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United States Department of the Interior
Montana State Office
5001 Southgate Drive
Billings, Montana 59101-4669

October 2, 2007

In Reply To:
9238 (925/913) P
Instruction Memorandum No. MT-2008-002
Expires: 9/30/09
To:             State Management Team   
From:         State Director
Subject:      Fire Investigation and Trespass Policy for Montana/Dakotas BLM
Program Area: Fire and Law Enforcement
Purpose:  To develop and maintain a policy for uniform and consistent fire investigation and cost recovery and/or prosecution actions which conform to national standards and policy.
Investigation of Human Caused Wildland Fires
A cause determination will be made for all fires. The Field Manager (FM) will be notified as soon as reasonably possible of all human caused wildfires. All fires which are suspected of being caused by human action will be investigated and reviewed for action. When the cause of the fire has been determined to be human caused, the decision whether to seek damages or cost recovery will be made by the Field Manager after consultation with fire management and law enforcement, and if needed the Field Solicitor.  As stated in the Law Enforcement General Orders (GO 27(h).), Wildland Fires – Investigations will be initiated by the closest available LEO.  
Major Human Caused Wild Land Fire Investigations
Due to the complexity and time involved in a major wild land fire investigation, major wildland fire cases will be coordinated by the SAC and the State Fire Trespass Coordinator. A Major Wildland Fire meansthose human caused fires where the costs to the BLM exceed $100,000. 
All investigations of fires which are the result of suspected criminal actions will be managed by law enforcement with assistance from fire management. Law enforcement will work with fire management to determine what enforcement action is warranted.  Investigations will be initiated by the closest available Law Enforcement Officer (LEO). Suspected arson incidents will be referred to the Special Agent in-Charge (SAC) for appropriate investigative assignment.  
Referral of Cases to the Field Solicitor and the United States Attorney
The decision to pursue actions in administrative or civil fire cases will be made by the Field Manager. This process is documented using the FIELD MANAGER’S FIRE TRESPASS DOCUMENT. The decision to proceed or close the case is based on the evidence of either negligence or intent. If the FM determines there is a case involving negligence or intent, then the case moves forward. The Field Solicitor will review the case to determine if the elements to support a claim of negligence or intent exists.  If there is no case for negligence or intent, the case should be closed, and the reasons for the closure documented.
For claims over $100,000, the Affirmative Civil Enforcement Program (ACE) in the Department of Justice is an effective alternative to administrative collection procedures. The Field Solicitor and the SAC can provide guidance and assistance for such cases.  
It should be noted that the Field Manager, with Solicitor approval, may compromise debts up to $100,000, and only the United States Department of Justice has the authority to compromise debts over $100,000.
All criminal case referrals to the United States Attorney or state prosecutors will be coordinated and reviewed by the SAC prior to submission. 
Fire Investigators and Investigative Follow-Up
All wildland fire investigators will be trained in wildland fire cause determination. Wildland fire cause investigators may be different than the case investigator. A scenario might be where a local fire investigator determined the cause, but a BLM Ranger or Special Agent coordinates the case.  There are situations which may arise where there is an administrative investigation requiring follow-up interviews, documents or case organization and preparation. The Special Agent in Charge will make available whatever resources are needed to assist in these investigations. The use of multi-agency task forces is encouraged in multiple jurisdictional fires. Determination of lead and/or independent investigations will be negotiated/determined by the involved parties (i.e. SAC, Field Manager(s), County, State, and USFS).  
Policy/Action: The State Fire Management Officer and the Special Agent in Charge are developing a Fire Investigation Plan for the state. The new Fire Trespass Handbook will be finalized in the near future. All questions concerning wildland fire trespass actions, or criminal actions should be referred to the State Fire Management Officer or the Special Agent in Charge.   
Timeframe:  This IM is effective immediately.
Budget Impact: None
Background: This IM is to support the forthcoming Fire Trespass Handbookand State Fire Investigation Plan.
Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: BLM Fire Trespass Handbook H-9238-1
Coordination: NIFC, all Field Offices, MSO Fire Management, Office of Law Enforcement and Security.
Contact:  Questions may be directed to Mike Dannenberg, Fire Trespass Coordinator, at
406-896-2913, or Brian Cornell, Special Agent, at 406-896-5150.
Signed: Gene R. Terland
Authenticated by: Nancy Oliver (MT-913)
1 Attachment
       Field Manager’s Fire Trespass Document
Assistant Field Manager, Glasgow Field Station
Assistant Field Manager, Havre Field Station
Fire Management Officer, MSO

Last updated: 06-28-2012