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TEXAS FIRE EVACUATES 200 HOMES

NOVEMBER 15 -- DRIFTWOOD, TEXAS:  A 500-acre fire in northern Hays County is burning across rugged terrain ahead of stiff winds; Leroy Opiela with the Hays County Sheriff’s Department told News 8 Austin that about 200 homes were evacuated and a road closed because of the fire.

The Texas National Guard dispatched two Blackhawk helicopters to drop water on the fire, which started as a controlled burn this morning. Firefighters from 10 departments and the Texas Forest Service responded.

Powerful winds produced by a strong cold front have buffeted central Texas with gusts of as much as 56 miles per hour. KWTX-TV reported that another wind-whipped fire destroyed seven houseboats at the Lake Waco Marina.

The winds downed trees throughout central Texas, blocking roads in some areas. Scattered power outages were reported because of downed powerlines; one line over the Brazos River in Waco snapped because of the wind and was dangling into the river.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport canceled 150 flights and delayed others; a red flag warning has been issued for all of south Texas, and many counties are under a burn ban.


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GLOBAL WARMING CHANGES FIRE DYNAMICS

NOVEMBER 14 -- SAN DIEGO, CA:  Global warming is making wildfires more frequent, bigger, and more destructive; thousands of fire professionals at the Third International Fire Ecology and Management Congress in San Diego heard from Robin Wills, president of the Association for Fire Ecology, that global warming is changing wildfire dynamics.

“We're going to see more fire, not less,” said Wills.

The meeting, which continues through Friday, has attracted thousands of scientists, firefighters, and fire professionals representing 25 countries.

The Union-Tribune reported that in a statement issued yesterday, scientists made several recommendations. Firefighting budgets should be based on climate and fire projections, they said, not only on historical fire trends. Fire managers and agencies should rely more on season-to-season and year-to-year climate and fire outlooks.

Another recommendation is that prescribed fires to reduce fuels should be expanded during low-risk fire seasons.

Climate changes, according to the Association, will limit our ability to manage wildland fire and use prescribed fire. The San Diego Declaration on Climate Change and Fire Management says that fires may become larger more quickly -- and be more difficult to manage. Fire suppression costs are expected to increase, with decreasing effectiveness under extreme fire weather and fuel conditions. Extreme fire events are likely to occur more frequently.

Fire Congress Chair Melanie Miller said over 500 papers and 120 posters will be officially presented to the 3,000 attendees. "We expect this to be the largest gathering of fire professionals in history," said Miller.


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AUSSIE CAPITAL REPORTS FIREFIGHTER SHORTAGE

NOVEMBER 13 -- CANBERRA, ACT:  Volunteer firefighters are asking the Australian Capital Territory government to address staff shortages, warning that the fire service needs an extra 300 volunteers.

Pat Barling from the Volunteer Brigades Association in Canberra says there are currently about 320 volunteers available -- and that's not enough. ABC News reported that bushfires in 2003 hit the western side of the capital city and destroyed almost 500 homes. Four people were killed.

Barling said the government needs to ensure that the capital is well-protected this fire season, and it is unfair to put pressure on volunteers.

"It's looking like to be a fairly horrendous fire season and the government seems to be relying or expecting to be relying on volunteers to do most of it," he said.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was established in 1911 as the capital of the newly federated country of Australia. Some 2330 square kilometres (about 900 square miles) were set aside, 53 percent of which today is nature park or reserve. Canberra, the urban centre of the ACT, is a city of 320,000 surrounded by rural areas and stretches of natural bushland, award-winning wineries, and stunning nature parks.

Canberra yourguide reported recently that Canberra firefighters are worried about thick regrowth scrub in the southern Namadgi National Park and describe the inaccessible bushland as a "death trap." Hundreds of acres of national park razed in the 2003 bushfires has regrown into heath scrub -- with tinder-dry weeds and heavy fuel loads.

Southern Districts volunteer fire service captain Val Jeffery said local fire crews were afraid to go near the area. "It's a death trap and we have to be very, very careful," he said. "It gave me a bloody fright when I went out to inspect the area, as I wasn't expecting it to be that bad -- it's really frightening."

Local firefighter Karim Haddad, who has been a volunteer for 14 years, said the undergrowth near Tharwa is much different from previous years. "There's deadwood nicely cured that's sitting there waiting for something to happen," he said. "It's really scary and you could be trapped."

Emergency services personnel have been planning fire breaks in tactical areas, and two Erickson Air-Crane helitankers recently arrived in Canberra from Greece; one of them will be based at Canberra for the season. Canberra Airport's Steven Byron told ABC News that the other will be based in Melbourne.


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FIRE BEHAVIOR KEY TO ITS SOURCE

NOVEMBER 13 -- BEAUMONT, CA:  An understanding of wildfire behavior helps investigators trace a fire to its source -- and sometimes discover what and who started it.

"You can learn some really interesting things by looking where a fire's burned," says Janice Coen, a wildland fire researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). She told CNN that investigators examine weather conditions, scorch patterns on grass, ash deposits, and tree damage when assessing the origin and cause of a fire.

Fire direction indicators, tips from the public, and eyewitness accounts from firefighters can help investigations, too. Paul Steensland, a former senior special agent for the U.S. Forest Service, says it's like following footprints through the snow.

"What we are trying to do is retrace the fire's progression away from where an ignition source came in contact with the materials that first ignited it," he said. "We typically move from the area of most damage to the area of least damage."

Steensland explained that investigators enter a burn area and start a methodical zig-zag search, marking the fire transition zones with colored flags -- red for advancing, yellow for lateral, and blue for backing fire.

In an arson case, the hardest part is connecting the ignition site to a person. Steensland says most cases are repetitive -- serial arson. The average arsonist sets about 35 fires before being apprehended. "And we usually catch the guys," he said. "If they continue to set fires, we will eventually catch them -- it's just a matter of when not if."

Investigators who helped in the arrest of Raymond Oyler on November 2 in connection with the deadly Esperanza Fire haven't released details of the evidence they collected, but it was enough that they agreed unanimously to file arson and murder charges. He's suspected of setting numerous other fires in the Banning Pass area -- an area with a history of arson-caused wildfires. Prosecutors charged Oyler with five murder counts, 11 counts of arson, and 10 counts of using an incendiary device -- all felonies.


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RIVERSIDE COUNTY FIRE GOES TO 150 ACRES

NOVEMBER 13 -- LAKE ELSINORE, CA:  A wildfire this afternoon burned across hillside brush and trees in Riverside County; voluntary evacuations were issued for 100 homes in Lakeland Village.

The Lookout Fire, according to an AP report, threatened about 300 homes in Lake Elsinore. Capt. Julie Hutchinson with CDF said the fire burned through dense brush and trees on the hills west of Lake Elsinore and north of Highway 74.

By late evening the fire was 15 percent contained at 150 acres, with about 150 homes threatened in Lakeland Village, La Cresta, El Cariso Village, Wildomar, and Rancho Capistrano. The fire was burning in chapparal, chamise, tall grasses and scrub oak. Firefighters said the fire area was in steep, rugged, and inaccessible terrain.

The fire was first reported at about 4:30 p.m., but the aircraft cut-off time had just passed, which limited the initial attack to ground resources.


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THREE RENO WILDFIRES CAUGHT

NOVEMBER 12 -- RENO, NV:  Snow and rain helped crews contain three fires in Reno yesterday; the Pine Haven Fire started about 4:30 a.m. and burned about 300 acres, with winds gusting to 35 mph. Steve Frady with the Reno Fire Department said the fire put up a huge smoke plume.

The fire damaged powerlines and burned to within a quarter-mile of homes. More than 100 firefighters responded.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that shifting winds and slopes in the area contributed to the fire's spread; it was burning in several directions at different times.

Another fire in the North Valleys was held to about 15 acres, and a third fire reported just after 3 a.m. burned about 13 acres near Bordeaux Drive and Mount Rose Highway. It was contained by 6:30 a.m. and the cause was apparently related to powerlines and windy conditions.


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MINNESOTA GRASS FIRE CONTAINED

NOVEMBER 10 -- ELK RIVER, MN:  Crews fought a grass fire late yesterday in the Sand Dunes State Forest in central Minnesota; KSTP-TV reported that the fire was burning just north of Elk River and Big Lake.

Sherburne County Chief Deputy Scott Gudmundson said six homes were evacuated but that marshy and wet conditions probably prevented the fire from spreading to other homes in the area. He estimated the fire at about 200 acres.

Minnesota DNR reported fires in the last week in the Brainerd, Park Rapids, Deer River, Detroit Lakes, Aitkin, Cloquet, Two Harbors, Little Falls, Sandstone and Cambridge areas. Cool dry weather continues to dry fuels; both Waseca and LeSueur counties in southern Minnesota are enforcing burning restrictions.


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BRUSH FIRE ON SANTA CRUZ ISLAND CONTAINED

NOVEMBER 10 -- SANTA CRUZ ISLAND, CA:  Firefighters have contained a brush fire one of the Channel Islands, according to KGET-TV; Yvonne Menard with the Channel Islands National Park said the fire burned 14 acres of grass and sage in a remote valley on Nature Conservancy property. The Conservancy owns 76 percent of the 96-square-mile island.

Two USFS helicopters flew in a crew of firefighters, and two airtankers dropped on the fire. It was burning near a breeding area for the Santa Cruz fox, an endangered species found only on the island off Santa Barbara. A descendent of the mainland gray fox, the island fox evolved into a unique species over 10,000 years ago.


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FAST-MOVING FLORIDA FIRE CONTAINED

NOVEMBER 09 -- LAKE CITY, FL:  A fire in Baker County was contained at 400 acres about 20 miles north of Lake City after it threatened local timber resources and the Osceola Wilderness Study Area.

Fire crews have been working on parts of the fire that were smoldering in swamp fuels adjacent to control lines, and firefighters worked today on mop-up of burning swamp fuels near the control lines.

The fire, in the rural Georgia Bend community, rolled 14 units and dozens of firefighters who were deployed into three task forces. Structure protection focused on homes among the tall pines off Farley Burnsed and Bob Thrift Road, and spotter planes from both Georgia and Florida kept an eye on the fire, according to the Baker County Standard. The fire jumped several dirt roads and crowned over the pines before forestry plows managed to contain the fire's head.

"This fire could have gotten really bad," said Macclenny Fire Chief Buddy Dugger. "It was reminiscent of those bad wildfires we had back in 1998 over in Georgia."


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SASKATCHEWAN WILL GET NEW AIRTANKER

NOVEMBER 09 -- SASKATOON, SK, CANADA:  The Government of Saskatchewan has decided to purchase another Convair 580A, replacing the one that crashed last May and bringing the province's complement of airtankers back up to four.

Convair 580A makes a dropThe one that went down had three pilots on board during a training run with the recently re-manufactured plane. Two were injured, according to saskatoonhomepage.ca, and one was killed in the crash near LaRonge. The airtanker was operated at the time by Saskatchewan Government Northern Air Operations.

The Convair 580A, introduced during the 2000 fire season, is a land-based airtanker that can fly over one-third faster than the Tracker aircraft they've been replacing. They carry about a third more retardant than is currently delivered by a group of three Trackers.

The new Convair is planned for delivery in March 2008 and will cost $13 million -- currently about $11,500,000 in U.S. funds. OHS Canada reported that the province was able to acquire the previous airtankers at $10 million each because it purchased more than one at a time. The Convair will be re-manufactured to meet government specs, able to carry 100 people and equipped to drop retardant.


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BUSHFIRE THREATENS SYDNEY WATER SUPPLY

NOVEMBER 07 -- SYDNEY, NSW:  Sydney's drinking water could be compromised by a bushfire burning near Warragamba Dam. The fire in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales is in a remote area that's near Lake Burragorang; the Warragamba Dam catchment supplies 80 percent of Sydney's drinking water.

Barkers Creek Fire near Warragamba Dam

TVNZ reported that about 100 firefighters on Monday were winched into a remote and rugged area of the Barkers Creek Fire.

The fire started last week and has burned more than 22,000 acres. Remote Area Firefighting Teams (RAFT) from several agencies are working on the fire, including volunteer firefighters from the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS), crews from National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), and Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA) firefighters.

Recent rains helped reduce fire activity, but also meant that vehicles cannot gain access safely, even to the few parts of the fire where tracks exist.

Twelve water-bombing aircraft were used on the fire. The strategy is to keep the fire away from the lake. Infrared imaging technology was used to map the fire and surrounding area, which was devastated by bushfires in 1997.


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MONTANA TROUT RELOCATED AFTER FIRE

NOVEMBER 07 -- HELENA, MT:  About 1,000 Yellowstone cutthroat trout are being captured and moved to streams not threatened by fire damage. Two tributaries of the Yellowstone River are at risk from last summer's Derby Mountain Fire, according to an AP report. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) personnel said snowmelt carrying ash and soil into streams in the spring could smother the trout, clog spawning areas, and reduce populations of aquatic insects.

Burned slope, Placer Gulch

Yellowstone cutthroat were determined to be at high risk in four streams in the area. The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team determined that fish mortality and perhaps extirpation of the fish population in Lower Deer Creek after high intensity rainfall is probable. The FWP plans to move cutthroat from Upper Deer Creek and Lower Deer Creek, which flow through the area burned by the 199,500-acre fire area. The trout will be flown to other streams southeast of the fire area for several years, till the habitat is stabilized, and then they'll be returned.

The fire was started by lightning on August 22 south of Big Timber on the Gallatin National Forest, and it destroyed 26 homes.


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DELUZ FIRE IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY
SHOULD BE CONTAINED TOMORROW

NOVEMBER 06 -- SAN DIEGO, CA:  The Deluz Fire was 25 percent contained this evening at just over 50 acres with one home damaged and one injury reported. The Press-Enterprise reported that the Deluz Fire started as a structure fire shortly before 2 p.m. on De Luz Road and Tenaja Drive near Camp Pendleton.

Fire managers hope to have the fire controlled by tomorrow evening.

Resources included 25 engines, six airtankers, six hand crews, two dozers, and five helicopters. About 275 firefighters are assigned to the fire.


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SIERRA FIRE THREATENS RIALTO

NOVEMBER 06 -- DEVORE, CA:  A fire from a freeway construction site burned on both sides of I-15 this morning and was threatening homes in Rialto and Fontana. Pushed by 20 mph winds, the fire was headed west toward homes and grew quickly.

By 5 p.m. it was 85 percent contained at 640 acres. Two structures were destroyed and fire crews reported temperatures in the mid-80s with low humidity.

Evacuations in the area north of I-210 and east of Sierra Avenue have been rescinded.

A report at lasvegasnow.com said that the fire forced the evacuation of several dozen students from two schools.

The fire was started in the wash at I-15 and the Lytle Creek bridge by a construction crew cutting rebar. Hot slag and sparks fell into the wash area below and ignited the brush, and the fire was pushed by brisk winds. The fire moved south and threatened homes and commercial buildings, and engulfed a pallet yard near Sierra Avenue and I-210. That fire, called a "fire within a fire" by one fire official, burned hundreds of wooden pallets, two small outbuildings, eight forklifts, four flatbed trucks, a pickup, and six trailers.

Left standing, according to KLAS-TV, were cargo containers warped by the heat and the burned skeletons of forklifts.

A commercial building south of the pallet yard sustained heavy damage; the estimated loss is $1.2 million.

Fitzgerald Elementary and Kucera Middle School south of Glen Helen Park were threatened. The Press-Enterprise reported the fire at 500 acres by 10:30 a.m.

The Sierra Avenue on-ramp and off-ramp to the northbound I-15 were closed, along with the Sierra Avenue off-ramp to the southbound I-15. Santa Ana winds carried smoke from the fire from the Inland Empire to the coast.


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ESPERANZA INVESTIGATION UNNERVES FIREFIGHTERS

NOVEMBER 06 -- CABAZON, CA:  A U.S. Forest Service employee has asked to have an attorney present before answering investigators' questions related to the deadly Esperanza Fire.

In the aftermath of the 2003 Cramer Fire, which killed two firefighters, the Forest Service proposed disciplinary actions to six employees. The incident commander was held criminally liable, lost his job, and was placed on federal probation for 18 months. His liability for the deaths was determined after an investigation by the USDA Office of the Inspector General, which is currently investigating USFS employees' actions on the Esperanza Fire.

Dick Mangan, president of the International Association of Wildland Fire, told the Press-Enterprise that the Inspector General's involvement has brought a distrust in the investigative process.

"Now what we've done is say, 'We think you robbed a bank. Tell us how you did it. But you're still going to go to jail if you cooperate.' "


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TWO MORE FIREFIGHTERS LOST

NOVEMBER 06 -- SANTA YSABEL, CA:  Two U.S. Forest Service firefighters were killed and a third was injured Saturday night in a vehicle accident near Julian. The three were returning to Pine Hills Fire Station on the Cleveland National Forest after having dinner in Julian.

Francesco D'Amico, 20, of Chula Vista, who was driving, and Daniel Duran, 29, of Calexico, the front seat passenger, were both killed in the accident. Injured was Adrian Rios, 20, of Chula Vista, who was riding in the back seat.

The Union-Tribune reported that D'Amico attended the firefighter academy at Southwestern College. The CHP said the car went off the side of the road, went down an embankment on its side, and struck an oak tree. Rios was trapped in the car for two hours, till a passerby saw the lights from the damaged car.


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BUT THEY SO LOVED GOIN' HOME

NOVEMBER 05 -- DEVORE, CA:  The five firefighters who died on the Esperanza Fire were remembered today as just "ordinary men" who happened to love their firefighting jobs and their families.

Miles of engines and tens of thousands of people paid tribute this afternoon to the crewmembers of U.S. Forest Service Engine 57 just a ways west of where the five of them died -- on the arson-caused Esperanza Fire, the worst disaster to hit the wildland fire community since the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain in Colorado.

Canyon breezes blew over the crowd this afternoon as they gathered for the memorial service.

Fire rigs at Devore

Jeanne Wade Evans, forest supervisor on the San Bernardino, said the sense of loss felt by all firefighters is profound and painful. "But I hope that the loss will be tempered by memories of who these men were," she said. "They loved doing their jobs, but they also loved going home afterwards. This time, they could not go home."

Killed in a burnover last week on the Esperanza Fire were Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, of Idyllwild; Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; Daniel Najera, 20, of San Jacinto; and Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley.

The Press-Enterprise reported that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the firefighters "extraordinary public servants;" he said that firefighting is a noble profession, the stuff of little kids' dreams.

At the memorial service, Tom Harbour, USFS Fire & Aviation director, said that the crew of Engine 57 was one that others in the field trusted. He used a phrase common to fire crews -- "bump up" -- shouted on the fireline when firefighters have finished their job and others in front of them should move up and keep going on to something ahead.

"Can we go forward?" asked Harbour. "Engine 57, can we bump up? The answer from Mark, Jess, Jason, Pablo and Daniel is yes."

Harbour said the crewmembers have anchored their line. "As tough as it is," he said, "we will lift our faces. We will look to the ridge."


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FIREFIGHTER MEMORIAL TODAY

NOVEMBER 05 -- DEVORE, CA:  The organizers of today's memorial service for five firefighters killed on the Esperanza Fire get only one chance to properly honor the fallen.

"You can't go back tomorrow and make it right," said Jim Wilkins, a retired 30-year veteran fire captain who's coordinating the memorial service.

The service is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the 65,000-seat Hyundai Pavilion at Glen Helen Regional Park in Devore.  [MAP]

The Press-Enterprise reported that Wilkins found a Riverside County firefighter who is a video technician and put him in charge of the six television cameras that will cover the stage and audience at the Engine 57 memorial. That video feed will be available to local media and will be beamed to a satellite where it will be made available to every cable television system in the country.

Bronco and King Air at SBD

There's also a flyover planned by firefighting aircraft. The formation will be led by a BLM aerial supervision Beech King Air, with Tanker 25 (an Aero Union P-3) and Tanker 09 (a Neptune P-2V) on its wings. Four helicopters will form up behind them for the flight, which will launch from San Bernardino Airtanker Base.


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TRIPOD FIRE REHAB BUDGET: $28 MILLION

NOVEMBER 04 -- CONCONULLY, WA:  Months after a wildfire burned 274 square miles of state and federal land, the Okanogan National Forest has announced plans to spend $28 million over the next two years to protect hundreds of miles of roads, trails, river channels, and wildlife habitat -- probably the most expensive rehab project the agency's ever undertaken.

The Tripod Fire took off when two fires burned together after being ignited by lightning in July. It burned more than 175,000 acres just south of the Canadian border, and briefly threatened the communities of Conconully and Loomis. Over 20 percent of the fire area was severely burned.

Tripod Fire in July

The AP reported that the Forest Service already received $14 million to begin work this fall before heavy snow falls. Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) work includes clearing downed trees and cutting hazard trees along 259 miles of road and 70 miles of trail inside the firelines. Culverts must be rebuilt or enlarged to handle winter runoff.

Mel Bennett, a forest hydrologist assigned to the recovery team, said erosion poses the biggest risk, resulting in landslides and sediment loading in streams important to threatened and endangered fish. Aerial seeding, hazard tree assessment and removal, fertilizing, heli-mulching, and road work were all planned on the Okanogan, and the aerial seeding and hazard tree work have been completed. About 6,600 acres were seeded, and 10,000 danger trees were felled.

As funding and resources permit, more seeding and danger tree work may occur in the spring.

"After this winter, it’s likely that there may be more danger trees, or trees that have fallen across roads or trails," said Matt Woosley with the BAER team.

Heli-mulching is still ongoing for some of the more severely burned drainages; more than 300 truckloads of straw have been hauled to staging areas; eight helicopters worked to apply 8,580 tons of mulch across 14,000 acres.

More information on BAER projects is available on the Tripod Complex BAER site and on Arizona's Brins Fire BAER site.


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ELDORADO 'SHOTS PLAN 52-MILE WALK

NOVEMBER 04 -- CAMINO, CA:  The Eldorado Hotshots have announced that they'll complete a 52-mile walk in Sacramento in December to raise funds for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Eldorado Hotshots"The recent event on the Esperanza Fire has affected us all," said Captain Mike Sandoval. "The families of our brothers from San Bernardino Engine 57 who lost their lives are in our thoughts and prayers. With this event, and all other tragic events this fire season, the Wildland Firefighter Foundation has been there for us each and every time. The Eldorado Interagency Hotshot Crew feel it is their duty to now try to give back."

The crew is planning a 52-mile walk in Sacramento, California, in support of the Foundation's 52 Club. Crewmembers said they were inspired by Kenneth Perry, an air attack pilot who has brought in over $70,000 for the Foundation by making long-distance runs to raise funds.

Eldorado HotshotsThe hotshots plan their walk on Sacramento's American River Parkway, from Discovery Park to Folsom Dam and back. The tentative date is December 9, rain or shine.

"The Foundation assisted us this season when we went through our own event on the New York Peak Fire," said Sandoval. Six crewmembers were burned on that fire in July in northern Nevada.

"We are excited about this opportunity to give back to our community, get the public and other agencies involved, and most of all, support our fellow firefighters and their families that need our help," said Sandoval.

For more information, call the Eldorado Hotshots at (530)644-3588 or email Aaron Humphrey or Nick Matheson. The crew website at eldoradohotshots.org has more information and will include regular updates on their 52-mile walk.


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FIRE MANAGERS PRACTICED BEFORE ESPERANZA FIRE

NOVEMBER 04 -- IDYLLWILD, CA:  The mountainous wildlands of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains are home to about 100,000 people, and over the last six years, drought and bark beetle infestation have killed more than a million trees and affected nearly a half million acres of both private and public lands. Fire managers have long recognized that a large fire in the area would threaten the lives of thousands of residents and visitors.

In 2005 the Riverside County Mountain Area Safety Taskforce (MAST) conducted training exercises in preparation for the possibility of a fire like the Esperanza. The MAST includes elected officials' staff, government agencies, public utilities, and private organizations; the group works on fire prevention and hazard reduction. They're also responsible for ensuring operational readiness, including fire response and evacuations. The Riverside County MAST unified commanders held an initial training exercise in May; a full field exercise in June included more than 40 engine companies and 20 fire officers.

MAST personnel"The field exercise took six months to develop and about four hours to execute," wrote John Hawkins in the September issue of Wildland Firefighter Magazine. "Once the Riverside County MAST and the individual MAST agencies approved the idea for the drill, a group of fire and law enforcement agencies developed a drill incident action plan and a drill scenario. Planning efforts included determining drill objectives, assignments, location and scenario specifics, and recruiting agency participation."

Hawkins, who is a fire chief for CDF and the Riverside County Fire Department, said planners chose Idyllwild for the drill because it's located in the middle of the MAST organizational area and presents many wildland/urban interface challenges. On the morning of the drill, organizers announced a not-real fire on the southwest side of town -- a location that would immediately require the formation of a unified command with the San Bernardino National Forest and the Idyllwild Fire Protection District. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department assigned a unified IC to work with the two fire agencies, and incident commanders established a field command post. A five-way unified command was then organized to also include Riverside County Fire and the California Highway Patrol.

"The ICs strongly emphasized the importance of performing both structure protection and perimeter control on the fire," said Hawkins. "During real wildland/urban interface fires, it's common to see most fire engines assigned to protect only life and property. But during this drill, fire engines and fire crews were assigned to perform perimeter control evolutions as well. They laid progressive hoselays and constructed firelines along the simulated fire's edges."

The sheriff's department committed more than 50 deputies and many command officers to the drill so they could gain experience working with the incident command system and test the MAST evacuation pre-plan.

"During the debriefing," said Hawkins, "all participants agreed that the drill was of great value to MAST planning efforts. Since then, MAST personnel have taken steps to address some of the issues that arose during the drill."

For more information on the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce, check the calmast.org website.


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VOLUNTEER LOOKOUT MISSED

NOVEMBER 03 -- NORTH FORK, CA:  Josiah Knowles Jr., a volunteer at the Miami Mountain Fire Lookout on the Sierra National Forest, died last Thursday, October 26, at the lookout after apparently falling down the lookout stairs.

"The last week has been a tragic week for the fire service," said Richard Camp, Miami Mountain Volunteer Fire Lookout Coordinator. "The loss of Joe Knowles was a tragic accident for the fire service also."

Joe KnowlesCamp said he was good friends with Knowles for several years. "He was very helpful in putting our web cam and security systems into operation at the tower back in August of 2003," he said. "Our group has been staffing the lookout for the last ten years on a volunteer basis for the Forest Service."

Members of the volunteer group responsible for the lookouts, according to Camp, hope that staffing will continue this next year and that the lookout tower will not be closed down because of Knowles's tragic accident.

Though the news of Knowles's fatal accident has been pre-empted by the national news focus on the Esperanza Fire, Camp and others involved with the lookout volunteer program on the Sierra National Forest hope that Knowles won't be forgotten.

"Joe will be dearly missed," said Camp. "He started actively volunteering in 1998 and logged over 400 hours doing what he enjoyed the most. He also put in countless other hours working on tower maintenance, painting, repairs, and other chores that were never logged."

Miami Lookout is in the foothills of the west-central Sierra Nevada Mountains. At an elevation of 4,327 feet, the site overlooks eastern Madera County, Mariposa County, the southwestern peaks of Yosemite National Park, and the northwestern peaks of the Sierra National Forest. Lookout volunteers are responsible for watching an area of about 150 square miles. The lookout has been staffed by volunteers since 1995, when cutbacks forced the discontinuance of paid staffing.


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RIALTO FIREFIGHTERS RAISING
FUNDS FOR FAMILIES

Fill the boot!NOVEMBER 02 -- RIALTO, CA:  Members of the Rialto Fire Department will hold a "Fill the Boot" fundraiser Saturday for the families of five USFS firefighters killed on the Esperanza Fire.

Firefighters will be at the corner of Base Line Road and Riverside Avenue from noon till 5 p.m.


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OYLER PLEADS NOT GUILTY

NOVEMBER 02 -- RIVERSIDE, CA:  The man charged with the murders of five firefighters insisted this morning that he had nothing to do with the fire.

Raymond Oyler"I haven't done anything with any fires," Raymond Oyler told the Press-Enterprise. "Fires hurt people."

Oyler pleaded not guilty today and told Riverside County Superior Court Judge Janice McIntyre that he agreed to a December 15 court date and waived his right to a speedy hearing.

Defense attorney Mark McDonald said Oyler was "catatonic" and scared.

"All I know is I didn't do this and they're trying to pin this on me," said Oyler. "They need to find the real person."


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INVESTIGATORS STICK OYLER WITH
ARSON AND MURDER CHARGES

NOVEMBER 02 -- RIVERSIDE, CA:  Arson and murder charges will be filed today against a man arrested on suspicion of setting fires earlier this summer. Sheriff's investigators said today that Raymond Lee Oyler, 36, will also be charged with murder, arson, and use of an incendiary device in connection with the deadly Esperanza Fire.

local10.com reported that District Attorney-elect Rod Pacheco said prosecutors would file charges today. Riverside County Undersheriff Neil Lingle said investigators will file five murder counts, 11 counts of arson, and 10 counts of using an incendiary device.

Oyler will also face two special circumstances, one alleging murders committed during arson and another alleging multiple murders. The charges are punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty, and Pacheco said they will consult with friends and families of the firefighters who died before they decide whether to seek the death penalty.


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AUSSIE FIRE OVER 18,500 ACRES

NOVEMBER 02 -- KATOOMBA, NSW:  Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews in New South Wales are working to contain a fire burning near Lake Burragorang in the Blue Mountains National Park west of Nattai.

Barkers Creek Fire in New South WalesNational Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA) crews are working on the northeast and southeast sectors of the fire, which has been been burning for over a week.

Smoke has drifted over most of the Sydney basin area, and it's expected to drift south today.

About 50 RFS firefighters worked through the night on backburning operations along the southern containment line. Crews today will be supported by 15 waterbombing aircraft.


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27-MILE BRUSH FIRE IN SOUTH CAROLINA

NOVEMBER 02 -- JAMISON, SC:  A grass fire along Interstate 26 slowed traffic for several hours yesterday, and crews said the fire stretched for 27 miles across three counties.

“I wouldn’t call it a major fire,” Orangeburg County Fire Systems Coordinator Gene Ball told the Times and Democrat. “But it was one of the longest-stretching fires I’ve seen in the last five or six years." Ball said the fires started at about 2:30 p.m. and the suspected cause was a vehicle.

"A person couldn’t have lit that many little fires without somebody seeing something," he said.

Several local departments responded, along with South Carolina Forestry. The fire burned along the shoulders of the interstate but didn’t spread to wooded areas.

Ball said that Orangeburg and surrounding areas are in fire season, which usually begins in mid-October and lasts till spring.


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NEVADA COUNTY WILL FILL BOOTS

NOVEMBER 01 -- NEVADA CITY, CA:  In honor of the San Bernardino National Forest Engine 57 crew who were burned over in the Esperanza Fire last week, a "fill the boot" drive will be held on Sunday, November 5 at shopping centers in Nevada County.

The drive is sponsored by the Nevada County Fire Chiefs Association and the Tahoe National Forest. Donations will benefit the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

"The firefighters that died in the arson-caused Esperanza Fire in southern California were trying to save a home from burning," said Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, Chief of Fire & Aviation on the Tahoe. "The Wildland Firefighter Foundation provides vital financial and emotional assistance to families of wildland firefighters who die or are seriously injured in the line of duty."

She said most of the firefighters from Engine 57 had young families who would benefit tremendously from the donations.

For more information on the boot drive or the Foundation, call the Tahoe headquarters at (530)265-4531.


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INDIANA FIREFIGHTER KILLED

NOVEMBER 01 -- MADISON, IN:  A firefighter was killed and a fire chief injured this morning while fighting a fire in rural Jefferson County. Greg Cloud, with the Kent Volunteer Fire Department, entered a burning farmhouse with other firefighters when a flashback occurred. Larry Sedam with the Kent VFD said the firefighters retreated, but Cloud didn't make it out.

Robert Black, chief of the Madison Township Fire Department, was injured while attempting to rescue Cloud. The Courier-Journal reported that Black will undergo surgery this afternoon at a hospital in Madison.

"It's a gut-wrenching feeling when one of your brothers has fallen," Kent Fire Chief Lloyd Lamb told the News-Sentinel. He said that Cloud, who was married with no children, joined the department in 2003 and was also on the fire brigade at Arkema Inc. in Carrollton, Kentucky.

Several fire departments responded to the fire when it was reported about 1 a.m. and the fire was controlled by 8 a.m.


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VOLUNTEER LOOKOUT DIES

NOVEMBER 01 -- NORTH FORK, CA:  Josiah Knowles Jr., a volunteer at the Miami Mountain Fire Lookout on the Sierra National Forest, died last Thursday, October 26, at the lookout after apparently falling down the lookout stairs. Investigators said Knowles was on duty till about 6 p.m., but when he did not return home on time, the Volunteer Coordinator drove to the lookout. At about 9 p.m. he found Knowles's vehicle with his body leaning against it.

Knowles had suffered heavy blood loss from severe head trauma. A CDF engine responded to assist, and investigators say the cause of death was apparently a fall down the lookout stairs. An agency investigation is under way.

"Joe was from Ahwahnee and had worked ten years as a volunteer," said Bass Lake District Ranger David Martin. Knowles, in his 70s, left behind two sons and a daughter.

Miami Lookout is in the foothills of the west-central Sierra Nevada Mountains. At an elevation of 4,327 feet, the site overlooks eastern Madera County, Mariposa County, the southwestern peaks of Yosemite National Park, and the northwestern peaks of the Sierra National Forest. Lookout volunteers are responsible for watching an area of about 150 square miles. The lookout has been staffed by volunteers since 1995, when cutbacks forced the discontinuance of paid staffing.


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FIFTH FIREFIGHTER DIES

NOVEMBER 01 -- COLTON, CA:  The lone survivor of a five-man U.S. Forest Service engine crew that was burned over while fighting the Esperanza Fire has died.

Flag-raising at AlandaleThe New York Times reported that Pablo Cerda, 23, who was burned over 90 percent of his body and had extensive internal injuries, was taken off life support at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center after his family decided against further surgeries.

“One deciding factor from the family was that he had a severe burn on his vocal cords,” said Dr. Dev Gnanadev, a trauma surgeon at the burn center. “His airway passages were completely burned. So even if Pablo made it, we’re not sure what kind of quality of life he would have had.”

"Today, more sadness is added to our almost unbearable grief," said Jeanne Wade Evans, forest supervisor on the San Bernardino National Forest.

Cerda had been in critical condition since the burnover last Thursday, according to CNN, and had a very severe inhalation injury.

"I saw both Mark and Pablo as they came in," said Gnanadev. "The initial thought process was that neither was going to make it beyond a couple of hours. My team did a tremendous job in getting Pablo this far. He was a tremendous fighter."

Gnanadev said hospital officials met with Cerda's family yesterday and asked them to decide whether he should undergo further surgeries to remove his remaining burned skin, knowing that his prognosis was "very, very poor ... they decided to let Pablo go." He said Cerda was on life support and the medical team followed the family's wishes.

The other firefighters who were killed were Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, Jason McKay, 27, Jess McLean, 27, and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20.


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ARSON SUSPECT CHARGED

NOVEMBER 01 -- BEAUMONT, CA:  Raymond Oyler, 36, of Beaumont, was arrested at his mother's home in Banning yesterday on two counts of arson linked to June wildfires in the Banning Pass area and two counts of possessing fire-making materials. Investigators also consider him a "person of interest" in the arson-caused Esperanza Fire.

Raymond OylerBail was set at $25,000, according to an AP report, and a court hearing is scheduled for tomorrow. Investigators interviewed Oyler on Friday and searched his home Monday.

KNX news radio reported that more than 300 calls offering tips and the names of potential arson suspects have been phoned in to investigators. Riverside County Undersheriff Neil Lingle said the sheriff's department "will not rest until the people who started this fire are in custody.''

Prosecutors were considering whether to file criminal charges, according to Ingrid Wyatt with the Riverside County district attorney's office.

The Soboba Casino has donated another $100,000 to the reward fund, bringing the total to $650,000. The tip line for information on the arson is (951)922-7116.


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OREGON BILLS PARENTS FOR WILDFIRE

NOVEMBER 01 -- GRANTS PASS, OR:  A couple whose children started a wildfire two years ago are facing a bill from the state of Oregon for more than $34,000.

"I guess we can pay them $50 a month for the rest of our lives," said Tina Hart.

In 2004, two of the Harts' children, ages 12 and 9 at the time, entered an old motor home, found a lighter, and burned some twigs. Their fire, though, according to a story in the Register-Guard, ignited blackberry bushes and spread to 25 acres. Suppression resources included 77 firefighters and three helicopters.


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LIKE "FALLING INTO HELL"

OCTOBER 31 -- CABAZON, CA:  The five U.S. Forest Service firefighters had decades of experience among them, but were overrun on the Esperanza Fire within seconds -- with no time to shelter up.

Pat Boss, information officer with the San Bernardino National Forest, said the winds "came out of nowhere."

He told the Los Angeles Times that the crew of Engine 57 -- based on the San Jacinto Ranger District -- had parked their engine and were ready to defend homes when flames shot up a hill from the south.

Forest Service firefighters Mark Loutzenhiser, Jess McLean, Jason McKay, and Daniel Hoover-Najera were killed, and Firefighter Pablo Cerda remains in critical condition at a burn center in Colton.

Another USFS crew watched as the engine was burned over, but could do nothing to save their colleagues.

Initial reports were that the crew had been overrun while in the engine, but officials later said the firefighters were outside their vehicle and were caught with too little time to deploy shelters when the fire shifted.

Retired firefighter William Jensen, who narrowly escaped death in 1996 while fighting the Calabasas Fire, said the fire blew uphill and caught him before he could run to safety. "It was 500 yards away from us," he said, "and as fast as you can snap your fingers, it was 200 feet all around us."

"It was like falling into hell. It was right there and there was nothing I could do about it. I was with two other firefighters up on the hill, and in an instant, I didn't know where the other two were. There were solid flames around."

Jensen was burned over 70 per cent of his body and spent more than three months at the Grossman Burn Center in Los Angeles.

Wildfire disasters date back more than two centuries; a deadly 1956 fire on the Cleveland National Forest killed 12 firefighters and prompted congressional hearings and the writing of new firefighting rules in 1957. The 10 Standard Fire Orders have been revised in the decades since.

Wildland Firefighter FoundationCalifornia Team 1, led by Don Feser, is providing family and employee support, continuity for daily operations for the Esperanza incident, and fire support staffing. More than 70 personnel are assigned to the Engine 57 support team. A public and media phone number has been established at the San Bernardino Supervisor’s Office for information related to family support, donation opportunities, and investigation team processes. For more information, call (909)383-5501.

Donations for family support can be made to the Esperanza Firefighter Assistance Fund, PO Box 1645, Riverside, CA 92502 (951)955-1010 or to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation at wffoundation.org or (208)336-2996.


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ESPERANZA FIRE CONTAINED

OCTOBER 31 -- CABAZON, CA:  Fire managers declared the Esperanza contained yesterday evening at 40,200 acres; the fire destroyed 34 homes and 20 outbuildings, caused 17 injuries, and killed four members of a USFS engine crew. The lone survivor of the crew, 23-year-old Pablo Cerda, remains in critical condition at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.

About 1,600 firefighters are still on the fire, and will continue mop-up and rehab today. Highway 243 remains closed for road repair.

Henson's team will transition management of the fire back to the Riverside Unit today at noon.

The investigation into the arson that caused the fire is ongoing; abc7.com reported that two people were brought into a sheriff's station yesterday for questioning; they were later released, according to James Crowell, assistant special agent in charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said that investigators would be interviewing a number of people in the case. Several have been detained by the sheriff's department -- including one woman who was transported in handcuffs -- but investigators say they've been eliminating suspects based on received tips.

Riverside County homicide detectives are leading the investigation, joined by CDF investigators and agents with the USFS, the FBI, and the ATF. The Press-Enterprise reported that investigators and elected officials are bent on justice for the four firefighters who were killed. "We're hunting these people with a vengeance," said Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley, "and we're going to find them."

Ron Huxman, a criminal investigator with USFS Law Enforcement, said they would look closely at similarities between the Esperanza Fire and a string of recent brushfires in the San Gorgonio Pass area. He said a 40-acre fire burned Sunday just a few miles from the Esperanza Fire ignition point. The proximity of those fires was not lost on investigators, Huxman said. Neither was the date -- within a day of the third anniversary of the 2003 Old Fire.

The Esperanza Fire was set at the base of a slope in Cabazon; residents said they saw two young men leaving the area where the fire started. Sheriff's deputies yesterday took two men and three bags of material from a house in Cabazon.

The FBI and the ATF have donated $25,000 each toward the reward pool, bringing the total to $550,000. Susan Raichel with the ATF said there are no suspects yet, but investigators are working with over 250 leads and tips. The tip line for information on the arson is (951)922-7116.


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AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRE OVER 16,000 ACRES

OCTOBER 31 -- NATTAI, NSW:  A large bushfire in the Warragamba catchment area of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales is burning in the Blue Mountains National Park west of Nattai.

Forty firefighters worked yesterday to contain the fire, according to ABC news, and NSW Fire Commissioner Phil Koperberg says crews are trying to keep the fire from getting too close to the reservoir.

Ted Williams, fire control officer with the Wollondilly Rural Fire Service, said the fire is burning near the Warragamba dam and there is no threat to any property.

The Barkers Creek Fire is about 25 miles south of Katoomba. Task Force East 28, consisting of 45 firefighters, 5 fire appliances (1 heavy, 3 medium and 1 light), plus support and command vehicles, will be tasked to the fire until at least Saturday. Aviation Support, Air Base, Communications, and Incident Management personnel from the Blue Mountains are deployed in Wollondilly.

The NSW Rural Fire Service reported that crews will be assisted by 12 waterbombing aircraft; the aerial incendiary operation has been completed and bulldozers are working on containment lines in the southwest area of the fire.

The Age reported that two Erickson Aircranes arrived Sunday aboard a Russian Antonov air freighter; they'll be based at Sydney and Melbourne for the season.The Victorian government will also contract a third Aircrane this year.


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FIRE NORTHEAST OF ESCONDIDO EVACUATES 100

OCTOBER 30 -- WARNER SPRINGS, CA:  Firefighters said a brushfire that forced about 100 East County residents to evacuate started spontaneously in a compost pile. nbcsandiego.com reported that the fire started early yesterday afternoon in Warner Springs and threatened at least 20 homes.

The Camino Fire in San Diego County was 75 percent contained at 122 acres this morning. Fire managers said that heavy traffic on the highway was slowing access for fire equipment, but that they hoped to fully contain the fire by this afternoon. The fire this morning was burning toward heavy dead fuels; one home was damaged and two minor injuries were reported. About 380 firefighters were assigned.


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ESPERANZA FIRE SETTLES DOWN

OCTOBER 29 -- CABAZON, CA:  Weather conditions moderated on the Esperanza Fire to give firefighters a break today, with winds calming and RH topping out at 10-18 percent. The southeastern flank of the fire was expected yesterday to spread to Black Mountain, a steep area with difficult access, and a forward-looking infrared flight today indicated areas of heat along much of the eastern flank.

Hot areas remain along the eastern perimeter this evening, though, and with winds shifting to the west, this area remains the top priority.

Tanker 43 at San Bernardino

At least 15 fixed-wing aircraft worked the fire today, loading out of Hemet and San Bernardino, including four air attack aircraft. About a dozen helicopters also flew on the fire, including six heavies, three mediums, and three type 3 helicopters.

According to CDF, more than 60 hand crews were still working the fire today.

The fire this evening was estimated at 40,200 acres with 85 percent containment. Almost half of that was CDF acreage, with local jurisdictions having responsibility for about 20 percent of the fire and the remainder of acreage on the San Bernardino National Forest.

Six minor injuries were reported today on the fireline, but as of this evening CDF info personnel had no details.

Evacuation orders are still in effect for the communities of Twin Pines and Poppet Flat, and Highway 243 remains closed between Banning and Black Mountain.


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ESPERANZA EVACUEES RETURN
TO SMOLDERING WRECKAGE

OCTOBER 29 -- CABAZON, CA:  Residents who were evacuated in the face of the Esperanza Fire have been returning to their homes, and many of them have found nothing but burned foundations and ash.

"There's nothing left, just a couple of walls and rubble," said Oscar Pineiro in an AP report.

The fire destroyed 34 homes and 20 outbuildings. It was 70 percent contained at 40,450 acres early this morning; fire managers are predicting full containment by Tuesday evening.

Evacuation orders are still in effect for about 500 homes in Poppet Flat and Twin Pines. Residents were allowed back in yesterday for several hours to retrieve items, check on pets and livestock, and assess damage.

Current threats include the Soboba Indian Reservation, Poppet Flat, Highwy 243, and habitat areas of Potrero Canyon. The main concern today is the south and southeast perimeter of the fire, which is still burning actively in extremely difficult terrain. Spot fires in the area are likely.

Esperanza Fire map

Scott McLean with CDF said the southeastern flank of the fire was threatening to spread to Black Mountain, a steep area with difficult access. "If it goes there, the fire is going to hell in a handbasket," he said.

More than 2,800 firefighters are working the fire, but demobilization of resources will be under way today. CDF's Team 8 is operating under unified command headed up by incident commanders Rich Henson with CDF and Mike Wakoski with the U.S. Forest Service.


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ESPERANZA FIRE SIZE DOUBLES

OCTOBER 27 -- CABAZON, CA:  The Esperanza Fire grew to 39,900 acres today, bumping against Highway 79 on the west perimeter, with winds of 20 mph with gusts to 45 mph. Low humidity and steep slopes contributed to long-range spotting and extreme fire behavior; firefighters this evening were concerned about fire activity on the southeast perimeter of the fire.

CDF Tanker 96 at San BernardinoThe fire's burning in chaparral, annual grasses, and light brush on the north-facing slopes, with heavy brush and woodlands in the upper elevations.

More than 2,000 firefighters are working the fire.

Fire managers plan to continue direct attack on the perimeter of the fire, along with continuing structure protection and damage assessment. Plans also include establishing contingency lines along the south and east sides of the fire, which is expected to hold to the west. As the winds transition to on-shore by Sunday, the fire is expected to move to the south and southeast.

Evacuation orders are still in effect in Twin Pines, Poppet Flat, and southern Banning. Highway 79 remains closed in the Lambs Canyon area, and Highway 243 is open to residents only.


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ESPERANZA REWARD UP TO $500,000

OCTOBER 27 -- CABAZON, CA:  Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle, interviewed by Greta Van Sustern today on her Fox Network show, did not mince words talking about the arsonists who set a fire that killed four U.S. Forest Service firefighters.

“These dirtbags need to be found and put away,” Doyle told her.

Regarding the investigation that now includes 40 Riverside County Sheriff's personnel, the FBI, CDF, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Doyle said, “This was an intentional starting of a fire and now we have four firefighters that are dead because of it and one that is hanging on for life.”

T-43 and an OV-10 at San BernardinoThe Desert Sun reported that the reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who started the fire has now reached a half million dollars.

The reward fund, initially established at $100,000, grew to $200,000 this morning when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger doubled it. Additional contributions were put up by the the Riverside County Supervisors, the San Bernardino County Supervisors, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and Rancho Mirage billionaire Tim Blixseth.

The fund for the firefighters’ families is also growing. The Pechanga Band led the way with a $50,000 donation, followed by $100,000 donations by the Soboba Band of Luseino Indians and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs. The Soboba Reservation is close to the edge of the fire.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has requested the commitment of “any and all necessary” federal resources to help in the investigation and conviction of the arsonists responsible. Boxer visited the ICP in Beaumont today and said that because the firefighters were federal employees, the arson that killed them is a federal crime.

“The full force of the federal government will be behind this prosecution,” she said. Arson that leads to the death of federal employees constitutes felony murder, punishable either by death or by life in prison.

Esperanza Fire October 27

The Esperanza Fire this evening was 25 percent contained at 39,900 acres. Numerous other news stories and photos are available on the Desert Sun website, which is frequently updated.

National Public Radio's All Things Considered did radio interviews today with wildfire arson investigators.


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ESPERANZA FIRE AT 24,000 ACRES

OCTOBER 27 -- CABAZON, CA:  The Esperanza Fire was reported at 24,000 acres at 7 a.m. today, with 5 percent containment. Ten homes have been confirmed destroyed, and another 500 are threatened.

The four firefighters who died as a result of a burnover on the fire yesterday morning have been identified as Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, of Idyllwild; Engine Operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; Assistant Fire Engine Operator Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; and Firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto.

Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley, remains in critical condition at Arrowhead Medical Center.

"All of us in this fire community are suffering a great loss," said Jeanne Wade-Evans, forest supervisor on the San Bernardino National Forest. All of the firefighters were with Engine 57 on the San Jacinto Ranger District.

The fire's been moving to the west and southwest ahead of gusty winds. Poor humidity recovery overnight fueled the growth of the fire; the RH remained in the single digits through the night. Long-range spotting and extreme fire behavior have challenged crews.

Henson's Type I team took over management of the fire yesterday evening; 1,750 firefighters are assigned to the fire.

During the evening the fire moved into the south Beaumont area and bumped Highway 79 to the east. It's also threatening the Soboba Indian Reservation to the south.

Poppet Flat is now an island in the middle of the burn and surrounded by fire.

Evacuation orders remain in effect in Twin Pines, Poppet Flat, and southern Banning. Evacuation centers have been established at Hemet High School and Beaumont Fellowship of the Pass Church. Highway 79 remains closed in the Lambs Canyon area, and Highway 243 is open to residents only.

The Pacific Southwest Research Station has a number of fire maps online at fireimaging.com, including FireMapper™ and Google Earth images.


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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FIRE KILLS 4 FIREFIGHTERS

OCTOBER 26 -- CABAZON, CA:  A fire burning through dry brush near Banning is threatening homes and spreading fast; msnbc.com reported that it burned more than 800 acres in six hours, killing three firefighters and critically injuring two.

Wildland Firefighter FoundationOne of the injured firefighters died several hours later, according to the Union-Tribune. The two injured firefighters were helicoptered to the burn unit at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, according to the Press-Enterprise, where one of them died late this morning.

A USFS engine with five personnel onboard was burned over shortly before 7 a.m.

The towns of Poppet Ranch and Twin Pines were evacuated, along with a juvenile center, the Twin Pines Boys Ranch. The fire's endangering a 500,000-KV powerline that supplies the Los Angeles area.

The Esperanza Fire was estimated at 1,000 acres before 2 a.m. today; NBC4-TV reported the fire at over 4,000 acres by 11 a.m. Several firefighters reported high winds, extreme fire behavior, and numerous spot fires. The fire was reportedly caused by arson, and cbs2.com reported it at over 8,000 acres by mid-afternoon. A FOX news report said the fire was set about 1 a.m. and a $200,000 reward is being offered for the arrest and conviction of the arsonist. Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins said the arson "constitutes murder." Firefighters have urged that anyone with information or tips should call the Arson Tip Hotline at (951)922-7116.

Firefighters said this afternoon that the fire was well established and aligned with Santa Ana winds, moving fast to the west and southwest upcanyon, but accelerated by the steep-canyon topography. Heavy brush and woodlands are a concern, according to fire managers, when the fire reaches Cabazon Peak, because fire behavior could change when the fire moves from flashy fuels to heavy bug-killed fuels over the top of the peak.

About 500 homes and three commercial properties are threatened, and numerous structures have been destroyed. The communities of Twin Pines, Cabazon, Poppet Flats, Vista Grande, and Beaumont, and the southern parts of Banning and Beaumont are currently threatened, along with the Soboba Indian Reservation, the Silent Valley Club, Sun Lakes Country Club, the Twin Pines Boys' Ranch, Smith Correctional Facility, Highways 243 and 79, Edison powerlines, and habitat areas in Portrero Canyon.

Highway 243 near Banning has been closed, and Highway 79 is also closed from Beaumont to Hemet.

Nearly 400 people were assigned to the fire before dawn; over 700 firefighters, seven helicopters, and six airtankers were on the fire by mid-morning. Federal airtankers included Tankers 09, 11, 22, 25, and 44.

Becky Luther with the Riverside County Fire Department said an evacuation center was set up at Banning Community Center and another at Hemet High School.

The Desert Sun and nbc4.tv and cbs2.com have photos online.


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CRITICAL SoCal FIRE WEATHER

OCTOBER 26 -- RIVERSIDE, CA:  Very low humidity, gusty winds, and long-term dryness have prompted the National Weather Service to issue fire weather outlooks with southern California identified as a critical area. The offshore flow has increased in the southern California coastal range north of Los Angeles with winds gusting to 45 mph and RH values falling to around 15 percent.

Weather conditions this afternoon on the Esperanza Fire were reported with winds of 15-20 mph and gusts to 30 mph. Temperatures were posted at 70&186; with RH in the single digits.

Strong east/northeasterly winds are expected over the rest of the coastal range through this morning, producing rapid drying. Temperatures are expected to rise into the 70s to mid-80s with RH of just 4 to 8 percent. Forecasters with NOAA predicted very poor RH recovery for tonight with continued downslope winds of 20 to 25 mph and gusts around 40 mph.


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TWO NAPA FIRES BURNING

OCTOBER 26 -- NAPA, CA:  Two fires burning in Napa County should be contained by this evening, according to CDF; KGO reported that one firefighter was injured and several homes were evacuated last night. One fire in Yountville reached about 50 acres, and the second fire, near Atlas Peak, burned about 30 acres.

One of the fires, according to a report by cbs5.com, was started by a person mowing grass. "CDF has a slogan of mow before noon," said Suzie Blankenship with CDF.

The Mercury-News reported the fires were at 50 percent containment this morning.


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HIGH WINDS WORRY BAY AREA FIREFIGHTERS

OCTOBER 25 -- CONCORD, CA:  Gusty winds that topped 60 mph in the canyons on Mount Diablo yesterday followed the red flag warnings issued for a major part of the state.

Oakland Fire Capt. Melinda Drayton said three special units would patrol Skyline Boulevard and Redwood Road for a bird's-eye view of the hills, and firefighters are watching for persons involved in high-risk fire activities.

"We will have units meeting and greeting anyone engaged in activities that could lead to a fire," said Drayton. KTVU reported that small fires started by people living in the ravines around the hills have been smoldering lately, and firefighters are monitoring the area.

The National Weather Service recorded dry and gusty offshore winds of up 35 mph with ridge-top gusts of more than 60 mph. The red flag warning was issued for hilly areas of Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties, and extends from the Bay Area along the west side of the state to the Mexican border.