February 1, 2021

The Department of Energy’s Wildland Fire Prevention Efforts at the Los Alamos National Laboratory

We initiated this audit to determine whether the Los Alamos Field Office and the contractor were taking necessary actions to identify possible hazards associated with and mitigate the impacts of wildland fire.

We found that the contractor had not fully implemented activities designed to reduce the impact from wildland fire.  Specifically, we found that mitigation measures such as tree thinning, which are necessary to reducing the risk of crown fires, were not always performed, and therefore increased the potential for a wildland fire to spread.  In addition, not all fire roads were maintained in a state to ensure safe passage for firefighters and equipment responding to wildland fires in undeveloped areas, which could create dangerous conditions for emergency responders and delay response times.  Further, contractor officials could not demonstrate that annual planning and preparedness activities were completed as prescribed in the Wildland Fire Management Plan.  Without documenting planning and preparedness activities, there was no assurance that all prevention and mitigation options were considered and that the site was fully prepared for wildland fire events.

These issues occurred, in part, because the contractor had not developed a comprehensive, risk-based approach to wildland fire management in accordance with the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy.  In addition, the issues also occurred due to a lack of formality in the implementation of the Wildland Fire Management Plan.  Further, a lack of Federal oversight of the contractor’s wildland fire management activities contributed to the issues we identified.

Management concurred with our recommendations and proposed corrective actions that are consistent with our recommendations.  The recommendations remain open and will be tracked in the Departmental Audit Report Tracking System.

Topic: Management & Administration