National Guard: 'We shot in the face of a red flag warning'

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HERRIMAN -- Three homes burned, thousands of people evacuated, and the Utah National Guard is taking the blame. The large wildfire started by target practice in dry and windy conditions has now scorched 3,500 hundred acres in Herriman.

"Our job as a National Guard, our mission, is to support our citizens not to endanger them; and we failed in that yesterday." Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, Utah National Guard

During a Monday afternoon press conference, the Utah National Guard's commanding general apologized and admitted major mistakes. Still, it's no comfort to those who have lost their homes.

With their house a smoldering ruin, the Burns family is not happy with the National Guard.

"This is the driest time of the year. Why were they even practicing?" Jackie Burns asked.

"I think the guy that authorized the military to do the machine gun testing should be put in jail, because it's arson," Robert Burns said.

The raging wildfire started with a tiny spark on the machine gun training range. Military firefighters thought they had it out, but high winds and dry conditions whipped a small ember into a major disaster.


It was just the set of conditions the National Weather Service issued warnings about. On Thursday afternoon, the agency issued a fire weather watch for Saturday and Sunday; on Friday afternoon, it upgraded the alert to a red flag warning for the entire weekend.

"The message with a red flag watch, and especially with a red flag warning, is that the conditions are right for extreme fire behavior. So if a fire is started, it's likely to spread rapidly," explained Larry Dunn, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service's Salt Lake office.

The guard admits now it didn't know about the warning until after the machine gun training sparked the blaze.

"We shot in the face of a Red Flag Warning, which is something we do not do. We had a communication error. My military people were unaware of it. We should have been aware of it," Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, commander of the Utah National Guard.

But the weather service says it posted the warning on its website Friday afternoon, called up the interagency fire centers and the Department of Homeland Security.

"When Camp Williams says they checked the weather report, it's such a lie," Jackie Burns said.

The National Guard initially said the warning came late, but now officials admit they never even bothered to check the weather service website.

National Guard accepting loss claims
The National Guard is accepting claims for losses resulting from the Herriman Fire. To make a claim, contact the National Guard at 801-432-4980 or 1-877-901-4980.

"Our job as a National Guard, our mission, is to support our citizens not to endanger them; and we failed in that yesterday," Tarbet said.

The guard says the conditions at the time they did the shooting were much less dangerous. They got worse later.

But Tarbet said it flat out: If they'd checked and found out about the warning, they would not have fired the machine guns.

Monday night, Gov. Gary Herbert said Tarbet will give him a full report in several days.

"They didn't reach out far enough, deep enough to get good information to base their decision. So, that was their mistake, and that's not acceptable," Herbert said.

The National Guard is accepting claims for losses resulting from the Herriman Fire. Residents make those claims by contacting the National Guard at 801-432-4980 or 1-877-901-4980.


Story compiled with contributions from John Hollenhorst, Jed Boal and Nkoyo Iyamba.

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