Oyler arson timeline

The Press-Enterprise, which has done an outstanding job of covering the Esperanza fire and the legal proceedings, put together this timeline of the fires that Raymond Lee Oyler is now convicted of setting.  If you are using Firefox as your browser, right-click on the image and choose “view image” to see a larger version.

Experanza jurors deadlocked

On Thursday afternoon the jury in the trial for Raymond Oyler, accused of setting the Esperanza fire and numerous others in the summer of 2006, is deadlocked on several charges, but they did not indicate which ones. The judge, W. Charles Morgan, told them to step back and “take a look at the totality” of the evidence before excusing them for the day.

The jurors will return at 9 a.m. Friday morning to begin their sixth day of deliberations.

Oyler is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and 40 counts of arson and being in possession of destructive devices. A five-person engine crew was entrapped and died on the Esperanza fire in southern California.

“13 Situations That Shout Watch Out”

The evolution of the “13 Situations that Shout Watch Out” and the “18 Watch Out Situations”.

From a paper by Jennifer A. Ziegler, PhD., Department of Communication, Valparaiso University:

Although it is still a mystery about precisely when, where, or how the original 13 Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’ were developed, there is good reason to believe that they originated in the late 1960s, and most likely after 1967. Officially, there were 13 “Situations that Shout ‘Watch Out’” in effect through the summer of 1987.

Then, five items were added to the list when NWCG developed the “Standards for Survival” course later that year (1987). At that time, the name was also changed to 18 “Watch Out Situations,” and the sentence structure of each item was altered from the subjective “You are…” to a more objective description of each situation.

1987 was also the year the Fire Orders were reordered, and the Standards for Survival course and subsequent trend analyses of the Watch Out Situations emphasized how the two lists were supposed to work together. Although the Fire Orders were reordered (again) in 2003, the list of Watch Out Situations has remained unchanged since 1987.

“Basic 32” wildland fire training

In 1972, when I was on the El Cariso Hot Shots near Elsinore, California, the crew, led by Superintendent Ron Campbell, saw the need for standardized basic training for wildland firefighters. At the time, there was nothing, just collections of papers, research, and some books. Some people had written some lesson plans, but there was no widely available, organized training curriculum that could be used to take someone off the street and put them through a structured multi-day course in wildland fire suppression.

In what is now seen as a remarkable accomplishment, the crew created a 32-hour course, complete with lesson plans, a slide-tape program, tests, and a student workbook, to fill this need. Over the next several years, dozens of copies of the program were made and distributed, mostly around the Cleveland National Forest and other areas in southern California. Later it was converted to video tape which made it a lot easier to put on the training, and the popularity spread even further.

Tom Sadowski and I took most of the photos, the slides, that were used in the program. Recently I converted over 800 of my slides, prints, and negatives to digital form, including some copies I had of some of the original slides that I took that were in what became known as the “Basic 32” training.

13 Watch Out Situations from the 1970s

The photo at the top of this post is from that “Basic 32” program, and was one of the 13 images of what was then the “13 Situations That Shout Watch Out”.

I will post the other 12

From March 19 through 30 I will post the other 12 of the color images from the “13 Situations”, one each day.

Here are the 18 Watch Out Situations as they are today.

1. Fire not scouted and sized up.
2. In country not seen in daylight.
3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified.
4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.
5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards.
6. Instructions and assignments not clear.
7. No communication link with crewmembers/supervisors.
8. Constructing line without safe anchor point.
9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.
10. Attempting frontal assault on fire.
11. Unburned fuel between you and the fire.
12. Cannot see main fire, not in contact with anyone who can.
13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below.
14. Weather is getting hotter and drier.
15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.
16. Getting frequent spot fires across line.
17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.
18. Taking a nap near the fire line.

Jennifer Ziegler
Jennifer A. Ziegler, Ph.D., at the 9th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Pasadena, Calif., 2006; Photo: Bill Gabbert
Dr. Ziegler will be presenting a follow up poster at the 10th Wildland Fire Safety Summit in Phoenix, April 27-30, regarding the origin of the original 13 Situations, called “Help Uncover the Mystery of the Original 13 Situations That Shout Watch Out”. One aspect of the Situations that has captured her interest is that they were originally intended to be operational tactics and not safety guidelines.
A question she will be asking at the Safety Summit will be “What is the 19th Watch Out Situation?”

Arson investigator testifies for defense in Esperanza fire trial

David M. Smith testified for the defense on Monday in the trial of Raymond Oyler who is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and starting the Esperanza fire in which five U.S. Forest Service firefighters died in 2006 in southern California.

In the 1970s Smith (shown in the photo from his web site) was a member of the Arson and Bomb Unit with the Tucson Police Department, but in 1981 founded Associated Fire Consultants, Inc. According to his web site, he has given testimony over 170 times and his main areas of expertise are “arson motivations, explosions, and fuel gas matters”.

He testified on Monday that he thinks there were two or possibly three arsonists setting fires in the Banning Pass area in 2006 based on the types of incendiary devices used. One device was a single Marlboro cigarette with about six matches set across it at a 90-degree angle. This type of device was used on 10 fires set between June 3 and July 2, 2006.

Another device was a cigarette bound with a rubber band to about 30 wood matches which was used on three fires set on May 16, 2006 and on the October 26 Esperanza fire.

While Smith said it is unlikely that an arsonist would use different types of devices, the prosecutor, Michael Hestrin, suggested that an arsonist’s devices might evolve or they may try different devices.

Oyler’s DNA was found on two of the cigarettes used on the fires between June 3 and July 2, 2006.

When asked during the trial, Smith said that he has been paid about $5,000 for the work he has done on the case.

It is likely that the trial will go to the jury this week.

Esperanza fire trial update, January 28

The Press-Enterprise has an update about the trial for Raymond Lee Oyler, accused of arson and murder in the 2006 fire that resulted in the deaths of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters in southern California.

Photos of the charred remains of three firefighters were shown to the jurors, a CalFire arson investigator was questioned, and it was pointed out that the house that the firefighters were protecting had been determined to be indefensible according to a 2002 fire-risk map created by CalFire/Riverside County fire Department.

OSHA and U.S. Forest Service Reach Settlement About Esperanza Fire

Esperanza fire OverviewThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Forest Service have reached a settlement which modifies some of the “serious violations” that OSHA found after the Oct. 26, 2006 fire in which the five members of San Bernardino National Forest Engine 57 were killed during a burn over.

According to the Press-Enterprise:

“Under the settlement, two of the six violations were withdrawn and the four others were amended, said Jason Kirchner, public affairs specialist for the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service.

Kirchner said the main issue for fire officials was that OSHA initially viewed some firefighting guidelines as safety rules that had been broken.

“We felt it was an incorrect assessment,” Kirchner said. “They were not intended to be unbreakable rules. They are tools to help evaluate the situation and make decisions.”

Kirchner said the remaining four serious violations have been addressed in the Esperanza Accident Review Board Action Plan that was devised by the Forest Service.

The serious violations showed the fire agency did not “furnish places and conditions of employment that were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm …”

It noted that instructions from the branch director were either “poorly communicated, or misunderstood” by firefighters. Firefighters were not equipped with maps to familiarize themselves with the area and terrain. The report also noted that the firefighters were ordered to provide structure protection and ended up directly in the path of the strong winds and fire, resulting in the fatal burnover of their fire engine.”

The crew of Engine 57: Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, of Idyllwild; Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; Jason McKay, 27, of Apple Valley; Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto; and Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley.

(photo is from the official USFS/CalFire Factual Report)

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UPDATE November 12, 2013:

Esperanza Fire Factual Report, and the USDA Office of Inspector General’s Report on the fire.