Santiago fire AAR released

Santiago fire AARThe Orange County Fire Authority has released their after action review on the October, 2007 Santiago fire, southeast of Los Angeles. The document is 138 pages long and 7.3 Mb. The fire burned 28,517 acres and destroyed 42 structures, including 14 homes, 4 commercial buildings, and 24 out buildings.

On a quick review, I did not see any earth-shaking revelations. There were some challenges with communications (i.e. 800 Mh vs. VHF systems) but have you ever seen an AAR for a large incident that did not mention problems with communications?

Some of the recommendations:

  • “…aggressively pursue adoption of Very High, High, and Moderate Fire Severity Zones” on the CalFire maps.
  • Develop a Wildland-Urban Interface Program that includes enforcement provisions, and commit the necessary resources.
  • Accelerate the purchase of new helicopters, and acquire night vision capability.
  • Establish a full-time, year-round hand crew, a 2nd seasonal handcrew, and a seasonal fly crew.
  • Increase staffing on Type 3 wildland engines to include a 4th firefighter.

Terry Barton re-sentenced today for starting Hayman Fire

hayman fire map
Scott C. Carter, Digital Data Services, Inc.,

Terry Barton was a Fire Prevention Technician for the US Forest Service when she started what became the 137,000-acre Hayman fire on the Pike National Forest in 2002.

Unless there are further legal proceedings, it appears that she will be out of prison in June.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

“Terry Barton, who set the worst fire in Colorado history, was re-sentenced to 15 years probation and 1,500 hours of community service today by 4th Judicial District Judge Thomas Kennedy.

Her first sentence on a state arson charge – 12 years in prison – was tossed out by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2004 because of issues with the way the original judge handled her case.

Barton is in a prison in Texas, serving out the remainder of a six-year sentence on federal charges for starting the Hayman fire. She’s scheduled to be released from prison in June, according to her attorney.

Once she’s released, she’ll have to check in with 4th Judicial District probation officials. Her new sentence on the state charge will be retroactive to 2003, meaning she’ll be on the hook for community service hours and probation check-ins until 2018.

In June 2002, Barton – a U.S. Forest Service employee – reported that a fire started in a campground northwest of Lake George. About a week later, she was arrested after admitting she accidentally started the fire by burning a letter from her estranged husband.

The fire burned 137,000 acres in the Pike National Forest and destroyed 133 homes.”
Earlier we covered other developments in this case.

UPDATE: March 28

In yesterdays’ court proceedings, district judge Thomas Kennedy ordered Barton to pay restitution — estimated to be at least $30 million — on top of the $14.6 million in restitution that is part of her six-year federal sentence.

More from the Denver Post today:

Barton, who began serving her federal sentence in 2003, is due to be released in June from prison in Texas. She must report to the El Paso County probation office within a week after leaving federal custody.

Barton’s 12-year state prison sentence was overturned in 2004 by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The appeals court found the judge failed to disclose that the Hayman fire forced him to evacuate and that he doubled the presumptive range of her sentence inappropriately because only a jury could find aggravating factors.

Prosecutors then argued that Barton’s appeal of her sentence violated the terms of the plea agreement, which allowed them to withdraw it.

In January, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled they could not withdraw from the agreement.

It said Barton would face only one count in one county, would serve any state sentence concurrently with the federal sentence, and she could not appeal any state sentence.

Newsome said the amount of restitution must be determined within 90 days, saying, “It will be at least $30 million.”

While the DAs understand the amount may never be paid, Newsome said state law requires a judge to impose restitution for actual losses and ensures victims’ right to pursue civil judgments.


Farmer dies on a fire in Colorado

From 7 News in Denver, March 26:

ORCHARD, Colo. — A farmer trying to control a fire on his property died Wednesday afternoon when the tractor he was driving flipped into an irrigation ditch.

Morgan County Sheriff Jim Crone said the man was driving his tractor on top of a ditch to get ahead of the fire when the ground shifted or partially collapsed, causing the tractor to flip and roll on top of the farmer. The farmer was killed instantly.

The man, who has not been identified, called for the fire department before his tractor flipped at 2:30 p.m. Deputies believe he was burning brush near the irrigation ditch and it got out of control.

About 100 acres were burned by the brush fire, located northwest of the town of Orchard, Colo.

Recreation Fees Rising in Wake of Fires’ Costs

This was published in the NY Times a couple of weeks ago. Here is an excerpt:

HAMILTON, Mont. — Reeling from the high cost of fighting wildfires, federal land agencies have been imposing new fees and increasing existing ones at recreation sites across the West in an effort to raise tens of millions of dollars.

Additionally, hundreds of marginally profitable campsites and other public facilities on federal lands have been closed, and thousands more, from overlooks to picnic tables, are being considered for removal.

“As fire costs increase, I’ve got less and less money for other programs,” said Dave Bull, superintendent of the Bitterroot National Forest here in Hamilton. The charge for access to Lake Como, a popular boating destination in the national forest, will be increased this year to $5 from $2.

Last year, the Forest Service collected $60 million in fees nationwide, nearly double the $32 million in 2000. The Bureau of Land Management, the country’s biggest landlord, doubled its revenues over the same period, to more than $14 million from $7 million. The agency projects revenues from the fees will grow an additional $1 million this year.


Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has introduced a bill that would repeal the authority of the Forest Service and other agencies to raise or institute many of the fees.

“The authority given land managers is being abused,” Baucus said. “They are using it to pad their budgets at the expense of the public. I think it’s just wrong.”

Fire in North Carolina allowed to burn

In the western US we call this type of fire a “fire use fire”. But only if a fire management plan allows for this type of fire, and all of the predetermined conditions are met.

From a story in the Charlotte Observer:

A fire has been burning on an island near marker 10 off Stonemarker Point on Lake Norman since Tuesday evening, officials said.

The fire was reported around 7 p.m. Tuesday to the N.C. Division of Forest Resources district office in Mount Holly.

Brian Haines, a spokesman for NCDFR in Raleigh, said rangers from the division have been allowing the fire to burn on the 18-acre uninhabited island because it doesn’t pose a threat to people or properties.

“It’s not going to go anywhere,” Haines said. “It’s surrounded by water so you have a natural fire break there.”

The island is located in Lincoln County off McConnell Road, and can also be seen from southern Iredell County at the end of Brawley School Road peninsula in Mooresville.

This morning, two rangers went to the island that’s about 500 yards off shore to torch the fire to help it burn faster and reduce the amount of smoke.

Haines said most of the smoke in the area is drifting into the Charlotte area from controlled burning occurring South Carolina and not the island.

“The island is not the major factor of smoke coming into Charlotte, “he said.

The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined yet.

“It may have been somebody who camped over the weekend and did not fully extinguished their fire,” Haines said.