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.