Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wildfire news, October 29

California: firefighter convicted of arson

From kcra.com:
WOODLAND, Calif. --A reserve firefighter has been found guilty of intentionally starting wildfires that he later battled.

Robert Eric Eason, 30, was convicted of 14 counts of arson. Eason was accused of setting a series of 16 wildland fires in the Capay Valley from 2005 to 2006, the district attorney's office said.

Many of the fires caused considerable damage to farmland and livestock, including one blaze that killed several hundred sheep.

A jury reached its verdict after just one day of deliberation. Eason faces up to 50 years in prison.

Researchers: Sierra fires becoming larger and more damaging

From the LA Times:
Forest fires in the (California) Sierra Nevada have grown larger, more frequent and more damaging in the last two decades, according to a study that suggests much of the blame rests with the government's century-long war on wildfire.

The study, published online this month in the journal Ecosystems, found that between 1984 and 2006, the proportion of burned areas where no trees survived increased, on average, to nearly 30%, from 17%.

Climate is playing some role, the study said. But it blamed a bigger factor: Federal efforts to quench most blazes quickly have thwarted the Sierra Nevada's natural cycle of frequent, house-cleaning fires and left forests packed with fuel.

"This just blind effort to continue to put everything out is probably backfiring on us," said Hugh Safford, a U.S. Forest Service ecologist and one of the study's authors. "We've created our own nightmare."

Blazes in mid- and low-elevation forests have grown more severe in large part because there is more to burn. A jump in average annual precipitation across the range since 1908 has promoted forest growth, while a rise in temperature is diminishing the mountain snowpack and lengthening the fire season.

The study, based on satellite imagery of the Sierra and southern Cascade ranges, also found that the average size of severely burned forest patches caused by individual fires has roughly doubled in recent decades.

"It may simply be that most low- and middle-elevation forest lands in the study region are ready and primed to burn," the researchers wrote.

Presentation on the fire caused by U.S. Rep. Henry Brown

On June 4 and September 18 Wildfire Today covered the fire caused by U.S. Rep. Henry Brown in South Carolina. Briefly, a controlled burn by Brown in 2004 escaped and burned 20 acres of U.S. Forest Service land. He was ordered to pay restitution but initially refused. Eventually he paid a reduced fine of $4,747 in April, but only after ensnaring dozens of federal employees in a conflict that cost the government an estimated $100,000 to resolve. Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey was accused of making decisions about the case based on politics.

But, according to the MyrtleBeachOnline:
Jack Gregory, a 36-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, will speak in Myrtle Beach at 2 p.m. today about the fire set by U.S. Rep. Henry Brown in 2004 that burned down 20 acres of Francis Marion National Forest. Gregory will appear at Nance Plaza in downtown Myrtle Beach, across from the former Pavilion site.
Brown is running for re-election, for a fifth term, and this fire has become an issue in the campaign. His opponent, Linda Ketner, has a TV ad that features the fire and Brown has demanded that Ketner stop showing the ad. Ketner has refused.

From the Miami Herald:
[...] Brown's campaign manager Rod Shealy said Brown had a burn permit and the Forest Service was also starting burns. In both cases, the burns were designed to clear away underbrush that, if allowed to build up, could provide fuel for even larger fires. The alert wasn't issued until late in the day when Brown's fire was already ignited, he said.

Ketner has posted a whistleblower report from the U.S. Forest Service on her campaign web site that said a state Forestry Commission officer had told Brown earlier in the day that he should not burn, despite the permit.

The report also says Brown told U.S. Forest Service officials shortly afterward their programs might get more scrutiny if they pursued the fine. Brown is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

The dispute was resolved earlier this year, and Brown paid almost $5,000. The government also revised its policy on controlled burns.

Brown said he fought the fine because the law needed to be changed.

Under the old law, if a fire spread from Forest Service property to private land, landowners had to prove government neglect to get compensated. But fires spreading from private land to a national forest were automatically an offense, he said.

"We got that changed," Brown told Ketner during a debate last week.

But Ketner said that in the previous year 15 people were fined for fires spreading to the forest and all paid.

"It would have been so much better if you had done it on behalf of them instead of yourself," she said.

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