EUGENE, Ore. – A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene on Monday is demanding the U.S. Forest Service turn over documents related to the start of what would become the Beachie Creek Fire, which burned 193,000 acres and destroyed small communities this summer.
In the lawsuit, Linn County alleges the Forest Service failed to hand over documents as required by law that could reveal details about how a small fire grew out of control.
According to the lawsuit, the Forest Service tried to extinguish a small fire that started on their land near the Opal Creek Wilderness on Aug. 16, at times using a Chinook helicopter to suppress the flames, but “inexplicably scaled back it’s efforts on Aug. 21, leaving the fire to burn.”
By Sept. 6, the fire had grown to 500 acres. The following day, a historic wind event caused the fire to balloon in size.
“The unique wind event on Sept. 7 created an extreme environment in which the fire was able to accelerate. The winds were 50 to 75 miles per hour, and the fire growth rate was about 2.77 acres per second in areas of the Beachie Creek fire. This allowed the fire to reach over 130,000 acres in one night,” the Forest Service later said.
In a Freedom of Information Act request filed in late September, the county requested 20 sets of documents from the Forest Service ranging from plans for prescribed burns, firefighting activity, and communications between the Forest Service and private contractors assigned to the fire.
The Forest Service acknowledged the request, but said the request was “not perfected” and the agency would reach out later for clarification. Linn County claims the Forest Service never got back to them, neither providing documents nor an explanation for not fulfilling the request.
In the lawsuit, the county is asking the for the Forest Service to “immediately and fully process Linn County’s request and disclose all non-exempt documents.”