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BLM investigation reveals mishandling of wildfire funds


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SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management confirmed Wednesday that a two-year investigation has turned up irregularities in the handling of wildfire budgets.

The inquiry revealed that BLM employees sometimes improperly billed insurance companies, railroads and even the state of Utah, the agency said.

When battling a wildfire, a lot of things can break down or get ruined: trucks, hoses, shovels. And the effort consumes supplies, like truck fuel and tires.

Did you know?
  • BLM Utah is responsible for fire management on more than 22 million acres of public land. The terrain ranges from sparse desert sand dunes through brush covered hillsides, pinion and juniper covered mountains, to lush river valleys.
  • Utah BLM provides more than 100 firefighters, 26 engines and aircraft to support the Wildland Fire Program--an interagency effort between BLM, other Federal, State, and local agencies.
Source: Utah BLM website

So who gets the bill for those purchases? Sometimes the state reimburses the BLM if the fire is on state land. Sometimes it's a private company, according to Utah BLM director Juan Palma.

"If it is a human reason that the fire started, then those fires are charged to either the insurance company, (or) it could be, an example, the railroad," Plama said.

He says an investigation began two years ago into improper charges by the BLM's West Desert District — bills that should have been charged to different parts of the BLM's wildfire budget. Palma said no one enriched themselves.

"All of the purchases that occurred was to benefit, really, the government, but no individual, per se," Palma said.

BLM district manager Glenn Carpenter retired at the end of the year. KSL News contacted him for comment on this story, but he hasn't returned our call. The agency itself won't say if his departure was related to the ongoing probe, but it was his choice to retire.


If you add it all up … I mean, I haven't added it all up, but I don't think it would add to something really significant. It's just that we need to make sure that we charge appropriately — where it belongs, what component of the fire suppression.

–Juan Palma, Utah BLM director


#palma_quote

Palma would not rule out future staff changes but said he's unaware of any criminal investigation. "No, this is not about personal gain," he said. "this is really about where it was appropriate to charge it."

He would not provide specific information about improper charges or even a ballpark number for the amount of money involved.

"If you add it all up … I mean, I haven't added it all up, but I don't think it would add to something really significant," Palma said. "It's just that we need to make sure that we charge appropriately — where it belongs, what component of the fire suppression.

Palma said he doesn't believe the improper charges were done deliberately but resulted from sloppy paperwork, which often occurs under emergency conditions during wildfire season.

The BLM has already undertaken a number of steps to reform procedures and all improper charges have been corrected.

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