Senator Apologizes To Firefighters

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., is shown during a conference call in his Capitol Hill office, Oct. 27, 2005. Sen. Burns criticized members of a Hotshot firefighting crew he bumped into at the Billings airport over the weekend, complaining that they had done a poor job on a blaze in southern Montana, according to a report Thursday July 27, 2006. (AP Photo/Adele Starr, File)
AP Photo/Fresno Bee
Sen. Conrad Burns, who is facing a tough re-election challenge this fall, confronted members of a Virginia firefighting team headed home after battling a blaze in southern Montana and criticized their work on the fire, a state official says in a report.

Paula Rosenthal, a state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation employee, wrote that members of the "Hotshot" crew said the Montana Republican confronted them in the Billings, Mont., airport on Sunday while they were awaiting a flight and told them they had done a "poor job" on the fire and should have listened to the concerns of area ranchers.

Burns was leaving Billings after attending a dedication for the new interpretive center at Pompeys Pillar National Monument. A spokesman said Burns was concerned about how a series of fires in southern Montana were being managed.

The encounter was first reported by Lee Newspapers on Thursday.

Burns issued an apology Thursday evening.

"In retrospect, I wish I had chosen my words more carefully," Burns said in a statement. "My criticism of the way the fire was handled should not have been directed at those who were working hard to put it out."

"My frustration came from meeting with landowners who were critical of the way the fire was handled," Burns said. "Whatever the reason, I should have simply thanked those who worked hard to put out the fire."

He continued: "I have since addressed my concerns to the proper officials about the way in which fires are handled. Please accept my apology for any hard feelings that my comments may have caused. I have the utmost respect for the job firefighters have done in Montana."