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Supervisor of 2022 Oregon prescribed fire indicted on reckless burning charge

 A firefighter keeps an eye on a May prescribed fire in Colorado
A firefighter keeps an eye on a May prescribed fire in Colorado

A Forest Service employee who was arrested while overseeing an October 2022 prescribed fire in Oregon has now been indicted.

Longtime firefighter Ricky Snodgrass was in charge of a prescribed fire that escaped containment and burned about 20 acres of private land in Eastern Oregon, according to an account in the Blue Mountain Eagle, which broke the news of Snodgrass’ indictment earlier this month on a misdemeanor reckless burning charge.

“It is anticipated that this case will proceed through the court system like any other class A misdemeanor,” District Attorney Jim Carpenter said in a release about the indictment. “While this case remains pending, the State will have no other comment on the matter.”

You can read the indictment here.

Responding to the development, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said that it was “disheartening that an employee would be arrested and criminally charged in the course of his duties.”

“Our agency stands behind our team members when they carry out their official duties responsibly and follow agency protocols,” he went on to say. “In these types of situations, the agency should be held accountable, not an individual employee.”

Max Alonzo, a business representative with the National Federation of Federal Employees, said he’s hopeful that Snodgrass, a member of the union, won’t be found guilty. But that doesn’t mean the case won’t have impacts.

“We have firefighters that are saying, ‘I'm not going to, I don't want to deal with this. I don't want to go out and do my job and get arrested for doing my job,’” Alonzo said, adding that could make it even more difficult to carry out prescribed fires, which are an effective tool to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

“If we can't have controlled burns, we're going to lose our forests,” Alonzo said. “We're going to lose property.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.

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