Interview with Myron Lee

Myron Lee was a very well-respected Type 1 Incident Commander and Fire Management Officer of the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California. We were saddened to learn he has passed away.

Myron Lee Interview
Above: The header for the .pdf version of the 2007 interview with Myron Lee.

When Myron Lee retired in 1982 the U. S. Forest Service lost the services of a very skilled and experienced firefighter. He was the Fire Management Officer for the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California from 1968 until 1982, including the periods when the fire organizations were transitioning into FIRESCOPE and the Incident Command System.

While checking out the “El Cariso Interagency Hotshot” Facebook page last week I was saddened to see in a post by Bill Molumby that Myron had passed away. It didn’t say when or how, but I’m guessing he must have been about 90 years old. His 36-year career started in 1946 as a firefighter on the engine crew on Palomar Mountain on the Cleveland.

He was Incident Commander, or at that time “Fire Boss”, on some of the largest blazes in California, including the 175,425-acre Laguna Fire on the Cleveland NF in 1970 and the 177,866-acre Marble Cone Fire on the Los Padres NF in 1977.

I worked on the Cleveland for 13 years while Myron was FMO on the Forest and did not know him well but as a Hotshot Captain and Engine Captain I encountered him a number of times. He was friendly, down to earth, intelligent, and had an air of self confidence and a command presence when it was appropriate.

I am reminded of a conversation he and I had. In describing someone, he said, “If a person tells the same lie often enough, even HE begins to believe it”.

Some of the areas of emphasis that were important to him included building relationships with other agencies, assisting fire departments just across the border in northern Mexico, and making sure that firefighters on the Cleveland understood what their role and responsibilities were and importantly, what they were not. He made it clear that medical aids and structure fires were to be handled by other agencies.

In the Facebook post, Jim Huston and Anders Borge Andersen identified a 2007 interview with Myron conducted by Larry Schmidt, apparently as part of a USFS Region 5 (California) History Project. We have the entire interview below. It’s very long, 30 pages, but if you’re a USFS history buff, or worked in Southern California in the 1970s or 1980s, you will enjoy it.

There was one thing that surprised me. In the early 1970s Camp Pendleton intended to test the ability of a laser to shoot down missiles. The Marines asked Myron if resources from the Cleveland could be used to help detect and suppress the expected fires. The interview does not say if the test occurred. I did not know the military has been trying to use lasers since the early 1970s to shoot down aircraft. I think only in recent years have they found much success. The story is on page 16.

The transcript of the interview follows. Keep in mind that it was created from a recording by a person that may not have been familiar with the names and jargon.

LARRY SCHMIDT: This is Larry Schmidt. Today is January 19th. I’m in Twin Falls, Idaho, and I’m interviewing Myron Lee in regard to his experience with the FIRESCOPE program and also his Forest Service history. Myron, can you tell me a little bit about your Forest Service career?

MYRON LEE: Yes, I can. I was a young hoodlum, referred to in the newspaper in San Diego as “a long-haired guttersnipe.” I wasn’t just a young hoodlum later in life, I was a young hoodlum in the third and fourth grades. I believe the teacher wrote on both my report cards from the third grade and the fourth grade that I was “inclined to mischief.” Now, I thought that’s a terrible to write home to tell my parents, but I suspect they may have known it anyway. But I didn’t like school, and I wouldn’t stay home. I was running away from home all the time. And so my stepmother finally made an appointment, and her and I went downtown San Diego to the county courthouse and met with a probation officer first and then a judge, Judge [Turntine?], and Judge Turntine told me I was going to go home and go to school. I told Judge Turntine I was not

Myron Lee, 01/19/07, page 2

going to go home. If I went home, I’d just leave again. I said I wouldn’t mind going to school, but I’m not going home.

Well, we had a fairly serious discussion over it, and he finally found out that I was not going to go home, so he said, “How would you like to go to Mt. Woodson?” I said, “What’s Mt. Woodson?” And he said, “It’s a forestry camp.” And I said, “What do they do?” He said, “Oh, they plant trees and build trails and fight fire, things like that.” I said, “Fine,” so off I went to Mt. Woodson.

After I arrived at Mt. Woodson, I learned Mt. Woodson was the only juvenile detention facility in San Diego Country at that time, and I learned that all of the kids there except me were sentenced there, and most were sentenced for six months. I stayed there for eleven and a half months because it was actually the best life I’d ever had. I loved it. The gentleman I worked for most of the time was an assistant ranger for the California Division of Forestry. That’s what it was known as in those days. “Slim” Carlson, and Slim explained to me one day that he was not going to raise me the rest of my life and that he was going to get me a job and I was going to take it and I was going to do what I was told. So I said, “Okay.”

So I went to work for the California Division of Forestry. I worked as a firefighter at Dulzura, [Lyons?] Valley and La Mesa, and enjoyed the work. I didn’t enjoy the time we were not out working, because I thought there were a lot of things to do out there, but we were dealing with more urban type development areas, and we spent an awful lot of time polishing the fire truck, and I didn’t enjoy that. Continue reading “Interview with Myron Lee”

Bushfire in NSW threatened communities north of Newcastle

On Saturday January 13 a bushfire near Masonite Road threatened the communities of Tomago, Williamtown, and Raymond Terrace 17 Km north of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.

(If you don’t see the video below shot from an air attack aircraft, click HERE.)

The weather changed, bringing a little precipitation after it had burned 1,381 hectares (3,412 acre), slowing the spread. For a while the Newcastle airport was closed due to visibility reduced by smoke.

The fire was fought by 66 firefighters from the Rural Fire Service, Fire and Rescue, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They were assisted by helicopters and Air Tanker 912, a DC-10 that was recently renamed “Nancy Bird” in honor of an Australian aviatrix.

Woman sentenced to four years in prison for starting two fires in Wyoming

She was arrested in Pennsylvania and initially charged with starting six fires in the Moran, Wyoming area

Above: Flagstaff Fire on the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Moran, WY. Credit USFS

(Originally published at 2:41 p.m. MST January 12, 2018)

Stephanie Joy Nicole Dodson, 45, of Everett, Pennsylvania, was sentenced by Federal District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson on January 2, 2018 on two felony counts of timber set afire. Ms. Dodson was arrested in Pennsylvania. She received 53 months of imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised probation upon release from custody, and was ordered to pay a $200.00 special assessment and $105,712.68 in restitution to the United States Forest Service.

Ms. Dodson was charged with eight felony counts related to various fires that investigators believe she started between August 14, 2016, and August 29, 2016, in the Buffalo Valley Region, six of which she started on August 29.

In exchange for dismissing six felony counts, Ms. Dodson pleaded guilty to starting two fires, the Pacific Creek Fire in Grand Teton National Park on August 22, and the Flagstaff Fire on August 29 in Bridger Teton National Forest. The Flagstaff Fire was by far the most serious due to the property threatened and the number of resources used to extinguish the fire.

More information available about BLM Programmatic EIS

Above: BLM map for the programmatic fuel management EIS. The cross-hatched area identifies the Project Boundary. The small dots near the names of cities identifies the locations of Scoping Meetings.

(Originally published at 1:30 p.m. MST January 11, 2017)

When the Bureau of Land Management announced on December 22 the agency was going to write two blanket Programmatic Environmental Impact Statements to streamline fuel treatment projects in much of the Western United States, the web site they referred the public to for more information had zero information. This presented a problem since the since the deadline to comment was initially February 20. After we inquired on January 2 about where interested citizens could find out what the BLM planned to do, we heard back from them today, January 11, saying they have now posted some information at the site.

BLM fuel break
BLM fuel break. BLM photo.

We checked and found the map shown at the top of this article. There is also a Notice of Intent, Bulletin, and a list of public meetings.

The agency is proposing to develop two Programmatic Environmental Impact Statements for BLM lands in the states of Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, California, Utah, and Washington. One will cover the construction of fuel breaks while the other is for fuels reduction and rangeland restoration.

Now that they have a schedule for public meetings which runs through February 15, the deadline for comments has been extended to February 28.

The blanket approval will mean that individual landscape-scale fuel breaks and fuel reduction proposals will only need minor additional environmental reviews to proceed.

Fuel breaks are intended to interrupt the continuity of vegetation making it easier to control or stop the spread of wildfires.  They can be created manually by hand crews and mechanized equipment, or through the use of herbicides. There is no guarantee of success since wind-blown burning embers can be lofted hundreds or thousands of feet ahead of a flaming front, crossing the breaks.

Former firefighter convicted second time for arson

The ex-firefighter started 20 fires in 2013 and another in 2016

James Frederick Maw
James Maw

(Originally published at 12:40 p.m. MST January 11, 2018)

Five months after a former seasonal Montana wildland firefighter was given a 40-year suspended sentence for starting 20 wildfires in 2013, he lit another fire in 2016 that burned about an acre on the ranch where he was working.

James Frederick Maw started the first batch of fires in May, 2013. Five of them near York, Montana were managed as the Sweats Complex, with the total number of acres burned listed at 450 with 225 personnel assigned when we reported on the fires and the arrest May 17, 2013. The series of fires in 2013 in the Priest Pass, Spokane Hills, and York areas caused almost $1 million in damages.

The Missoulian reported:

He was arrested [in 2013] in the York-Nelson area in full firefighting gear holding a trigger-operated lighter. He initially said he was a contract firefighter but confessed to starting the fires because he enjoyed the camaraderie of firefighting and needed the financial payoff from fighting fires.

Due to Mr. Maw’s mental health issues his 40-year sentence was suspended by Judge Katherine Seeley.

Below is an excerpt from MTN published November 2, 2015 about the sentencing hearing for the 2013 fires:

However, Lewis & Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher and Broadwater County Attorney Corey Swanson told the court that due to the severity of the crimes — 14 arson fires set in May of 2013 in both counties — require some form of incarceration.

“He threatened the lives of the firefighters in this community,” said Gallagher. “People with homes that were in harm’s way out there, and I just think there needs to be a consequence, your honor, beyond just probation.”

The fire service community also called for prison time.

“Mr. Maw’s statement and his memory lapses give no indication he is either sorry for the lives he put at risk or taking responsibility for his actions,” said Chief [Jordan Alexander of Baxendale Fire].

While still on probation for arson, in April 2016 Mr. Maw was arrested for starting the fire on the ranch. He told investigators the chain saw he was using hit a rock, creating a spark which ignited the fire, but his story did not match the facts uncovered.

After delays for another mental health evaluation, on January 8, 2018 the same judge, Katherine Seeley, sentenced him to 35 years in prison.

Pyrocumulonimbus clouds

Above: Bureau of Meteorology, Australia

(Originally published at 11:38 a.m. MST January 11, 2017)

The Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology has an excellent article about clouds that can form over rapidly burning vegetation fires. Pyrocumulus clouds can develop into pyrocumulonimbus that can generate lightning miles away from the fire.  Below are excerpts from the article.

What are pyrocumulonimbus clouds?

They’re a thunderstorm that forms in the smoke plume of a fire (or nuclear bomb blast, or volcanic ash cloud). In Australia they most commonly form in large and intense bushfire smoke plumes. (The official name for clouds that form this way is ‘flammagenitus‘, but they’re commonly known as pyrocumulonimbus.)

How do they form?

The intense heat from the fire causes air to rise rapidly in the smoke plume. The rising hot air is turbulent and draws in cooler air from outside the plume, which helps cool the plume as it rises. As the plume rises to higher and higher elevations the atmospheric pressure reduces, causing the plume air to expand and cool even further. If it cools enough, the moisture in the plume air will condense and forms cumulus cloud, which, because it comes from the fire plume, we call ‘pyrocumulus’. The condensation process causes latent heat to be released, which makes the cloud warmer and more buoyant and causes the cloud air to accelerate upwards. Further expansion and cooling causes more moisture to condense and the cloud air to accelerate upwards even more. In the right conditions the cloud can accelerate into the lower stratosphere before losing buoyancy. Collisions of ice particles in the very cold upper parts of these clouds cause a build-up of electrical charge, which is released by giant sparks—lightning. Having produced a thunderstorm, the cloud is now known as ‘pyrocumulonimbus’.