Conrad Burns is on fire

The embattled Republican senator lashes out at ... firefighters?

Published July 27, 2006 4:39PM (EDT)

Maybe Montana Sen. Conrad Burns missed this week's Harris poll, the one in which Americans say they hold firefighters in higher regard than members of any other professions. And maybe this story from the Billings Gazette helps explains why Americans hold members of Congress like Burns in such relatively low regard.

On a trip home to Montana over the weekend, Burns apparently heard complaints from some local ranchers about the way the U.S. Forest Service handled a 92,000-acre wildfire near Worden, Mont. So what did Burns do about it? He apparently contacted the Forest Service in Washington, but he also took it upon himself to berate a group of tired firefighters from Virginia he happened to meet at the Billings airport on his way home.

According to a report from a state official, Burns approached the firefighters and told them they had "done a poor job" fighting Montana's Bundy Railroad fire and "should have listened to the ranchers" who were telling them what to do. The state official said that the "toughest part" of the confrontation came when "the senator was critical of a firefighter sitting across from us in the gate area. I offered to the senator that our firefighters make around $8 to $12 an hour and time-and-a-half for overtime. He seemed a bit surprised that it wasn't higher."

Burns makes $165,200 per year as a U.S. senator. Or at least he does for now. The Jack Abramoff-scarred Republican trails Democratic challenger Jon Tester by a margin of 50 to 43 percent in the latest Rasmussen poll.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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