About Bill Gabbert

Wildland fire has been a major part of Bill Gabbert’s life for several decades. After growing up in the south, he migrated to southern California where he lived for 20 years, working as a wildland firefighter. Later he took his affinity for firefighting to Indiana and eventually the Black Hills of South Dakota where he was the Fire Management Officer for a group of seven national parks. Today he is the creator and owner of WildfireToday.com and Sagacity Wildfire Services and serves as an expert witness in wildland fire. If you are interested in wildland fire, welcome… grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. Google+

Wildfire briefing, November 28, 2014

Mail carrier stops wildfire

Bob Trujillo was delivering mail near Genesee, Colorado in August when he discovered a wildfire near a home. Since he had no cell phone service he went to a nearby house and asked the residents to call 911. While a woman at the house made the call, her husband joined Mr. Trujllo while he constructed a fire line around the fire.

A Sheriff’s deputy arrived and helped the men until the fire department arrived.

“When I arrived there was a lot of smoke but not much fire due to the line that Robert built around the fire,” the deputy wrote in his report. “The wind was blowing out of the South East at about 10 miles an hour with strong gusts.”

This week, Mr. Trujillo was honored with a Postmaster General’s “Hero’s Award”, Jefferson County Commissioners honored him with a Citizen’s Coin, and Foothills Fire Chief Brian Zoril presented him with a fireman’s helmet.

Washington state pays wealthy landowner following wildfire

A controversy is developing in the state of Washington after it was discovered that after the Carlton Complex of Fires that burned 300 homes and 256,108 acres, the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) paid nearly $2 million to one of the wealthiest landowners in Okanogan County.

Below are some excerpts from an article at King5:

…The taxpayer funded payment was reimbursement to Gebbers Farms, owner of one of the largest fruit orchards in the world.

Gebbers was paid for equipment and personnel that it used to fight fire, mostly on its own privately-owned property.

DNR says the payment was appropriate, because Gebbers was able to launch a large scale assault on the fire in coordination with public agencies fighting the wildfire.

DNR regional manager Loren Torgerson said the so-called “fire control contract” is the same kind of arrangement the agency uses when hiring contractors to fight fires.

Records show Gebbers was reimbursed $209,000 for salaries for its orchard workers and managers for 19 days of firefighting. It was paid $680,000 for the use of heavy equipment. And $435,000 was paid for at least four helicopters that Gebbers leased.

There’s evidence that the Gebbers property fared much better than neighboring properties.

A satellite image taken in the days after the fire shows a large, circular scar of burned vegetation. In the middle is a green patch that is mostly Gebbers property.

One of the family’s friends also happens to be the man who runs the DNR – lands commissioner Peter Goldmark.

“I knew the late Danny Gebbers – yes,” Goldmark said when KING 5 asked about his association with the family.

Danny Gebbers was the elderly family patriarch who died after he suffered an injury in a fall during the Carlton Complex Fire.

Like the Gebbers, Goldmark is a ranch owner and one of the largest landowners in Okanogan County.

But he says his relationship with them, the political contributions they have made to his campaigns over the years, had no bearing on DNR’s decision to reimburse Gebbers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick and Carl.

Share

Fire investigators honored for conviction of arsonist on 50 felony charges

Law enforcement officers with the North Carolina Forest Service (NCFS) were named the 2014 Investigative Team of the Year by the North Carolina Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators at the North Carolina/South Carolina Arson Conference in Myrtle Beach. The event was attended by more than 360 fire investigators, fire marshals and detectives from both states.

Investigative team of the year

Left to right, Amery Wells, law enforcement supervisor, N.C. Forest Service; Capt. David Newton, Scotland County Sheriff’s Office; Michael Hardin Jr., senior assistant district attorney, District 16A; Sam Niemyer, D-3 law enforcement district ranger, N.C. Forest Service; Jamie Laviner, investigator, Scotland County Sheriff’s Office. Not pictured: Kristy Newton, district attorney, District 16A, and Dawn Layton,chief assistant district attorney, District 20A.

The honor was bestowed upon NCFS Law Enforcement Supervisor Amery Wells, Law Enforcement Rockingham District Ranger Sam Niemyer and other members of the team for an investigation that took place between July 2011 and May 2012. During that period, 78 fires were intentionally set in Scotland, Richmond and Hoke counties. The team used a combination of strategies to narrow down the case to a single suspect who would later be charged and convicted on 50 felony counts of setting fires and malicious use of incendiary devices.

Robert Smith, NCFS chief of law enforcement, said the investigation was challenging and unique due to the geographic area that covered portions of three counties, eight fire districts and two prosecutorial districts, among other factors. He pointed out that investigating a series of fires, even if a few are in the same general area, is complicated.

“Effective communications between investigative team members and numerous resources from different counties and fire districts was critical to the success of this investigation,” Smith said.

Smith said developing the working relationships and overall trust between all of those parties was essential. He credited the team with doing an outstanding job to develop and nurture longstanding relationships that transcended jurisdictional lines and using their individual strengths and skills to work extremely well together.

“They used a combination of good old-fashioned investigative skills mixed with technology such as tracking devices and GIS mapping, to put together a thorough case,” he said.

The factor of time and distance repeatedly challenged investigators to develop new strategies for static and mobile surveillance that covered a large geographic area over a lengthy time span. It was, however, a challenge to get the legal authority to use the tracking device. In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in U.S. vs. Jones that required a search warrant for tracking devices. In May 2012, judges were still new to this case, as was the investigative team, making the warrant process more time-consuming than normal. The team collaborated on proper verbiage and content prior to discussing the case with the signing judge to be sure everything was in proper order and to the letter of the law.

The team also had the daunting task of collecting and analyzing a large volume of data, evidence, leads, witness interviews, photographs and other information, which quickly became a huge undertaking to sort and track. There was also the ongoing process of analyzing the data to formulate hypotheses, which was even more challenging and often frustrating for the team.

The suspect turned out to be a former law enforcement officer. As such, he was familiar with investigative tactics, interview techniques and surveillance techniques. It was later determined that he was also using a scanner to monitor radio traffic of emergency response personnel.

“Considering all of the challenges, the investigative team maintained a unified and determined effort to bring successful closure to one of the most complex wildland fire investigation cases in North Carolina history,” Smith said.

The team invested more than 1,000 man hours of time and resources and wrote in excess of 1,000 pages of discovery evidence. Their work led to 52 felony charges for intentionally setting fires and use of malicious incendiary devices, and a $1 million dollar bond set for the suspect, the largest in North Carolina for a wildland fire case. The suspect pleaded guilty in November 2013 to 50 of the 52 felony charges and was ordered to pay more than $15,000 in restitution. He was sentenced to 60 months of supervised probation to begin in May 2016 at the end of an unrelated federal prison sentence.

“I’m very proud to have played just a small role in this investigation. But even more so, to have witnessed the amount of dedication, professionalism and teamwork these guys demonstrated throughout this entire investigation,” Smith said. “They are all very deserving of this award for 2014.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Benjamin.

Share

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.

Share

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.

 

Share

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.

Share