Bombastic Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, a former auctioneer known to shoot from the lip, didn’t heap any praise on out-of-state firefighters who came to his state to help put out a 92,000-acre blaze near Billings. Instead Burns walked up to them in front of everyone at an airport and told them they did a "poor job."
Writes Jennifer McKee in The Billings Gazette:
Republican Sen. Conrad Burns chastised a group of firefighters over the weekend for doing a "poor job" dousing a 92,000-acre blaze near Billings, a state report shows.
Burns and the firefighters – members of the Augusta Hot Shots from the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in Virginia -were at Billings Logan International Airport awaiting flights, according to Burns and Forest Service representatives.
Burns approached the firefighters and told them they had "done a poor job" and "should have listened to the ranchers," according to a report prepared by Paula Rosenthal, a state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation employee who was sent to the airport to speak with the senator.
Rosenthal wrote in her report that she received word of an "altercation" between Burns and the Hot Shot crew. The crew had been in Montana working on the Bundy Railroad fire near Worden.
The 92,000-acre timber, grass and sagebrush fire was contained on July 19, and the 368 people who came to fight it began dispersing a few days later.
Burns had been in Billings to commemorate the new interpretive center at Pompeys Pillar, the sandstone bluff near the Yellowstone River where explorer William Clark scratched his signature while on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Burns had also met with local ranchers affected by the blaze.
Matt Mackowiak, a Burns spokesman, said he didn’t think Burns met with any of the fire bosses handling the fire.
By the time Rosenthal reached the airport, the interaction had ended. Burns told her he was concerned that fires are run out of the National Interagency Fire Center, in Boise, Idaho, which he called "ridiculous."
"The government needs to listen to these ranchers," the report quotes Burns as saying.