Despite heated testimony, the Grant County Court opted not to fund an investigation into the Canyon Creek Complex fire at the behest of the Public Forest Commission Wednesday.
Many residents — many of whom lost property in the fire — urged the commissioners to undertake the investigation, but they cited concerns such as the cost and duration of the investigation and the forest commission’s request to oversee the investigation in denying the request.
Members of the forest commission said in a statement they could not ignore the devastation caused by fires on the Malheur National Forest: “The pattern of fires being uncontrolled in their early stages show evidence of questionable judgment. The responsible authority must have an attitude of fighting initial fire immediately, aggressively and relentlessly until the fires are out — not controlled, but out.”
Forest commission member Dave Traylor said the county could “ill afford” another year of devastating fires, and member Tad Houpt agreed.
“There’s something causing these fires to get so big,” Houpt said. “... We desperately need to have this investigation done.”
Dean Elliott, who lost his home in the fire, said there was no effort made to save his home. Other property owners shared similar sentiments.
Others, however, did not want the county to spend resources investigating the fire.
Dan Becker, who lost 160 acres of timber and his home, said he was not against an investigation, but he didn’t want the county to pay for it. He said people often get punished after investigations, but rarely the person responsible. He also mentioned a long list of other devastating fires in the area in previous years.
Dorman Gregory, who was a firefighter on the Malheur National Forest for 37 years, said extreme weather conditions caused the fire to grow uncontrollably. He said the fire burned even in areas that had been well treated, and nothing could have been done.
Malheur National Forest Supervisor Steve Beverlin brought copies of a 2015 fire report with an appendix about the Canyon Creek Complex. He said the agency has nothing to hide, and he was willing to talk to people about the fire and provide additional information.
Kenny Delano, Mt. Vernon, said when a crime is committed, you don’t ask the criminal to investigate.
John Day resident Howard Gieger said he was a fire investigator for insurance companies for 33 years. After looking at the report, he said he believed items were missing. He said people needed to know the facts, but he did not believe the county should pay for it.
County Judge Scott Myers said the subject was very polarizing, and he said many of the people who spoke were affected by the fire. He said he was not sure whether the forest commissioners could be objective if they oversaw the investigation. He also said he believed the Forest Service had provided the information requested.
Commissioner Chris Labhart said he believed an investigation was warranted but that it should be initiated by individuals or groups and not be funded by county resources.
Commissioner Boyd Britton said he knew the firefighters felt terrible they were unable to contain the fire.
“I feel horrible for all those folks that lost their homes,” he said, but added that no one lost their life.
The vote was unanimous to deny the request to fund the investigation.