FIREYS BUSY WITH NSW FIRES
NOVEMBER 19 -- LAKE COWAL, NSW: A bushfire emergency has been declared in the Bathurst and Forbes districts of New South Wales, where Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighters are working to contain two large fires. A fire that started yesterday north of Lake Cowal has burned almost 5,500 acres of grazing country.
"I have never seen such a spectacular burn of lignum burning in all my life," said local landholder Geoff Buttonshaw. "It was just so ferocious."
ABC News reported that another fire south of O'Connell is at about 500 acres and has burned onto a private pine plantation.
RFS Incident Controller Randall Ferrington said weather is their biggest worry.
In the Blue Mountains, two bushfires that have been burning for the past eight days have grown to about 9,400 acres. About 250 firefighters are completing a second stage of backburning operations along The Bells Line of Road between the Darling Causeway at Bell to Mount Tomah. Crews from the RFS and National Parks and Wildlife Service will be mopping up; about 50 remote area firefighters and 16 aircraft are still working inaccessible parts of the fire in the Grose Valley.
CALIFORNIA WILDERNESS FIRE
NOWHERE NEAR CONTAINED YET
NOVEMBER 19 -- AZUSA, CA: Thirty percent contained tonight at 240 acres, the Nowhere Fire northeast of Azusa on the Angeles National Forest experienced some roll-out that threatened established containment lines. The fire's threatening the East Fork San Gabriel River watershed, the Sheep Mountain wilderness, and habitat of the Santa Ana sucker and bighorn sheep.
Inaccessible and extreme terrain has necessitated the spiking out of crews. The East Fork Road at Glendora Mountain Road is still closed.
About 230 people are assigned to the fire.
SHERIFF AND CDF DISPUTE OYLER CASE
NOVEMBER 19 -- RIVERSIDE, CA: Two agencies investigating the arson-caused Esperanza Fire that killed five wildland firefighters are disputing each other's accounts of when Raymond Oyler was first identified as a suspect.
Shortly after Oyler was arrested in late October, Riverside County Sheriff's officials said that state arson experts had identified him as one of several suspects in an investigation dating back to May related to a string of arson fires in the Banning Pass area.
But the day after Oyler was charged with multiple felony counts of murder and arson, a CDF captain said Oyler had not become an arson suspect until after the fatal Esperanza Fire. Exacerbating the dispute is the question of whether Oyler could have been arrested before the Esperanza Fire.
In an AP report, Tom Freeman with the Sheriff's Department said that the department stands by its statement and explained that they were not involved in the investigation of the earlier fires because of a long-standing agreement with CDF that its investigators would handle arson cases. He said the Sheriff's Department was not involved until October 26, when the sheriff learned from CDF that they had a multiple homicide.
"Sheriff Doyle and Undersheriff Lingle have no intention of modifying their prior statements with respect to this case," he told the Desert Sun.
Prosecutors who charged Oyler say they have "overwhelming" evidence against him, but Oyler's attorney Mark McDonald claims his client has an "airtight alibi." He says Oyler was home with his 7-month-old daughter the night the fire was set. "I am here to tell you that he did not have a damned thing to do with the fires he is charged with starting," said McDonald, "and he will be vindicated when this political circus act is over."
Attorneys watching the case said it's unusual for a district attorney's office to be so adamant about its case so early in the prosecution. "It's unusual for a DA to speak in such absolute terms," said Steve Harmon, a Riverside defense attorney who's handled arson cases. "I've heard, 'We have a strong case' or 'We are building a strong case,' but never 'overwhelming.'"
The AP reported that Oyler's been charged not just in the Esperanza case, but also with setting ten other fires since June. Legal experts say prosecutors appear to be methodically building a case with evidence from other fires for which Oyler is charged that share characteristics with the origin of the Esperanza Fire.
Remote cameras mounted on utility poles caught images of Oyler's car leaving the location where the Esperanza Fire was started. At 10 of the 11 fires, investigators recovered remains of incendiary devices. They also recovered DNA from cigarette butts found at the June 9 and June 10 arsons, and the samples match Oyler's profile.
FIRE ON THE ANGELES
NOVEMBER 19 -- AZUSA, CA: A fire northeast of Azusa started yesterday afternoon on the Angeles National Forest and grew quickly to 80 acres. The Nowhere Fire was reported at 100 acres this morning with zero containment. It's threatening the East Fork San Gabriel River watershed and wilderness bighorn sheep habitat.
Kerr's SoCal Team 2 is on the fire.
ABC reported that the fire started near the Bridge to Nowhere and the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.
Burning in chapparal and heavy brush ahead of 20 mph winds, the fire prompted the closure of East Fork Road at Glendora Mountain Road.
Fire managers expect the fire to burn west into Devil's Gulch today. They are helicoptering crews in to work on the fire, and plan heavy use of airtankers and helicopters.
About 85 firefighters are assigned. Sheriff's deputies were helping to evacuate hikers and campers in the area.
MORE FIRE-STARTING CHARGES
NOVEMBER 18 -- SPOKANE, WA: A 22-year-old woman has been charged with starting a 460-acre wildfire in August that burned four homes and 14 outbuildings near Valley, Washington.
Heidi Marie Day, of Loon Lake, was charged earlier this week with first-degree reckless burning -- a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The Spokesman-Review reported that she was not arrested but was summoned to appear in Stevens County Superior Court for arraignment on November 28.
Day was reportedly visiting a friend south of Chewelah on August 8 when she started a garbage fire that burned out of control.
A burn ban was in effect at the time but Day said she was unaware of it.
She said she watched the fire about five seconds after she lit it and then went back into the house. By the time others in the house noticed trees were burning, they were was unable to control it with a garden hose.
The Valley Mill Fire burned toward Highway 395. Suppression efforts included airtankers, helicopters, and more than 200 firefighters. Costs were estimated at more than $1.1 million.
MAN ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH OV-10 CRASH
NOVEMBER 18 -- VISALIA, CA: The AP reported that a Tulare man is being held on homicide and arson charges for allegedly starting three small wildfires in a remote Central Valley canyon, one of which led to a plane crash that killed two people.
Patrick Courtney, 29, is being held without bail at the Tulare County jail.
The September 6 crash of an OV-10 air tactical plane -- Air Attack 410 -- in the foothills above Porterville killed CDF Battalion Chief Rob Stone of Visalia and pilot Sandy Willett of Hanford. The Enterprise-Record reported that Courtney is charged with arson and an open count of homicide in connection with the fires.
Courtney's arraignment is set for Tuesday.
The September plane crash ignited a fire on a ridge -- the fourth in the area over the Labor Day weekend. CDF investigators confirmed the first two fires -- the Jaguar and Camp fires - were human-caused.
CDF has operated 13 of the OV-10 air attack planes from air attack bases across the state. Air Attack 410 was based at the Porterville airport and showed no signs of problems prior to takeoff. Investigators from the NTSB, the FAA, and CDF are still working on the accident investigation.
Stone, 36, was a Visalia resident and an 18-year CDF employee who was well-liked by colleagues. He is survived by his wife, Rindi, and two young children. Willett, 52, was a DynCorp pilot for four years. He is survived by his wife, Judy, of Hanford.
EL CARISO MONUMENT EFFORTS STALLED
NOVEMBER 18 -- EL CARISO VILLAGE, CA: Just after you turn off Grand Avenue in Lake Elsinore onto State Highway 74, also known as Ortega Highway, there's a sign on the right that reads "California Wildland Firefighters Memorial Highway."
State legislation in 1998 officially renamed the mountain roadway cutting through the Cleveland National Forest to honor firefighters who have died fighting wildfires across the state. The renaming was part of a three-phase memorial project proposed in 1993 for the hills west of Lake Elsinore, not far from the site of one of the region's deadliest wildfires.
The other parts of the project included refurbishing El Cariso Memorial Park, renaming it the California Wildland Firefighters Picnic Area, and constructing a memorial for the hundreds of California firefighters have died fighting wildfires.
Saturday, the 8th of July in 1959, was a hot sticky day in southern California. In the brushy hills above Lake Elsinore, members of a teen car club were drinking beer in the woods. Two of them left after a fight and loaded an empty beer keg into the back of a pickup. They headed down the twisting mountain road toward Lake Elsinore. When the driver lost control of the pickup, it flew off the roadway and down a 200-foot embankment. The wreck ignited an inferno that became known as the Decker Canyon Fire.
One of the firefighters who responded was John Guthrie. His mother Carlo Guthrie, now 70, says John had always wanted to be a firefighter. When the Decker Canyon Fire took off, Guthrie and his crew got the call. More than 500 firefighters responded as the fire swept out of the hills. Lakeland Village was evacuated.
Guthrie and his crew were sent off the main road east of El Cariso Village and into a canyon to start backfiring operations, but shifting winds pushed a wall of flame up the canyon toward them. Guthrie ordered the crew back to the engine.
The engine and everyone in it were overrun; Guthrie was outside the engine with a hose. Another 27 firefighters on the incident were injured. Three of those who died were members of the El Cariso Hotshots.
Guthrie, though burned over 85 percent of his body, began walking out of the canyon before others came to his aid. An ambulance took him to a hospital in Hemet. He was the last firefighter to die, succumbing to his injuries at a hospital in Redlands more than two months later.
In the years immediately following the fire, El Cariso Memorial Park, with picnic tables and benches, was built to honor the fallen. A stone memorial drinking fountain was added with a plaque honoring those "who gave their lives fighting forest fires in these mountains." For years, wooden markers stood along the highway bearing the names of the men who died fighting the Decker Canyon Fire. In the early 1990s some firefighters who had fought the fire or knew those killed began an effort to replace the signs. That work inspired others to form a committee to build a monument to those who'd died on California wildfires.
Initial efforts were successful, but the memorial at Cariso -- the first of its kind in the state -- stalled out.
A wonderful feature story by John Hunneman in the North County Times details the story and the history of this almost-forgotten monument. Hunneman explains that Carlo Guthrie in 1959 was a young mother of two who worked the graveyard shift at a Riverside manufacturing plant to help make ends meet.
A week after October's Esperanza Fire burnover, she and John Guthrie Jr., sat at a picnic bench near the partially built memorial. She said volunteers had hoped to have the tribute built by 1999 to mark the Decker Canyon Fire's 40th anniversary. But it wasn't -- the original $200,000 memorial project budget has been cut in half over the years as fundraising efforts floundered. But by 2004, the fire's 45th anniversary, most of the land for the memorial had been cleared and a cement retaining wall and walkways had been built by volunteers. The Riverside Chapter of the Benevolent Fund of CDF Firefighters donated $10,000 to help, but not much has happened since then.
"I'm amazed at how many people involved in firefighting don't even know this exists," said Carlo Guthrie. She said that in the aftermath of the Esperanza Fire fatalities, she renewed her commitment to seeing the El Cariso site completed. "We're still going to get this done," she said.
About $60,000 is needed to complete even the scaled-down memorial. Donations to help build the memorial can be sent to the California Wildland Firefighters Memorial Committee, CDF Headquarters, 210 West San Jacinto Avenue, Perris, CA 92570.
ARIZONA COUNTIES CAN ENFORCE FIRE CODES
NOVEMBER 17 -- PHOENIX, AZ: Arizona counties do have the legal power to enforce fire codes restricting new construction to comply with fire safety standards; Attorney General Terry Goddard said yesterday in a legal opinion that state or county fire codes supersede private regulations imposed by subdivisions when they conflict with the government codes.
Private regulations, known as ‘‘covenants, conditions and restrictions,'' or CC&Rs, may apply if they are more restrictive than state or county codes.
The Mohave Daily News carried an AP story that said newly enacted fire codes are not retroactively incorporated into existing private CC&Rs -- and counties may not enforce CC&Rs unless they were adopted as a condition of subdivision or other zoning approval.
State Forester Kirk Rowdabaugh said he requested the opinion because of questions about the authority of counties to impose codes dealing with emergency vehicle access, evacuation routes, defensible space, and other concerns. He said the attorney general's opinion will uphold wildland/urban interface codes adopted by Coconino and Yavapai counties.
‘‘This will really help clarify what authority the counties have to ensure that future development is done with fire-wise practices in mind,'' said Rowdabaugh.
BORDER FIRES DRIVE UP B.C. SUPPRESSION COSTS
NOVEMBER 17 -- VICTORIA, BC: Fighting fires along the U.S. border has pushed the cost of the 2006 British Columbia fire season to more than $122 million (USD).
By mid-September the forest ministry had recorded 2,487 fires that burned about 324,000 acres. The South Delta Leader reported that costs this year are approaching the record 2004 season, when a similar number of fires burned about 550,000 acres.
Forests Minister Rich Coleman said firefighters are achieving better results on wildland/urban interface fires, and that communications and emergency preparedness have dramatically improved over the last few years.
“It was a fairly active season from the standpoint of the volume of forest fires, but it wasn’t very active from the standpoint of interface, because we didn’t have a major interface fire like we had in 2003 with Kelowna,” he said. The Okanagan Mountain Park Fire of August and September 2003 burned over 61,000 acres of forest and park land south and east of Kelowna, forcing the evacuation of more than 27,000 people and destroying 239 homes.
Fire crews are still working on two major fires at the edges of Manning Park -- the Tatoosh Fire that spread north from Washington and the Border Lake Fire that started early in September in remote wilderness.
The Tripod Fire, on the U.S. side of the border on the Okanogan National Forest,
still had B.C. Forest Service personnel on it in September, along with five helicopters. 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 border, and briefly threatened the communities of Conconully and Loomis.
WINDS MAKE FOR CHAOS IN AUSSIE BUSHFIRES
NOVEMBER 16 -- CALOUNDRA, QLD : Strong winds forecast for the Sunshine Coast today are expected to hinder efforts to contain a bushfire that has caused chaos in the region. The Age reported today that police declared an emergency situation after a bushfire took off west of Caloundra, burning through state pine forests.
Fast-moving flames and billowing smoke fanned by strong, dry winds forced the evacuation of homes and businesses in the area. The bushfire closed an airport and a school, and traffic came to a standstill as roads were closed. The Courier-Mail reported that fire managers were preparing for a wind shift that could push the fire into the bushland.
Andrew Berkman with the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service said crews were working on containment lines and dampening down ahead of an expected southeasterly wind change.
Almost 100 firefighters fought the fire overnight, including 35 who were dispatched from Brisbane as relief. Waterbombing helicopters are expected at first light.
Another bushfire in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, in New South Wales, burned out a large area of private property between Mount Victoria and Bell. A NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokesman told The Age that crews were trying to keep the fire from entering the Grose Valley.
According to the RFS this evening, about 140 firefighters were working on two fires burning in the Grose Valley and north of Mt. Victoria in the Blue Mountains. The fires have burned over 4,500 acres of bushland; the Lawsons Long Alley Fire started on Tuesday afternoon near Hartley Vale, in the Lithgow District. A second fire, the Burra Korain Fire, is burning north of Blackheath.
A total of 11 aircraft, including two helitankers, will work aerial suppression.
Fire conditions have been favorable, with unseasonably low temperatures and light winds and even snow, but firefighters say it's not enough to mitigate for long-term drought conditions and high fire danger.
The RFS will hold public information sessions in communities around the fire areas; for more information, see the NSW Rural Fire Service pages. The RFS also maintains an emergency update page.
TEXAS FIRE BLAMED ON ILLEGAL BURNING
NOVEMBER 16 -- DRIFTWOOD, TEXAS: The illegal burning of a pile of trash is what started the Rimrock Fire in Hays County -- not an escaped burn as was erroneously reported earlier. The fire, according to KEYE-TV, was burning in northern Hays County near Driftwood, about 40 miles southwest of Austin.
It was 75 percent contained this afternoon at about 960 acres, according to Rich Gray's Texas incident management team.
As of this evening, all evacuated residents have been allowed to return to their homes, and roads have been reopened. Stiff winds backed off today and crews on the fire worked on hot spots; more than 300 homes were threatened by the fire, but no structures were lost.
TEXAS FIRE EVACUATES 200 HOMES
NOVEMBER 15 -- DRIFTWOOD, TEXAS: A 300-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 Rimrock Fire.
The fire was 40 percent contained this afternoon about 3 p.m. with 150 homes threatened.
The Texas National Guard dispatched two Blackhawk helicopters to drop water on the fire. 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.
Another fire in Bandera County northwest of San Antonio was contained at 143 acres this afternoon; firefighters on the Sistrunk II Fire reported red flag conditions with 40 mph winds, 9 percent RH, and extreme fire behavior.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.' "
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
The 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.
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.
"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
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."
Camp 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.
RIALTO FIREFIGHTERS RAISING
FUNDS FOR FAMILIES
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.
National 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
Bail 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.
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.
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.
California 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.
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.