Friday, March 6, 2009


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Oyler convicted for Esperanza fire deaths

Raymond Lee Oyler, left, is taken out of Riverside Superior Court after being found guilty on Friday/ Press-Enterprise

A four-man, eight-woman jury today found Raymond Lee Oyler, 38, guilty on 42 of 45 counts against him, including five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device to start fires between May 16, 2006 and Oct. 26, 2006.

Jurors deadlocked on whether he started three smaller wildfires and Superior Court Judge W. Charles Morgan declared a mistrial on those counts.

Here are the verdicts broken down by individual counts (other than the murder charges, some of these are for arson, and others are for using an incendiary device--in some cases two charges for one fire):
  1. Guilty, murder of Mark Loutzenhiser
  2. Guilty, murder of Daniel Hoover-Najera
  3. Guilty, murder of Jess McClean
  4. Guilty, murder if Jason McKay
  5. Guilty, murder of Pablo Cerda
  6. May 16 fire, guilty
  7. May 16 fire, guilty
  8. May 16 fire, guilty
  9. May 29 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  10. May 29 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  11. May 31 fire, deadlocked, mistrial declared
  12. June 3 fire, guilty
  13. June 4 fire, guilty
  14. June 9 fire, guilty
  15. June 10 fire, guilty
  16. June 11 fire, guilty
  17. June 14 fire, guilty
  18. June 14 fire, guilty
  19. June 14 fire, guilty
  20. June 15 fire, guilty
  21. June 28 fire, guilty
  22. July 2 fire, guilty
  23. July 9 fire, guilty
  24. Sept. 16 fire, guilty
  25. Sept 16 fire, guilty
  26. Sept 17 fire, guilty
  27. Oct. 22 fire, guilty
  28. Oct. 26 fire, Esperanza fire, guilty
  29. May 16 fire, guilty
  30. May 16 fire, guilty
  31. May 16 fire, guilty
  32. June 3 fire, guilty
  33. June 7 fire, guilty
  34. June 9 fire, guilty
  35. June 10 fire, guilty
  36. June 11 fire, guilty
  37. June 14 fire, guilty
  38. June 14 fire, guilty
  39. June 14 fire, guilty
  40. June 28 fire, guilty
  41. July 2 fire, guilty
  42. July 9 fire, guilty
  43. Sept. 16 fire, guilty
  44. Sept. 17 fire, guilty
  45. Oct. 26 fire, Esperanza fire, guilty
On the first five counts Olyer was convicted of first degree murder and of special circumstances for "murder in the commission of arson" and for "multiple murders".

District Attorney Rod Pacheco said the following about the verdicts:
We are obviously satisfied with the verdicts and that the jury was able to sort through the evidence. A substantial amount of justice has occurred, and I hope that this provides a small measure of consolation to the families of the victims.

Oyler was on trial for setting the October 26, 2006, Esperanza fire which burned 41,000 acres near Cabazon, California and resulted in the deaths of a five-person engine crew from the San Bernardino National Forest. Killed were Capt. Mark Allen Loutzenhiser, 43, Jason Robert McKay, 27, Jess Edward McLean, 27, Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, and Pablo Cerda, 24.

From the LA Times:
After the trial, the sobbing Oyler family hurried to an elevator and left the building. The families of the victims also left without speaking to the media. A U.S. Forest Service spokesman said the families would not speak until after the penalty phases, which will decide whether Oyler gets the death penalty.

Outside the courtroom, Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins praised the verdicts but noted that five firefighters will never come home.

"Their families have suffered a loss that most of us can't imagine," he said. "This will not bring complete closure but it will bring the defendant to justice. It will help the families move to another phase of healing."

Jeanne Wade Evans, supervisor of the San Bernardino National Forest, said arson is a terrible crime that touches so many lives.

"We still feel the loss and we always will," she said.

Sentencing, which could include the death penalty for the murder charges, will begin Tuesday when the jury returns for that phase.

Wildfire news, March 6

Australian fires update

We received another update from our friend in Australia, Wol Worrell, a Ranger / Fire Management with National Parks Victoria.

Finally had some rain down under - 30mm / 1.5" over the fire areas, which has eased the wildfire situation considerably, crews can actually get in and carry out direct attack on the fire edges & start blacking out / mopping up for 30 > 50 metres in from the fire edge.

Should have all five wildfires tidied up within the next five days.

Worked with the United States crew for three days, backburning - hand control lines - patrolling & mopping up.

We have had three wildfires within the Dandenong Rannges National Park itself, two deliberate lights & one (Nixon Road - 410 ha) started by a landowner slashing grass on a total fire ban day.

Nixon Road wildfire was stopped within one kilometre of our property which was a bit of a concern.

Currently having four days off to get re-acquainted with the family

Take care & stay safe.

Alabaugh Canyon fire staff ride

The materials for the staff ride for the Alabaugh fire have been posted on the FireLeadership.gov web site. You may remember that in 2007 two firefighters shared one fire shelter when they were entrapped on this fire near Hot Springs, South Dakota.

South Dakota receives funds for air attack bases

And speaking of South Dakota, the Associated Press is reporting that the state received $475,000 from the U. S. Forest Service to upgrade six single engine air tanker bases with new retardant mixing equipment, storage tanks and temporary housing for flight crews.

Some of the funds will also be used for training, equipment, and refurbishing crew vehicles used by the state's two 20-person hand crews.

We were not aware SD had six SEAT bases. Multiple requests to the Wildland Fire Suppression Division for more information have not produced any results after thee days.

New Mexico: Picacho fire, 8,500 16,000 acres

The Picacho fire in southeastern New Mexico is about 60% 50% contained and is being fought by 100 250 firefighters. Here is a video with more information from KRQE:

Wildfire-Structure crosswalk webcast available

On January 24, 2008, Wildfire Today had information about the crosswalk:
Today, the U.S. Fire Administration in cooperation with the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, announced a new aid to help local and rural firefighters identify training equivalencies and needs for effectively fighting wildfires that threaten residential areas. The Skills Crosswalk identifies critical wildland firefighting skills that structural firefighters need to be safe and effective when making an initial attack on a wildland fire in their jurisdiction, or when working with state and federal wildland firefighter agencies.
Now the U.S. Fire Administration has a series of webcasts available that explain the requirements, availability, and distribution of these newly packaged Gap course materials.

Women sentenced for looting evacuated home

Residents evacuate from the Sayre fire

Two women were sentenced to serve prison time for burglarizing a home near the 10,000 acre Sayre fire which burned about 500 homes in the Oakridge mobile home park in Sylmar north of Los Angeles in November, 2008. A Los Angeles County judge on Thursday sentenced 32-year-old Sabrina Devens of Sherman Oaks to a 4-year term and 19-year-old Gina Samantha Rios of North Hollywood to a 2-year term.

A resident who was returning home after a mandatory evacuation discovered the two women in their house.

Montana: rural fire departments struggling to survive

KFBB has a video report and a news story about how fire departments in north-central Montana are having difficulty recruiting volunteers, due in part to the economy.

Thanks, Wol

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Experanza jurors deadlocked

On Thursday afternoon the jury in the trial for Raymond Oyler, accused of setting the Esperanza fire and numerous others in the summer of 2006, is deadlocked on several charges, but they did not indicate which ones. The judge, W. Charles Morgan, told them to step back and "take a look at the totality" of the evidence before excusing them for the day.

The jurors will return at 9 a.m. Friday morning to begin their sixth day of deliberations.

Oyler is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and 40 counts of arson and being in possession of destructive devices. A five-person engine crew was entrapped and died on the Esperanza fire in southern California.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fighting fire in Hawaii

Big Island Video News

There was a 600-acre fire on the big island of Hawaii this week, but by the time this video was shot the fire was mostly out. But take a look at it. You'll be surprised at one of the engines, which has what appears to be a huge 4-5 foot funnel on top of the tank. Maybe it collects rain water when it is parked outside the fire station, or maybe a helicopter drops water into it while it's working on a fire. Or maybe it's just for looks. I've never seen anything like it.

No verdict yet in Esperanza fire trial

The jury deliberated for a fourth day on Wednesday without reaching a verdict in the trial of Raymond Oyler, on trial for setting the Esperanza fire that resulted in the deaths of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters in southern California in 2006. The jury will resume their work at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Obama nominates Craig Fugate to head FEMA

In a statement issued today by the Obama administration, the President intends to nominate the director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management (DEM), Craig Fugate, to be the Administrator of FEMA.

Fugate has served as a volunteer firefighter, a paramedic, as a Lieutenant with Alachua County Fire Rescue, and was the Emergency Manager for Alachua County in Florida. In 1997 he became the Chief of the Bureau of Preparedness and Response with the Florida DEM and in 2001 was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to be the Director of the DEM.

Think Progress reported that Fugate spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about a “high-level position” at FEMA as early as February 12.

Fugate was considered for the position in 2005 when FEMA Director Michael Brown was fired for the agency's poor response to hurricane Katrina, but according to published reports he was not interested because he was happy with his position in Florida. Another person considered at that time was Iowa emergency manager Ellen Gordon, but she turned it down because she thought the administration would not make FEMA a priority.

We are very pleased that Obama selected a person with significant emergency management experience. This will help move the agency away from the accusations that the agency has been a "turkey farm" during much of the last eight years.

Here is an excerpt of what Wildfire Today wrote on December 12 about the succession of FEMA directors since 1992:
When President Clinton came into office, the Director of FEMA was Wallace Stickney, whose previous job was a commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. In April, 1993, Clinton replaced Stickney with a person who actually had emergency management experience, James Lee Witt, who had been the head of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services where he reorganized the state's emergency management process. During his tenure, FEMA made great progress and lost much of it's reputation as an inept organization.

President George W. Bush decided to go back to the FEMA as a "political dumping ground, turkey farm" concept, first appointing Joe Allbaugh director in February, 2001. Allbaugh's main qualifications were that he had been Bush's campaign manager during Bush's campaigns for governor and president, working closely with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, the three of them forming the "Iron Triangle". Allbaugh called the trio "the brain, the brawn and the bite", with himself as the brawn at 6 feet 4 inches and 275 pounds..

Bush stayed with this theme, in 2003 replacing Allbaugh with Michael Brown, a long-time friend of Allbaugh. Brown had no emergency management experience. His job before becoming a lawyer for, and then Director, of FEMA, was serving as the Judges and Steward Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. He was forced to resign from the horse group after numerous lawsuits were filed about disciplinary actions. Brown was chased out of FEMA in 2005 following the hurricane Katrina debacle, in spite of being praised by Bush: "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie".

Bush redeemed himself somewhat in 2005 with the appointment of David Paulison, formerly the Fire Chief of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and head of the U.S. Fire Administration.

Wildfire news, March 4

Aerial firefighting conference

Fire Department Network News has an interesting video report about the Aerial Firefighting Conference that was held February 19-20 in Garden Grove, California. This was the second of at least three that are planned. The first one was in Athens, Greece last year and the next one will be in Australia.

Partners for the conference were the UN-ISDR, Global Fire Monitoring Centre, and the International Association of Wildland Fire.

Australia fires

A map showing the current fires in Victoria, Australia late on Wednesday afternoon. Click on it to see a larger version.

Australia cancels order for Global Hawks

Global Hawk, Northrup Grumman photo

The Australian government canceled an order they had placed with Northrop Grumman for some Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) because the delivery date was pushed back to 2015. They had planned to use the aircraft for monitoring bushfires and for maritime surveillance.

Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the order was canceled because the delay meant the arrival of the aircraft would conflict with the introduction of a new manned surveillance aircraft.

Senator David Johnston spoke out against the decision, saying they had been working on the project with the United States for 10 years, and:
"Plus it had a fantastic capability with respect to bushfire monitoring, and the Californians had been using it very successfully. I actually think it would have gone on to have been able to provide evidence as to arson."
As Wildfire Today reported, occasionally in 2007 and 2008 the United States used a Predator B UAV operated by NASA for monitoring forest fires. In their flights the Predator stayed aloft for 10 to 20 hours while transmitting real-time data to ground forces.

NASA's Predator B, called the Ikhana; NASA photo

Colorado: 6,500-acre Fort Carson fire

The Quarry fire that started Tuesday on the Fort Carson military base south of Colorado Springs has burned 6,500 acres and is 10% contained. Portions of the fire burned off the base into the city limits of Fountain, prompting some evacuations.

Yesterday the area had record high temperatures, and today there is a red flag warning for strong winds and temperatures in the 70s.

You may remember Fort Carson as the place where a single engine air tanker crashed last year, killing pilot Gert Marais.

Esperanza fire trial

The jury in the trial of Raymond Oyler, accused of setting the 2006 fire in which a U.S. Forest Service engine crew of five died, deliberated for a third day in southern California on Tuesday without reaching a decision.

Thanks Dick.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit

The International Association of Wildland Fire is putting on:

The 10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit, “10 Years after the TriData Study: What is different?”
April 27-30, 2009, Phoenix, Arizona
Embassy Suites North Phoenix Hotel

To register or to find out more:

Early registration ends March 15, 2009 - deferred credit card payment options available

In the mid-1990s, the interagency Wildland fire community commissioned the groundbreaking Wildland Firefighter Safety Awareness Study. The final TriData report, released in 1998, made specific recommendations for implementing cultural changes for safety in the areas of culture, leadership, fire management, training, human factors, and organizational learning, to name a few. To revisit the impact of this landmark initiative, a major emphasis of the 10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit will be:

“10 Years after the TriData Study: What is different?”

Who should attend

* Agency Administrators
* Fire Aviation Specialists
* Fire Managers
* Fire Researchers
* Firefighters
* Incident Commanders
* Land Managers
* Public Officials
* Social Scientists
* Students of Fire

Areas of interest and research

* Aviation safety on wildfire operations
* Issues in wildfire safety around the world
* Safety in the Wildland-Urban Interface
* Advances in Wildland firefighter safety
* Research, practices, training, and equipment
* Case studies and lessons learned
* Firefighter liability
* Human factors in the fire organization
* Firefighter health and fitness
* New approaches to investigation and
* Learning from close calls
* Policy, practices, and procedures
* Post-Traumatic Stress

Featured Speakers

Monday, March 2, 2009

Posters available from MTDC

This is one of six "Situational Awareness" posters that have been produced annually since 2004 by the Missoula Technology and Development Center. They are available for downloading HERE. The login and password are both t-d (publicly available).

Thanks Dick

Wildfire news, March 2

Forest Service to DOI. Really? Again?

Moving the U. S. Forest Service to the Department of Interior has been discussed off and on for decades, and more than once the Government Accounting Office (GAO) has studied the issue and written a report.

Welcome to Groundhog Day. The GAO has issued another report and the House Appropriations Committee's Interior Subcommittee held a hearing on the subject last week.

From McClatchy:
During the hearing, subcommittee chairman Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said that "we regularly see inconsistencies" between how the Forest Service and the Interior Department handle public lands, adding that there was "room for more collaboration" to make land management more effective and efficient.

In a later interview, however, Dicks said he found the GAO report, which he had requested, inconclusive. Though not ruling the switch out entirely, Dicks said, "I came out of the hearing thinking it would be better to leave things as they are."

The issue isn't new. It has been explored five times in the past four decades, including during the Nixon, Carter and Reagan administrations. In several cases, actual legislation was drafted. The proposals never got off the ground, however, blocked by interest groups or Capitol Hill politics.


Mark Rey, who oversaw the Forest Service as an undersecretary of agriculture under President George W. Bush, said the agencies already have a unified command to fight wildfires, and questions about encroaching development on forest lands is a state or local zoning issue. The Forest Service and Interior's U.S. Geological Survey are cooperating on climate-change research, he noted.

If change is needed, Rey said, a new natural resources department should be formed involving all the land agencies and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"In for a dime, in for a dollar," Rey said.
Australian fires, round two?

Authorities in Australia are again issuing very strongly-worded warnings about a serious potential for severe fire weather. A 48-hour period with winds up to 90 mph (150 kilometers per hour) and temperatures up to the mid-80s F (mid-30s C) is expected to begin Monday night (very early Monday morning, U.S. time). About 400 schools were ordered closed and millions of residents received warnings by mobile phone messages that deadly fires could be around the corner.

The Age has the details in a scary article.

Esperanza fire

On Monday morning the jury begins their second day of deliberations.

Thanks Dick and Chuck

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wildfire news, March 1

Helicopter video

Here is a video of a pilot for Columbia helicopters, on contract in Texas, explaining the capabilities of his Boeing 107 Vertol Type 1 helicopter.

Seven killed in Nepal wildfires

At least three large fires have ravaged parts of Nepal, killing five in the Myagdi district and two in the Panchhthar district yesterday. In another fire 200 houses were destroyed at Chinnamasta Village in the Saptari district.

10 homes burned in Texas

A fire started by a power line on Saturday burned at least 10 houses in central Texas about 30 miles southeast of Austin. Two businesses were also destroyed in the 400-acre wildfire.

UPDATE: 8:30 a.m. March 1

Austin News 8 is reporting that this fire between Bastrop and Smithville has burned 23 homes and 700 acres. It is about 50% contained and 150 homes are still threatened. Saturday evening 40-mph winds were pushing the fire, but by Sunday morning the winds decreased to 20-mph.

Here is a satellite photo showing smoke from the fire. Click on it to see a larger version.

Drought in Texas

South-central Texas is the driest region in the country and it is the driest they have been since 1918. According to the Drought Monitor, the south-central part of the state is the only area in the country experiencing "exceptional drought".

Texas averaged .32 inches of rain in January, the fourth driest in history, and about one-fifth the normal monthly total. While statewide rainfall numbers have not yet been compiled for February, local numbers show that none of the state's 25 largest cities got even half their normal precipitation amounts between December 1 and February 25..

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Researcher: humans "mastered fire" 790,000 years ago

A researcher who excavated 12 layers of soil deposits from the shore of an ancient lake near the river Jordan found evidence that fire had been used by humans in every layer. The soil layers were laid down by waters from the lake in between occupancies by the different societies of humans that inhabited the site 790,000 years ago. Nira Alperson-Afil from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, concluded that humans would have had to have mastered the art of creating fire for it to have shown up in all 12 layers.

Previous research had shown that humans from this period could manipulate and use fire, but it was not clear whether they had the ability to create the fire themselves.

The researcher did not say if 790,000 years ago the users of fire had to obtain burning permits, get NEPA compliance, or write burn plans before they started their fires.

Australian fires update, Feb. 28

Feb. 10, 2009. Tasmania, a very large island off the southeast coast of Australia, sent 90 firefighters and 29 fire trucks across the sea to help their mainland brothers and sisters. Photo: Brad Marsellos

Feb. 27, 2009. Tasmanian firefighters wait at a staging area in Warburton, west of Melbourne, for another assignment. AP

The severe fire weather that Australian firefighters had been expecting on Friday did not materialize, giving them an opportunity to make more progress on the four large fires that are still not under control. But the Tuesday forecast calls for very warm temperatures with gale-force north to north-westerly winds.

At least 37 people are still missing and 210 are known dead as a result of the Feb. 7 Black Saturday fires. From Reuters:
Brigadier Michael Arnold, head of a joint task force assisting state authorities in the search for bodies, said he anticipated new remains would be found after Australia's worst natural disaster in 110 years.

Victorian coroner Jennifer Coate has ordered more than 1,000 sites to be re-examined after human remains were found in areas already thought to have been cleared.

"The coroner wanted to be convinced that a reasonable search had been conducted," Australian Associated Press quoted Arnold as saying. He said the search would involve about 1,300 sites.

"It's not an easy task. We know that there are 37 missing persons still, the odds are we will come across human remains during this search," he said.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Andrew Palmer fatality

Andrew Palmer

After Andrew Palmer was killed in a tree felling accident while he was working on a fire in northern California on July 25, 2008, law enforcement officers and the U.S. Attorney's office got heavily involved in the case, which slowed down the serious accident investigation.

But on January 23, 2009 the U. S. Attorney's office in Sacramento made a decision, saying "We decline to pursue criminal charges". This is good news for several reasons, but especially since now the accident investigation can resume and if there are lessons to be learned, those will be discovered.

Wildfire news, February 27

Siren maker loses civil suit about hearing loss

Federal Signal, a company that makes sirens and light bars for emergency vehicles, lost a civil suit filed by nine firefighters in Cook County, Ill. who claimed they suffered hearing loss from exposure to loud fire-truck sirens. The company, which has successfully warded off many previous hearing-loss lawsuits, says they will appeal the decision and they will "fight aggressively to overturn this verdict."

Australian fires

The town of Marysville. February 12, 2009. Photo: AAP

The southerly wind change that was expected to increase the threat of fires near Melbourne is occurring more slowly than expected but should reach the area in a matter of hours. Firefighters have been able to keep the four large fires that are still uncontrolled from spreading further.

Esperanza fire trial

In closing arguments on Thursday, the attorney defending Raymond Oyler, on trial for setting the 2006 Esperanza fire in southern California in which five USFS firefighters died, said his client DID set as many as 11 arson fires in 2006 but not the Esperanza fire. The attorney said that even though all of the fires were set with combinations of wooden matches and cigarettes, the way they were configured for the Esperanza fire was different from the other fires.

Oyler's girlfriend told police he had bragged to her about setting fires and was disappointed that they were not larger. When she threatened to leave him if he kept setting the fires, he quit for six months, Michael Hestrin, the prosecutor said.

Hestrin told the jury, "Raymond Oyler set this fire and killed these five brave men. Hold him accountable for murder. That's what he did. He killed these men."

The jury began deliberations this morning at 9:15 after the judge gave them their instructions.

If you have information about the trial, send us an email (click on my photo at the very bottom of the page) or call us on the phone by clicking the "Call Me" button on the right side of this page.

Esperanza fire photo gallery

The LA Times has a collection of 16 photos of the Esperanza fire. Here is one.

UPDATE: 6:55 P.M. PT, Feb. 27

The jury ended their first day of deliberations on Friday without reaching a verdict. The four-man, eight-woman panel will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday.

Incident Review Checklist and After Action Review

The After Action Review (AAR) process, after having been successfully institutionalized by the military, was adopted by many wildland fire agencies 8-10 years ago. It is a learning tool that can evaluate a process or an incident with the goal of improving performance by sustaining strengths and correcting weaknesses.

The process is simple. Participants that were involved in the incident are encouraged to provide input on:
  1. what was planned,
  2. what actually happened,
  3. why it happened, and
  4. what can be done next time.
The Lessons Learned Center posts copies of the AARs they have received, making it possible for us to learn from the experiences of others. This is an incredibly valuable service the LLC provides.

But there are other ways to conduct an after action review. Thanks to Butch Weedon's "The Latest", we have another process called an "Incident Review Checklist". It is very detailed and attempts to ensure that few issues are forgotten. It emphases WHAT happened, but the list does not cover WHY or what should be done NEXT TIME. Maybe it is assumed that the WHY and the NEXT TIME will be discussed if problems are identified.

All of the items on the list below do not apply to every department or agency, but at a minimium, it is food for thought.

Here is the:

Incident Review Checklist

Did we acknowledge the page only once?
Did we use the dispatch channel for only essential communications?
Did we drive appropriately and wear a seat belt when in route to the station?
Did everyone take/ wear appropriate PPE to the scene, given the nature of the incident?
Did we respond with the proper apparatus?
Did we take the most direct route to the scene?
Did we have enough members respond?
Did everyone respond to where they should respond to (station / scene)?
Did anyone have to ask for directions?
Did everyone wear a seatbelt?
Did we stop at all stop indicators, and yield at yield signs (at least until other traffic yielded to us)?

Did we stage and attempt to get an assignment / or assume command?
Did we do the 5 step communications process consistently?
Did we do what the IC said do?
Did we get on a tactical channel as assigned?
Did we wear appropriate PPE?
Did we maintain crew integrity?
Did we position our apparatus to operate at best advantage?
Did we apply the high idle?
Did we have water ready immediately when called for?
Did we get anyone hurt?
Did we do any unnecessary damage?
Did we operate inside the hazard zone only with a crew w/ PPE and an assignment?
Did we execute the basics flawlessly?
Did our command have a plan for EMS / Water Supply?

Did we release apparatus when it was not needed?
Did we top off fuel and water in our apparatus?
Did we clean and refuel our tools?
Did we refill our air bottles and clean our face pieces?
Did we leave our apparatus ready to respond to the next alarm?
Did we make a log entry and file a report?

Were we nice to our customers and/or host?
Did we do more than was expected of us?
Did we turn off the lights, turn the station heat down and lock the station?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Esperanza fire trial; closed hearing

There were some strange things going on in the Esperanza fire trial today. From KESQ:
Closing arguments have concluded in the murder trial of a California man accused of setting a wildfire that killed five firefighters, but the judge has held an unusual closed hearing.

After Thursday's arguments, Riverside County Superior Court Judge W. Charles Morgan dismissed the public but kept the jury and attorneys behind closed doors.

Earlier in the day he also ordered the public out and called jurors in one by one.

It's unclear what prompted the judge's actions, but defense attorney Mark McDonald said afterward that the jury composition remains the same and the panel will return Friday for final instructions and the start of deliberations.

McDonald could not say anything more because of a gag order.

Thirty-8-year-old Raymond Oyler has pleaded not guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and other crimes. Five Forest Service firefighters were killed by the so-called Esperanza Fire in October 2006.
More details about the closing arguments are at the Desert Sun.

"13 Situations That Shout Watch Out"

The evolution of the "13 Situations that Shout Watch Out" and the "18 Watch Out Situations".

From a paper by Jennifer A. Ziegler, PhD., Department of Communication, Valparaiso University:
Although it is still a mystery about precisely when, where, or how the original 13 Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’ were developed, there is good reason to believe that they originated in the late 1960s, and most likely after 1967. Officially, there were 13 “Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’” in effect through the summer of 1987.

Then, five items were added to the list when NWCG developed the “Standards for Survival” course later that year (1987). At that time, the name was also changed to 18 “Watch Out Situations,” and the sentence structure of each item was altered from the subjective “You are…” to a more objective description of each situation.

1987 was also the year the Fire Orders were reordered, and the Standards for Survival course and subsequent trend analyses of the Watch Out Situations emphasized how the two lists were supposed to work together. Although the Fire Orders were reordered (again) in 2003, the list of Watch Out Situations has remained unchanged since 1987.

"Basic 32" wildland fire training

In 1972, when I was on the El Cariso Hot Shots near Elsinore, California, the crew, led by Superintendent Ron Campbell, saw the need for standardized basic training for wildland firefighters. At the time, there was nothing, just collections of papers, research, and some books. Some people had written some lesson plans, but there was no widely available, organized training curriculum that could be used to take someone off the street and put them through a structured multi-day course in wildland fire suppression.

In what is now seen as a remarkable accomplishment, the crew created a 32-hour course, complete with lesson plans, a slide-tape program, tests, and a student workbook, to fill this need. Over the next several years, dozens of copies of the program were made and distributed, mostly around the Cleveland National Forest and other areas in southern California. Later it was converted to video tape which made it a lot easier to put on the training, and the popularity spread even further.

Tom Sadowski and I took most of the photos, the slides, that were used in the program. Recently I converted over 800 of my slides, prints, and negatives to digital form, including some copies I had of some of the original slides that I took that were in what became known as the "Basic 32" training.

13 Watch Out Situations from the 1970s

The photo at the top of this post is from that "Basic 32" program, and was one of the 13 images of what was then the "13 Situations That Shout Watch Out".

I will post the other 12

Over the next 12 days From March 19 through 30 I will post the other 12 of the color images from the "13 Situations", one each day.

Here are the 18 Watch Out Situations as they are today.

1. Fire not scouted and sized up.
2. In country not seen in daylight.
3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified.
4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.
5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards.
6. Instructions and assignments not clear.
7. No communication link with crewmembers/supervisors.
8. Constructing line without safe anchor point.
9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.
10. Attempting frontal assault on fire.
11. Unburned fuel between you and the fire.
12. Cannot see main fire, not in contact with anyone who can.
13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below.
14. Weather is getting hotter and drier.
15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.
16. Getting frequent spot fires across line.
17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.
18. Taking a nap near the fire line.

What's next?

Jennifer A. Ziegler, Ph.D., at the 9th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Pasadena, Calif., 2006; Photo: Bill Gabbert

Dr. Ziegler will be presenting a follow up poster at the 10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Phoenix, April 27-30, regarding the origin of the original 13 Situations, called "Help Uncover the Mystery of the Original 13 Situations That Shout Watch Out". One aspect of the Situations that has captured her interest is that they were originally intended to be operational tactics and not safety guidelines.

A question she will be asking at the Safety Summit will be "What is the 19th Watch Out Situation?"

Wildfire news, February 26

"102-square feet per minute"

A grass fire near Purcell, Oklahoma shut down Interstate 35 for a while and burned 40 to 60 acres before being stopped by firefighters from several fire departments.

We are not sure if Purcell Fire Chief Mike Clifton was quoted correctly, but the Purcell Register has him saying the blaze was moving at "102-square feet per minute". That is the first time we have seen a statistic like that in a newspaper article.

Prepare, Stay and Defend, or Leave Early-- the debate continues

As the knee-jerk reactions to the unfortunate deaths in the February 7 fires in Australia continue to surface, some actual scientists with specific knowledge of the subject have written an article, suggesting that the policy could work in some areas within the United States. You should read the entire article, but here is a brief excerpt:
"The key element of Australia's policy is to train willing homeowners to protect their homes in an active wildfire," said Scott Stephens, associate professor of fire science and co-director of UC Berkeley's Center for Fire Research and Outreach. "What the Australian strategy does is actively engage and help homeowners to become part of the solution rather than just to need evacuation. However, it should be noted that some California communities are so vulnerable that a 'prepare and leave early' strategy may be the only option."

The Australian approach also includes a more strategic land-use management policy in which decisions about new housing in areas vulnerable to wildfires are overseen at the state level, ensuring a more consistent standard for fire-resistant building codes and in urban development, the researchers said.

In contrast to Australia, the researchers said, fire agencies in California focus primarily on mandatory evacuations followed by fire suppression. Not only has this approach not reduced property loss, it could increase the risk for people if the evacuations are carried out at the last minute, the researchers argued.


The researchers also emphasized that homeowners in Australia go through an annual training program run by local fire agencies, and are provided with appropriate supplies such as hoses, radios and protective clothing.

"The Australian approach is different from what many call 'shelter-in-place,' an American concept stemming from other environmental hazards and connoting more passive action by residents," said co-author Max Moritz, cooperative extension specialist in wildland fire and co-director with Stephens of the Center for Fire Research and Outreach. "There is active participation from the homeowners before and possibly during a fire. In the process, they become more aware of the risks of living in an urban-wildland interface, and both homes and people are better prepared to handle fires when they inevitably occur."

The Australian wildfire management strategy, adopted after the country's 1983 "Ash Wednesday" brushfires, is based upon the premise that it is often riskier to leave a home as a fire front approaches than to stay sheltered while actively defending it. In that 1983 fire, 75 people died and many more were injured, most while outside their homes trying to escape.

Australia closes schools, anticipating resurgent wildfires

Starting four days before the disastrous Black Saturday fires of February 7, authorities in Australia began warning residents about the forthcoming danger of extreme fire weather. They have been doing this again this week, expecting Friday February 27 to bring high temperatures (100 degrees F), strong winds, and lightning.

Nearly 200 government schools and 146 children's centers will be closed on Friday. Three schools burned on February 7.

Mannford, Oklahoma firefighter laid to rest

About 200 firefighters and 40 fire trucks participated in a two-mile long procession to the cemetery as firefighter John Adams was honored in services in Mannford, Okla. Mr. Adams died on Feb. 20 after he suffered a heart attack while fighting a vegetation fire.

Interview with Domingos Viegas

Irakli West lives near Munich, Germany and runs the web site FWnetz, an online magazine and training resource for firefighters. He told us about an interview he conducted with Domingos Viegas who is known world-wide for his work on "eruptive fire behavior" and is a former member of the International Association of Wildland Fire's Board of Directors. Domingos has given presentations at conferences in the United States on the topic of fire behavior and has his own faculty and lab in Coimbra, Portugal.

The interview below was recorded in Makarska, Croatia in December, 2008 where Domingos gave a presentation about the loss of 12 firefighters in 2007.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Union Pacific train starts 9 fires, burns home of 92-year old woman

A Union Pacific train started nine fires along a 5-mile stretch of railroad in the community of Arvada, just west of Denver, Colorado yesterday. A spokesman for the Arvada fire department said multiple witnesses saw sparks from the train start numerous fires along the tracks.

Margery Kusulas, 92, was fortunate that her neighbor Terry Kemp was told about the fire by his daughter Jackie. Kemp ran to the house and searched inside until he found Kusulas and her daughter and warned them. "I was just going to keep charging in there until I found them. I yelled really loud-- 'You just have to get out, get out' " Kemp said.

Here is a video about the fires from KMJH in Denver.

It is unknown at this time if Union Pacific will pay to replace Ms. Kasulas' home and 100-year old barn.

The Arvada fire department responds to about five fires every year that are started by trains. Wildfire Today has addressed the issue of railroad and train-caused fires before, and the fact that proper maintenance by the railroads can prevent most of them. In fact it was just last week that a brush truck with three firefighters rolled over in Abilene, Texas, injuring all three and damaging their fire truck, while suppressing a railroad-caused fire.

Wildfire news, February 25

Chad Suppa memorial services, updated information

More information is available about the memorial services for Chad Suppa. We updated our earlier post HERE, so that it now includes information about a second service that has been scheduled, memorial funds, and an on-line guest book.

Marine accused of setting fire on Camp Pendleton

File photo of an October 8, 2008 fire on Camp Pendleton

A marine from Camp Pendleton in southern California has been charged with setting a 4,000-acre fire, one of two fires on the base on October 13, 2008. Base officials said Lance Cpl. Nason G. Lamb started the fire during a training exercise. The cause of the second fire is still under investigation.

There were a number of fires on the base during October. The photo above shows one on October 8 that burned 1,000 acres.

HERE is a link to a collection of Wildfire Today blog posts about fires on the base.

Tom Strickland chosen to oversee parks and USF&WS

President Obama announced on Monday that he intends to nominate Tom Strickland to be the Department of Interior's new Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, a position that would oversee the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Strickland is presently Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar's chief of staff and would continue to fill that role as well as the Assistant Secretary job. Before taking his present position Strickland was chief legal officer for United Health Group, was a managing partner for a law firm in Colorado, was the policy director for Colorado governor Richard Lamm, and served as the U.S. Attorney for Colorado from 1999 to 2001.

Strickland also ran and lost two elections in his bid to be a Democratic Senator from Colorado.

Strickland and Salazar were both board members and founders of Great Outdoors Colorado, a group created in 1992 that used state lottery funds to help manage Colorado's public parks.

Can wildfires help sequester carbon?

It is known that wildfires can add to the problem of carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, but there may be an upside, according to a study by Siddhjartha Mitra of East Carolina University. Over the long term wildfires may cause carbon to be sequestered in the form of carbon-rich soot and charcoal.

If global warming results in larger wildfires, this effect could be accelerated. However, the impact could be small, and would be measured in centuries.

More information is HERE.

Esperanza fire trial

On Tuesday the defense rested in the murder trial of Raymond Oyler for starting the 2006 fire that resulted in the deaths of five firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service in southern California. On Wednesday the jury has the day off while the attorneys prepare the exhibits that will be available to the jury during their deliberations. The two sides will present their final arguments on Thursday after which judge W. Charles Morgan will give his instructions to the jury.

Many people still listed as missing after Australia's fires

The death toll stands at 210 following the Feb. 7 Black Saturday fires, but in Victoria, Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe said police are still matching the 17,000 people who registered as being safe with the thousands of inquiries about missing people.

Walshe said, "As a result, we are yet to definitively determine how many people are still missing."

Thanks Dick

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Word Cloud for Wildfire Today

That's a fun little thing called a "word cloud" based on how the words were used on this web page today. Click on it to see a larger version. You can make your own at Wordle by submitting a document or a web site.

San Diego fire chiefs blast stay and defend policy

August Ghio, president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association at a press conference. photo: East County Magazine

The prepare, stay and defend, or go early policy which has been used in Australia for decades and is being slowly adopted in some areas of the United States has encountered substantial resistance in San Diego County. Here is an excerpt from an article in East County Magazine:
“Fifty-three fire chiefs agree that the best way to keep families safe is to evacuate early,” August Ghio, president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association, said at a press conference at Cal Fire’s El Cajon station. Ghio joined other local fire officials (photo) in drawing media attention to Australia’s policy of encouraging homeowners to stay home and fight wildfires--a factor that many believe to have contributed to a death toll of over 200 in Australia’s catastrophic blazes.

Australia’s tragedy also casts a pallor over some San Diego County Supervisors and local developers calls to adopt “shelter-in-place” standards for certain new housing projects. “The people here who cite Australia as a role model will have to back off, because clearly Australia was a disaster,” Leonard Villareal, public information officer for the San Miguel Fire District, told ECM.


Ghio stressed the importance of evacuating as early as possible, and said sheltering in place should be a last resort if you are over-run by a fire and can’t escape. But he added, “To make a decision to stay and defend, that’s the part we just can’t support.” During a disaster, there may not be enough emergency officials to assist with evacuations, he noted. “The citizens are responsible for their own safety.”


But (Chief Howard Windsor of Cal Fire) warned, “We can’t have people out there in flip-flops and T-shirts with garden hoses.” Under disaster scenario conditions such as firestorms fanned by Santa Ana winds, Ghio concluded, “Mother Nature Rules the Day; you need to get out of harm’s way.”

In the article, the term "stay and defend" is used frequently, but in Australia it is referred to as "Prepare, Stay and Defend, or Leave Early". The "Prepare" and "Leave Early" parts should always be included in describing the system.

The program can only work if the terrain and fuel conditions are favorable, the Preparation including removing flammable vegetation for at least 100-feet is complete, the home is constructed of fire-safe materials, and the homeowner has been trained and has the equipment to Defend. Not every home and homeowner can meet these qualifications.

As we wrote on Wildfire Today on January 23, many people die while attempting to evacuate from a wildfire:

"...8 of the 14 citizens who died in the 2003 Cedar fire near San Diego perished while they were evacuating. And 19 died while trying to evacuate from the Tunnel (or East Bay Hills) fire in Oakland in 1991."
UPDATE: Feb. 25, 2009

California's FIRESCOPE and the Governor's Blue Ribbon Fire Task Force, groups consisting of local fire chiefs, the CalFire director, officials from federal fire agencies, and other organizations, issued a statement on Feb. 13 about the policy. In part:
"Any consideration of the Australian so-called “Leave Early or Stay and Defend” policy would be irresponsible at this time in light of the tragedy in Australia, as well as California’s own experience responding to firestorms."

Thanks, Dick and Chuck

Chad Suppa, memorial service

The memorial service has been scheduled for Chad Suppa, the Module Leader of the Bureau of Land Management's Unaweep Fire Use Module who died in a parachuting accident near Phoenix on February 15. The date for the service has been changed from what was announced earlier, and it will now be Thursday March 5th at 3:00 p.m. at the Canyonview Vineyard Church in Grand Junction, Colorado. HERE is a link to a map.

The address of the church is:
736 24 1/2 Road
Grand Junction, CO 81505

According to an email that has been circulating: "The closest hotel to the church is The Holiday Inn Express off of 24 Road. There are also a variety of hotels on Horizon Drive, such as Holiday Inn, Doubletree, Grand Vista, Marriot, etc."

UPDATE Feb. 25:
Two memorial services have been planned. The first service will be held on Friday, February 27, 2009 in Warrenton, Virginia, at 4 p.m. at the Moser Funeral Home, 233 Broadview Avenue. A visitation will follow until 6:00 p.m.

The other service will be at Grand Junction on March 5 as described above.

Memorial contributions may be made to Conservation International, 2011 Crystal Drive, Suite 500, Arlington, VA 22202 or to The Nature Conservancy, 4245 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203-1606.

Contributions to The Chad Dennis Suppa Memorial Trust for Wildland Fire Management Scholarships can be made to the trustee, Angie Foster, 2842 Florida Street, Grand Junction, CO 81501.

Online condolences may be made at www.moserfuneralhome.com

Phoenix ranks 2nd in the world in kidnappings

Holy crap! Who knew that Phoenix had 366 kidnappings for ransom last year, which is second only to Mexico City. Police estimate that twice that number go unreported. In 2007, 359 were reported. Most of the victims are associated with drug smuggling across the 370-mile long border with Mexico.

In northern Mexico it appears that anarchy has broken out with police being overwhelmed by the drug cartels' armies. More than 8,000 people in Mexico have died in drug-related activities in the last two years. Here is an excerpt from azcentral.com about the battles just south of the border:
• In April 2007, 70 paramilitary enforcers known as Los Zetas, working for the Gulf Cartel, attacked a police station in Cananea, leaving 22 dead, including five officers. Afterward, about 40 percent of the local police force resigned.

• In October 2008, a convoy of Los Zetas was intercepted in Nogales by Sonoran state police. Ten gangsters were killed and three officers wounded during the shootout.

• On Nov. 1, 2008, armed gunmen attacked the police station in Nogales. The next day, the state police commander was assassinated by a sniper during an ambush outside a hotel. Then, on Nov. 3, police exchanged fire for three hours with gang members. "It was such (a) heavy firefight that police were actually calling for reinforcements . . . and asking for ammunition from the American side," said Wells.
Remind me not to move to Phoenix....or northern Mexico.

Single Engine Air Tankers

K. Tyler Miller at the Random Ramblings blog has been doing some research on Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) and has dug up some interesting information. You should go check it out.

They had a link to what turned out to be a great video of Dromader SEATs in action, with most of the footage being shot from a cockpit camera. Those pilots are very brave, judging from how they repeatedly flew into smoke, with zero visibility, for several seconds at a time.

Check out Random Ramblings, but in the meantime, here is the video.

Colorado legislature addresses wildfire

The Colorado legislature is considering several bills related to wildfire.

SB 20. In Colorado, the existing law identifies the county sheriff as the official "fire warden" and is the person responsible for suppressing wildfires on private and state lands within their county. (Wyoming has a similar law.) This bill states that the fire authority of each city or county would be the "emergency response authority for wild land fires" unless designated otherwise. Oddly, in newspaper accounts this is described as a "chain of command", but the bill only identifies one position, the "emergency response authority"; apparently a one-link chain. The Colorado State Forest Service would be responsible for fires on state-owned land. The bill also requires each county to develop a wildfire preparedness plan.

Other bills that have been introduced include SB 18 (grants to communities for thinning forests), and HB 1199 (a variety of projects and loans to prevent fires).

Rick Cables, the Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region, in testimony before the legislature's agriculture committees last week, advocated charging a fee to urban water users to be used for protecting the vegetation in the high-altitude watersheds. Cables was quoted as saying:
"If we could add 50 cents a month to the water users in Denver, that generates $6 million a year to invest in the watershed. And if we get Las Vegas and Phoenix and Los Angeles on board, it could be 10 cents a month, or 5."

Thanks Chuck.

Arson investigator testifies for defense in Esperanza fire trial

David M. Smith testified for the defense on Monday in the trial of Raymond Oyler who is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and starting the Esperanza fire in which five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died in 2006 in southern California.

In the 1970s Smith (shown in the photo from his web site) was a member of the Arson and Bomb Unit with the Tucson Police Department, but in 1981 founded Associated Fire Consultants, Inc. According to his web site, he has given testimony over 170 times and his main areas of expertise are "arson motivations, explosions, and fuel gas matters".

He testified on Monday that he thinks there were two or possibly three arsonists setting fires in the Banning Pass area in 2006 based on the types of incendiary devices used. One device was a single Marlboro cigarette with about six matches set across it at a 90-degree angle. This type of device was used on 10 fires set between June 3 and July 2, 2006.

Another device was a cigarette bound with a rubber band to about 30 wood matches which was used on three fires set on May 16, 2006 and on the October 26 Esperanza fire.

While Smith said it is unlikely that an arsonist would use different types of devices, the prosecutor, Michael Hestrin, suggested that an arsonist's devices might evolve or they may try different devices.

Oyler's DNA was found on two of the cigarettes used on the fires between June 3 and July 2, 2006.

When asked during the trial, Smith said that he has been paid about $5,000 for the work he has done on the case.

It is likely that the trial will go to the jury this week.

Monday, February 23, 2009

EU seeks to improve fire and disaster response

The European Union (EU) is exploring procedures to prevent and mitigate disasters by imploring their national governments to work more closely together and share disaster planning and response resources.

The European Commission is looking at better ways to deal with disasters that have the potential to cross international boundaries, such as earthquakes, hazardous material releases, and wildfires.

Talks about the creation and sharing of an EU disaster-response force have occurred occasionally since 2007 when the idea was first presented by the Greek government after a number of disastrous wildfires. Here is what we wrote about the subject on March 31, 2008.
The European Union (EU), comprised of 27 member states, has been considering since April of 2007 the development of a rapid reaction force that could respond quickly to wildland fires, floods, and other emergencies. The parliament even passed a resolution to that effect, but little has taken place to make it happen.

I recently talked with someone in the UK who told me that in the last 2 weeks, due to last summer's fires in Greece, the fire on the Greek island a couple of weeks ago, and the recent flooding in the UK, discussions along these lines have accelerated. In addition to other resources, they are considering a fleet of air tankers that could respond quickly to wildland fires in any of the 27 member states. The resources would be funded by the EU and is being advocated by the Directorate for Civil Protection.

Feds to close Minden-Tahoe air tanker base

Air tanker 09 making their last drop, September 1, 2008 before it crashed at Reno later that day.

The Bureau of Land Management will consolidate their air tanker operations that have been at Minden-Tahoe airport and Reno-Stead airport into just having facilities at the Reno-Stead airport.

Click on the map below to see a larger version. (Lake Tahoe is the large lake on the left or west side of the map.)

The BLM says they no longer have the funding to fully staff both bases.

The closing of the air tanker facilities is generating some conflicting opinions in the public comments following an article at RGJ.com. But the reality is, the two bases are only 36 miles apart, which is about 10-15 minutes flying time for an air tanker, depending on the type.

Thanks, Dick. Map: Google Earth

Australian fires, Feb. 23 update

One fire truck was destroyed by a fire in Victoria, another was damaged, and two firefighters were treated for minor burns as a new rash of fires threatens more homes in Australia. Another surge of hot, dry, windy weather has prompted officials to issue warnings that any fires that start could become large. At least one fire is burning in the suburbs of Melbourne.

HERE is a link to a video in which a spokesman from the Dept. of Sustainability and Environment provides information about the current situation.

A bill has been introduced in Australia's legislature that would for the first time allow states and territories to access the telephone number database, which would be the first step to enabling automatically dialed emergency warnings via telephone. During the Black Saturday fires earlier this month many residents had no idea that they were immediately threatened by rapidly approaching fires.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oklahoma firefighter dies while fighting fire

Firefighter John Adams; photo: KJRH

John Adams, a firefighter with the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department in Oklahoma collapsed and stopped breathing around 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. Friday while working on a vegetation fire near Mannford. Mr. Adams, who had been with the Silver City FD for five years, had been fighting the fire for several hours.

He leaves behind a wife and three children.

The 1,000 acre fire is believed to have been started by an arsonist. Three fires were set within a mile of each other, minutes apart.

Our condolences go out to the family and the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Armstrong retrieves his bicycle

The stolen bike.

As we reported on Sunday, someone broke into Lance Armstrong's team truck and stole his time trial bike and three others out of their Ryder rental truck that was parked in an alley behind their Residence Inn motel. Lance is riding in the multi-stage Amgen Tour of California.

On Wednesday someone brought the stolen bike to a police station in the city of Sacramento where it was originally stolen. Even though he had a backup time trial bike, he had a second one made before the stolen bike was found. Here is a photo of part of the new bike he had built:

Armstrong is riding in a time trial today, and according to a message from him yesterday on Twitter:
I'm riding the old "hot" tt bike tomorrow. Had a replacement made too. Only diff was a line that said, "ride it like you stole it". Haha!
Before his time trial began today (which I am watching now, recorded on Tivo) Armstrong's cumulative time was 30 seconds behind the leader. After today there are two more stages, on Saturday and Sunday: Santa Clarita to Pasadena, and Rancho Bernardo to Escondido. The Sunday stage includes a trip up to Palomar Mountain and back. The race is televised live on the Versus channel.

Wildfire news, February 20

A real prepare, stay, and defend story

Len Renouf lives on a farm 30 miles east of Melbourne, Australia. Having been a volunteer firefighter, he thought he knew what to expect when one of the large fires approached his place recently, but it was much worse than he thought. His preparations and quick thinking may have saved his life and those of three of his neighbors.

The Daily Mail has the story.

USFS to send ICS trainers to Lebanon

The U.S. Forest Service has received funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide Lebanon with training on the Incident Command System.

Service for Chad Suppa scheduled

A memorial service for Chad Suppa, who passed away on February 15 in a parachuting accident, will be held on March 6 in Grand Junction, Colorado. When we receive more information about the exact time and place, we will post it here.

Carson Helicopters to send S-61's to Afghanistan

The company that owned the helicopter that crashed last year killing nine on a fire in northern California will be sending seven of their Sikorsky S-61 ships to Afghanistan.

The Mail Tribune in Medford, Oregon reports that Carson Helicopters has signed a contract with a subsidiary of Blackwater Worldwide, which recently changed their name to "Xe". The contract, worth $605 million through 2013, is for the helicopters to transport supplies; they will not be involved in combat. Carson has already starting painting the helicopters and installing radios.

This is a very interesting development. There is speculation that the deal is related to the liability claims resulting from the crash, and it involves a "fraudulent transfer of assets to block creditors and plaintiffs".

The Mail Tribune has more details.

Photo: Carson Helicopters

Man sentenced to probation for starting Corral Canyon fire

Brian David Franks, 28, will be on probation and will have to perform 300 hours of community service for starting the 2007 Corral Canyon fire that destroyed 53 homes and injured 6 firefighters near Malibu, California. He pleaded no contest to a felony charge of recklessly causing a fire.

Franks' hand was also slapped by the judge, stunning Franks' attorney, who jumped up and objected, waving his arms and shouting. (not really)

As part of his plea deal, Franks agreed to provide testimony against four others that have been charged, some of them for recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure.

More information is HERE.

Oyler's sister testifies in Esperanza fire trial

The sister of Raymond Lee Oyler testified in court on Wednesday that he was talking to her on the phone at his house when the Esperanza fire started.

Oyler is charged with five counts of murder for starting the 2006 fire in which five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died. He is also charged with setting 22 other fires in the area in 2006, many of them with a device consisting of a cigarette and matches.

The trial could go to the jury late next week.

Video of brush truck rollover

A video has surfaced of Wednesday's rollover of the Abilene Fire Department brush truck that Wildfire Today covered yesterday.

After watching the video it is incredible that the two firefighters standing on the back of the truck sustained only minor injuries. All three on the truck were treated and released at a local hospital.

The fire department is still assessing the damage to the 2000 model truck.

Since it is likely the fire was caused by a train, according to the Abilene FD, I wonder if the fire department is going to ask the railroad to pay for the medical bills of the three firefighters and the damage to the truck? Railroads have been getting away with starting uncountable fires for a long time. Some fire departments just assume that's the way it is, but most fires caused by trains are preventable. The railroads need to be held accountable and they need to implement preventive maintenance measures to reduce the number of fires they start.

Wildfire Today has written about the train-caused fire problem before. There are ways to get the attention of the railroads. In 2008 the Department of Justice settled a record $102 million civil lawsuit with the Union Pacific railroad for starting the 52,000 acre Storrie fire in the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in 2000. Other lawsuits have also been filed against railroads for negligently starting fires.

We wish for a speedy recovery for the three injured firefighters with the Abilene Fire Department.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Prescribed burning controversy in Australia

As the death toll in the fires in Australia rose yesterday to 208, the controversy about prescribed burning (or "burn0ffs") continues to rage on. Many people in the states of New South Wales and Victoria blame environmental groups for throwing up roadblocks to planned hazard reducing prescribed fires. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Daily Telegraph:
What a flaming disgrace - half of NSW's burnoffs cancelled

A DECISION to cancel almost half the burn-offs planned for NSW bushfire zones has put thousands of lives and properties in danger.

Frustrated volunteer firefighters yesterday lashed out at bureaucrats and greenies for preventing them from protecting communities. In one outrageous case, a woman was told by the State Government her fire escape route would remain an overgrown mess because it was a corridor for native flora and fauna.

More than 2100 hazard reduction operations planned by the Rural Fire Service were abandoned last year, the organisation's annual report reveals.

Deputy Captain George Bennett said firefighters were so frustrated by bureaucratic hurdles they were finding legal ways to complete small burns "undercover" on private property.

He said it took some brigades 12 months to gain approval for hazard reductions. The RFS admitted one burn-off on Mona Vale Rd in Sydney recently took several years to be approved.

"There is very little hazard reduction happening because of the bureaucratic processes, quite often it gets to the stage where brigades don't do it because of the paperwork," Mr Bennett said.

"We have got a very, very dangerous situation looming here. There are no areas you could use for fire containment, we have got a situation where there is an enormous build-up of fuel.

"It will be frightening if we get harsh conditions in October. There is the potential for loss of life and property."

A firefighter from a brigade in northern NSW, who declined to be named, said his firefighters had stopped asking to do burns: "We don't bother doing it any more, it takes up to 12 months, you are only allowed to go and put fires out."

Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Melinda Pavey said "common sense has been lost in NSW land management".

"We need to move back to the middle ground for the sake of people and native animals," she said.

The RFS admitted yesterday they were sometimes told by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to move their planned burns to avoid disturbing colonies of endangered animals.

Assistant Commissioner Rob Rogers said a negotiated solution was always found and the organisation always planned more burns than they could do.

"It is to provide flexibility," he said.

"During some years there is as little as 40 days that are suitable for burning because it is too dry, too hot or too wet."
Other articles can be found HERE and HERE.