a higher-ranking official -- the USARAK Deputy Commanding Officer, instead of the G3 Installation Range Officer.
"This report does three very important things: it provides accountability by establishing responsibility for this unnecessary disaster, changes policies to minimize the chance it would happen again -- and begins rebuilding bridges between the U.S. Army Alaska and the surrounding communities who lost property or were threatened by this blaze," said Murkowski. "I commend the investigators for asking the difficult questions, and for the officials who acknowledged culpability and made the needed changes. Moving forward, I ask the U.S. Army to seriously consider reimbursing the Bureau of Land Management for the expenses it took on combating this fire."
BACKGROUND: On August 1st, Senator Murkowski added the following language to the FY2014 Defense Appropriations Subcommittee report to address lingering concerns over the blaze:
The Committee is deeply concerned about reports that the live fire artillery exercise was permitted to occur notwithstanding the advice of the Bureau of Land Management's Alaska Fire Service and the Fort Wainwright Garrison that it be postponed due to the high potential for wildfire. Accordingly, the Committee directs the Army to review its procedures for determining when to postpone exercises due to wildfire risk in light of the outcome of its investigation into the Stuart Creek Fire, and to report to the congressional defense committees on its conclusions no later than April 15, 2014.