California: insurance company says Santa Cruz County liable for Trabing fire

Photo of Trabing fire by Melissa Foraker

We ARE a litigious society.

Farmers Insurance Group has submitted $3 million worth of claims to Santa Cruz County in California, saying the county did not do enough to remove vegetation along county roads, which led to the spread of the Trabing fire near Watsonville. The county has denied the claims; now the ball is in Farmers’ court to decide if they will sue the county.

The fire started on June 20 from hot exhaust on a vehicle on state highway 1. The state is responsible for maintenance along the state highway, but Farmers is saying the vegetation on nearby county roads caused the fire to spread and contributed to the destruction of homes.

CalFire Chief John Ferreira says the vegetation along the county roads had little to do with the spread of the fire:

“Even had the roadsides been mowed, the fire would have raced through there because of the weather conditions and dryness.”

Here is a MAP of the fire.

Wildfire Today had a report on June 25 about a firefighter who lost his home in the fire while fighting another fire.

FREMONT — One of Fremont’s firefighters lost his Santa Cruz County home to a wildfire last weekend as he was battling another blaze in Monterey County, fire officials said.

Richard Simon, a 25-year veteran of the fire department, was fighting fires in King City when he got word of the Trabing Fire, which started Friday afternoon and destroyed 630 acres and several homes, including Simon’s, near Highway 1 north of Watsonville, said Fremont Fire Division Chief Geoff LaTendresse

Simon’s family, including his wife and sons, were home at the time, but they escaped unharmed.

Man accused of starting 75,000 a. fire kills himself

Stephen Posniak, accused of starting the Gunflint Trail Fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that burned 75,000 acres in Minnesota and Canada in 2007, committed suicide.

From the Star Tribune:

An attorney for a Washington, D.C., man accused of starting a wildfire that charred 118 square miles in Minnesota and Canada last year said Tuesday that his client had committed suicide.

Mark Larsen said Tuesday that a relative of Stephen Posniak’s told him Posniak, 64, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Posniak was charged with allowing his campfire to burn out of control in May 2007. The fire spread in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest in Minnesota and into Ontario, destroying nearly 150 buildings worth more than $10 million.

Larsen says they felt Posniak, who pleaded not guilty last month, was overcharged in the case. The Minneapolis attorney said that he spoke to Posniak on Monday and that he was “acute in his thinking and quite pleasant over the phone.”

More information is at the Washington Post.

Obama to nominate Vilsack as Sec. of Agriculture

Tom Vilsack with his wife Christie announcing his withdrawal from the presidential race.

The Associated Press is reporting that they have two Democratic sources that say President-elect Obama will nominate former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as the Secretary of Agriculture, the department that oversees the U.S. Forest Service. Obama is expected to make the announcement on Wednesday.

On November 30, 2006 Vilsack became the first candidate to announce that he was running for the Democratic nomination for president but dropped out a few months later after receiving lukewarm support. In March, 2007 Hillary Clinton bought Vilsack’s endorsement in exchange for Clinton assuming his $400,000 campaign debt and appointing his wife Christie as the co-chair of Clinton’s campaign in Iowa. *sigh*

Vilsack has no record on the topic of wildland fire that we could discover after a brief Google search.

He was one of the three names that Wildfire Today reported as possibilities for the position on November 5, along with Tom Buis and Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD). By the way, yesterday Sandlin gave birth to her first child, Zachary Lars Sandlin. Congratuations Representative Sandlin.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin

Firefighter competing for "Dirty Job"

Matt Cox, a guy with a “dirty job”

Matt Cox, a wildland firefighter, is competing in a contest for the dirtiest job in Central Oregon. It is down to the final four now, and if Mr. Cox wins, he will receive a weekend get-away on the Oregon coast including $500 in lodging and dining, a pre-paid gas card, and a vehicle to use for the weekend.

You can vote for the dirtiest job by going to the site and voting for one of the final four. You can even view videos submitted by the contestants.

It’s easy… you don’t have to register or sign up… just click on the one you want to win the weekend get-away. Look for the voting block on the right side of the screen.

As of 5:03 p.m. on Dec. 16, Matt is in second place. The leader has 43% of the vote to Matt’s 29%. Vote no later than December 20 to help Matt have a great little all-expense-paid weekend vacation.

Thanks, David, for the tip.

Reports: Colo. Sen. Salazar to be Sec. of Interior

Multiple media sources are reporting that President Elect Obama will nominateColorado Senator Ken Salazar to be Secretary of Interior. The Department of Interior oversees four large land management agencies having wildland fire responsibilities: National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The LA Times:

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), a Latino with deep knowledge of water and land issues, is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Interior Department.

Two senior Democrats confirmed Monday that Obama will name Salazar to the post, rounding out an energy and environmental policy team announced at a Chicago news conference.

The Senate’s confirmation of Salazar would probably put the brakes on several controversial Interior Department decisions on energy development.

The department oversees national parks and other large swaths of public lands, and sets policy for oil and gas drilling, mining and other resource extraction.

Earlier this year, Salazar criticized the department for decisions to open Colorado’s picturesque Roan Plateau for drilling. Salazar said the regulations to begin opening land for oil shale development would “sell Colorado short.”


Salazar led Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources and served as the state’s attorney general before winning a vacant Senate seat in 2004. He entered Congress in the same freshman class as Obama.

More information about Senator Salazar:

From his web site:

In Colorado, we are all too familiar with the destruction wrought by wildfires. We can all remember the Hayman wildfire in the summer of 2002 that burned nearly 138,000 acres over the course of three weeks and forced over 40,000 people to evacuate their homes while leaving 133 Coloradans homeless.

Last week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which I am a member, held a hearing to discuss the potential link between a changing global climate and increased wildfire activity in the United States. Climate change is increasingly being cited by scientists as the cause for our more frequent and severe wildfires.

The Denver Post, July 7, 2006:

Sen. Ken Salazar complained Wednesday that lack of money has stymied most of the projects to treat bark beetle-damaged forests in Colorado to reduce wildfire risk.

“I look at Colorado as the Katrina of the West,” Salazar said. “We are simply not doing enough.”

Salazar’s criticism came as senators from Western states scolded Bush administration officials for what they said was the slow pace of efforts to decrease the risk of catastrophic fires.

On November 19, 2008 he wrote a letter to the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service providing advice about how funds should be spent for hazardous fuels management.

In 2007 he co-sponsored with Senator Maria Cantwell a bill called the Wildland Fire Safety and Transparency Act of 2007. The bill, which did not pass, would have created a great deal of meaningless, rote, ritualized, paperwork for the four large federal land management agencies.

The bill would have required the federal agencies to:

…jointly submit annual reports to Congress on the wildland firefighter safety practices of the Secretaries, including training programs and activities for wildland fire suppression, prescribed burning, and wildland fire use.

I know what you’re thinking, that we need to jump at every chance to make firefighting safer, but having worked for the federal government for 33 years, I know that this legislation would not have done that. It would have just created another series of reports that would have to be completed that would only contain estimates and wild-ass guesses, an additional upward reporting requirement that would keep firefighters from doing their real jobs.

But at least he seems to have some interest in wildland fire issues.

Wildfire news, December 15, 2008

Flash flood warnings and voluntary evacuations are affecting residents that live near some of this summer’s fires in southern California.

The tanking economy is forcing the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CalFire, to issue early layoffs of seasonal employees in San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. They are also closing their fire station in Corona.

Speculation is ongoing about who Obama will nominate to be the Secretary of Agriculture, Undersecretary, and Chief of the Forest Service.

Is it just me, or does it look like this single engine air tanker is putting in a curved line of retardant?…. not something you see every day. Click on the photo to see a larger version.


Salt Creek fire near Nephi, Utah, July, 2007