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Wildfire Forensics Accounting

Written by a Wild Land Fires Expert Witness

Expert Witness No.2169

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Wildfire Forensics Accounting is a specialized practice requiring knowledge and experience in
wildfire suppression, combined with experience in the administrative infrastructure of the
involved agencies. While Wildfire Forensics Accounting is similar to Forensics Accounting in
that common accounting practices are used, the use of common Forensics Accounting will
not provide productive results. Each wildfire agency operates under a unique set of rules
and procedures that are generally revised on a regular basis and all purchase and
procurement documents must be evaluated against those specific rules and procedures.

In this particular case, the landowner received a letter of demand from a governmental fire
agency totaling $14 million for suppression costs related to a negligent fire. To understand
how the $14 million was spent, the daily operational documents that described personnel
and resource assignments and activities were reviewed. Reviewing the daily operational
documents assists in determining if expenditures were commensurate with fire suppression
activities. In addition, this review identified specific notations and tracking information that
would be useful during the review of accounting documents.

Detailed review of more than 7000 procurement and fiscal documents was accomplished by
comparing each individual document to that particular agencies rules of procurement and
procedures. In essence, was each document completed according to agency requirements
and were required supporting documents included and completed properly. For example, a
bull dozer transport may not be kept on the payroll unless there is a letter from the Incident
Commander or the transport is included in the daily operational document. In another
instance, overnight lodging requires a "signup sheet" with specific information for each
individual. The absence of those details or the failure of the individual to sign the sheet
invalidates the payment for lodging. In several instances documents were copied and
submitted with revised dates, therefore there were no "original" documents. In other
instances, other agencies who were involved in suppressing the fire submitted billing
documents that could not be specifically identified as to purpose or validity.

Of the $14 million being billed to this landowner, the Wildfire Forensics expert determined
that approximately $6 million was inappropriately included in the $14 million package. This
does not mean that the wildfire agency fraudulently billed the landowner, but that $6 million
of purchases and payments were based upon a lack of complete and accurate documentation. Many of these expenditures were appropriately related to necessary fire suppression expenditures, however, when
procurement and purchasing don't comply with their own agency rules, the expenditures are
invalid. The case settled for $8 million.

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