Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

April 7, 2009
A burning issue: Fire and the Freedom of Information Act

The Moonlight fire, which burned some 65,000 acres near Greenville in September 2007, was one of the largest and most destructive wildfires in recent history in the northern Sierra. 


In all, the fire cost more than $30 million to put out. And now, millions more are being spent to replant the region and hopefully bring the forest back to health. 


But the precise cause of the fire remains a mystery. One year ago, government officials told Bee correspondent Jane Braxton Little the fire was started by a logging operation on nearby private land - but released no details. 


Today, the government is still mum. In response to my U.S. Freedom of Information request asking for a copy of the Forest Service investigative report examining the cause of the fire, the agency wrote back and said, in so many words: We're still working on it. (See attachment below)


It's now been 19 months since the Moonlight fire scarred the region - and we have very little information about how it happened or who - if anyone - will pay the bill, besides taxpayers.  What's your view? Is the agency stone-walling? Or is it simply being meticulous?  For an agency that has moved rapidly to identify the causes of other large wildfires, why is the Moonlight investigation taking so long? 

Here is a copy of the Forest Service response to my Freedom of Information Act request --




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About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at

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