Fla. park service takes blame for Pumpkin Hill wildfire

Controlled burn lost contain, charred 400 acres in April

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Florida State Parks is holding itself accountable after a controlled burn lost contain in April, burning 400 acres of the Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve in northeastern Duval County.

In a final report by the park service, officials say the crew controlling the burn lacked sufficient experience, and poor weather conditions contributed to the huge fire.

"I could see smoke but I could not see flames," neighbor Jimmy Wood said of the burn that quickly turned into a raging wildfire.

It was an intense moment for Wood to see outside his home in Black Hammock Island.

DOCUMENT: Pumpkin Hill prescribed burn final report
IMAGES: Fire jumps containment lines

The park service conducted an internal investigation to see how the fire got out of control so quickly. In the review, officials say the nine-person crew experience was not up to par with handling this particular burn.

The report says certain polices were not followed properly, like touring the burn zones before lighting them on fire.

"That's a big concern because we could have lost houses, we could have lost lives without preparation, and I assumed they did have it," Wood said.

The report says the weather conditions for burning went down dramatically that afternoon after the Forest Service reviewed the forecast earlier in the day and declared it was OK to burn. The fire did not come dangerously close to any homes and no one was hurt.

But neighbors and legislators who represent Pumpkin Hill say someone should be held responsible.

In a statement, state Sen. Aaron Bean said, "It raises great concern of what transpired at Pumpkin Hill. We have to find out what happened and why the procedures were not followed and hold someone accountable."

Florida State Parks Director Donald Forgione says steps are being taken to keep this from happening again.

"We will make sure we hold our staff accountable," he said. "We will make sure our training is adequate now and in the future of our prescribed burn program."

"I have instructed the district manager of that particular district to look at each individuals actions during that day and see if they are in line with our policies and procedures," Forgione added.

If the agency determines crew members made a mistake, disciplinary action could be taken, which could range from additional training to termination.

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