Firefighters stop fire near Julian, California during strong winds

Monday night firefighters in San Diego County in southern California were very successful in stopping the spread of a fire that had significant potential. The Wynola Fire off Wynola Road near Julian was reported at about 11:30 p.m. Monday during strong winds gusting at 30 to 60 mph in parts of the County.

An aggressive response was instrumental in knocking the fire down, and included eleven engines, four hand crews, and bulldozers. A nearby U.S. Forest Service engine at Pine Hills was on 24-hour staffing due to the high fire danger and assisted in suppressing the blaze.  Spot fires occurring a quarter mile away challenged firefighters while working on the late-night fire.

An information officer for the Julian-Cuyamaca VFD said in the video above:

It’s a full response. Anytime there’s a fire they don’t just send out an engine or two to check it out, they send the whole armada.

The final size was 4.5 acres.


Researchers recommend amount of fire clearance around structures

Researchers have concluded that the most effective fire clearance or defensible space around structures, to reduce the chances of them burning in a wildfire, is between 16 and 58 feet.

Below is an excerpt from the abstract of a paper written by Alexandra D. Syphard, Teresa J. Brennan, and Jon E. Keeley, submitted to a journal September 16, 2014.

We analysed the role of defensible space by mapping and measuring a suite of variables on modern pre-fire aerial photography for 1000 destroyed and 1000 surviving structures for all fires where homes burned from 2001 to 2010 in San Diego County, CA, USA. Structures were more likely to survive a fire with defensible space immediately adjacent to them. The most effective treatment distance varied between 5 and 20 m (16–58 ft) from the structure, but distances larger than 30 m (100 ft) did not provide additional protection, even for structures located on steep slopes.

Two of the three authors are public employees, so the taxpayers already paid for this research. However, if you want a copy of The role of defensible space for residential structure protection during wildfires, it will cost you $25.

More about Open Access to research that is paid for by taxpayers.



Wildfire briefing, November 25, 2015

Man killed in Bully Fire identified

Bully Fire

Bully Fire as seen from 35,000 feet. Photo by Sandym415.

The man who was killed in the Bully Fire in July near Ono, California has been identified as Jesus Arellano Garcia, 35, of Michoacán, Mexico. The body was badly burned and investigators used DNA and circumstantial evidence to make the identification. The fire eventually burned 12,661 acres in Shasta County.

There is a $500,000 bench warrant for the arrest of Freddie Alexander Smoke III who allegedly started the Bully Fire as he was driving a truck to a marijuana plantation he was tending. Mr. Smoke was arrested the day the fire started and charged with causing the fire, but was freed after posting a $10,000 bail. The bench warrant was issued after he failed to show up on August 22 for an arraignment in which he was going to be charged with an additional crime, involuntary manslaughter.

Some California residents hope to overturn Fire Prevention Fee

As California residents in semi-rural areas are receiving their annual $150 bill for the state’s “Fire Prevention Fee”, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association is continuing their litigation over what they call an illegal tax. Some residents say they already pay property taxes to support their local fire departments.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the San Diego Reader:

The lawsuit alleges that after Cal Fire’s loss of $80 million in funding due to 2011’s lingering budget crisis, then-assemblyman Robert Blumenfield (D-Van Nuys) pushed through as an emergency, carefully worded ABX1 29, stating the $150 fee was needed for “benefit services.” By not labeling it as a tax, a two-thirds vote of the legislature was not required. Fellow Democratic legislators quickly passed the bill, and Governor Brown signed it.

Cal Fire claims that in wildfire crises in those semi-rural areas they usually become the lead firefighting agency.


Another person pleads guilty to charges related to the Carson helicopter crash that killed 9 firefighters

Carson Helicopters Iron 44 firefighters killedToday in federal court in Medford, Oregon, a second person pleaded guilty to charges related to the 2008 crash of a helicopter in northern California that killed nine wildland firefighters.

Steven Metheny, 44, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters, pleaded guilty to one count each of filing a false statement and of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud while submitting documents to obtain $20 million in firefighting contracts with the U.S. Forest Service.

In January of 2013, Mr. Metheny was indicted for conspiracy to defraud the United States, plus 22 other counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, making false statements to the Forest Service, endangering the safety of aircraft in flight, and theft from an interstate shipment.

The two charges that Mr. Metheny pleaded guilty to today combined have a maximum federal prison sentence of 25 years and fines up to $500,000. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke set a March 2 sentencing date. According to the plea agreement in this case, the U. S. Attorney’s Office will be seeking an enhancement to Mr. Metheny’s sentence based on the offense involving the reckless risk of death or serious bodily injury.

United States Attorney Amanda Marshall said today:

This is a particularly important case. Submitting false information about helicopter payload capabilities in the bid process both defrauded the Forest Service and created a reckless risk of harm to those who used the information in firefighting operations. This includes those who were relying on the false information when a Carson helicopter crashed near Weaverville, California on August 5, 2008, killing nine and seriously injuring four others.

In September of 2013, Levi Phillips, 45, the former maintenance chief of the company, pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud and now faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. He agreed to cooperate with authorities in the case against Mr. Metheny. Mr. Phillips’ sentencing  is set for February 2.

The crash of the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter occurred on the Iron 44 Fire (or Iron Complex) on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California. Killed were the pilot-in-command, a U.S. Forest Service check pilot, and seven firefighters. The copilot and three firefighters were seriously injured. The helicopter was operated by Carson Helicopters, Inc. of Grants Pass, Oregon.

Killed in the crash were pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54; USFS check pilot Jim Ramage, 63; and firefighters Shawn Blazer, 30; Scott Charlson, 25; Matthew Hammer, 23; Edrik Gomez, 19; Bryan Rich, 29; David Steele, 19; and Steven “Caleb” Renno, 21. The copilot and three other firefighters were seriously injured.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there was “intentional wrong-doing” by Carson Helicopters that under-stated the weight of the helicopter and over-stated its performance in the documents they provided to the U.S. Forest Service when bidding on their firefighting contract. The NTSB estimated that the actual empty weight of the helicopter was 13,845 pounds, while Carson Helicopters stated in their contract proposal that the weight was 12,013 pounds. For the purpose of load calculations on the day of the crash, the pilot assumed the weight to be 12,408 pounds, which was 1,437 pounds less than the actual weight estimated by the NTSB. According to the NTSB, for the mission of flying the firefighters off the helispot that day, the helicopter was already over the allowable weight even without the firefighters on board.

In Mr. Metheny’s plea agreement there was an admission that the helicopters had not actually been weighed.

In addition, here is an excerpt from the NTSB report:

The altered takeoff (5-minute) power available chart that was provided by Carson Helicopters eliminated a safety margin of 1,200 pounds of emergency reserve power that had been provided for in the load calculations.

The pilot-in-command followed a Carson Helicopters procedure, which was not approved by the helicopter’s manufacturer or the U.S. Forest Service, and used above-minimum specification torque in the load calculations, which exacerbated the error already introduced by the incorrect empty weight and the altered takeoff power available chart, resulting in a further reduction of 800 pounds to the safety margin intended to be included in the load calculations.

The incorrect information—the empty weight and the power available chart—provided by Carson Helicopters and the company procedure of using above-minimum specification torque misled the pilots to believe that the helicopter had the performance capability to hover out of ground effect with the manifested payload when, in fact, it did not.

In March of 2012, a jury in a civil suit ordered the manufacturer of the helicopter’s engines, General Electric, to pay $69.7 million to William Coultas (the surviving pilot), his wife, and the estate of Roark Schwanenberg (the pilot who was killed).

Nina Charlson, the mother of Scott Charlson, said before the guilty plea today, “Justice needs to be served. Metheny is not the only person who did less than quality work.” She contends the U.S. Forest Service should have weighed the helicopter to confirm the information submitted by Carlson Helicopters.


Video describes the impacts of the Carlton Complex on the local residents

In July of this year four fires in north-central Washinton combined into what was called the Carlton Complex. By the time the fire was contained, 300 homes and 256,108 acres had burned, becoming the largest fire in the state’s history.

This video documents some of the effects on the residents, during and after the massive fire.

Carlton Complex

Carlton Complex as seen from the Incident Base, July 17, 2014. IMT photo.

We showed you another excellent video about the Carlton Complex in August.