Spring arrives early in the Southwest, late in some areas

In Western Arizona and Southern California plants are greening up weeks earlier than usual

Spring has started to arrive in the southwest and southeast states. In southern Florida, spring is right on time compared to a long-term average (1981-2010), but parts of Texas, Louisiana, and northern Florida are one week late. In southern California and southwestern Arizona, spring is arriving 1-2 weeks early.

The timing of leaf-out, migration, flowering and other seasonal phenomena in many species is closely tied to local weather conditions and broad climatic patterns.

An early greenup, depending on weather later in the season, could mean herbaceous plants will become dormant and cure out earlier, which may result in a wildfire season in the lower elevations that begins sooner than average.

Source: USA National Phenology Network, www.usanpn.org

Five lessons learned at Prescott fire managers meeting

State Foresters meeting prescottThis week in Prescott, Arizona the National Association of State Foresters held their annual “Chiefs, Managers and Supervisors Meeting”. The goal of the 120 attendees was to discuss the policies, technologies, and procedures that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of fighting wildfires.

One product from the event was a list of the top five lessons learned:

  1. Change starts with coordinated leadership. The work the nation’s state foresters are doing together to improve wildfire preparedness, detection, and suppression is critical to protecting communities small and large across the country. When state foresters lead the charge on these issues, and act as one, their voice is amplified in Congress – and more importantly – outside of Congress in the public domain where change-making starts.
  2. Speak the same language and use the same metrics whenever possible. When the states share similar language to characterize their wildfire fighting programs, national and regional wildfire fighting coordination is improved and lives are saved. Additionally, with a standardized method of measuring wildfire costs across the nation, we can track exactly where money for wildfire prevention and suppression goes and to what benefit, ultimately allowing for more efficient resource allocation.
  3. Stay the course on advocating for federal forest management and wildfire funding reform. A positive resolution is closer than ever. The USDA, Department of the Interior, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and other national partners are in agreement on the broad strokes of federal forest management reform and a wildfire funding fix, which means the state foresters are in a good position to propose and advocate for what specific changes need making.
  4. Words matter; and actions even more. It’s time to stop talking about how we can better support and protect wildland firefighters; how we can better contain costs, employ new technologies, and help prevent catastrophic post-fire damage. In many cases, we have the information we need to set smarter federal forest management and wildfire policies. It’s time to put that information to use – to change policies to save lives.
  5. Sharing processes that work, works. Better decisions and better outcomes come out of sharing experiences and expertise between state forestry and fire agencies. One of the best ways to contribute to cooperative networks is to get connected.

Arizona Forest Service officer involved in shooting

(UPDATED at 11:22 p.m. MST January 8, 2018)

The FBI released more information Monday about the January 5 shooting in Arizona that left one person deceased:

A Forest Service Officer stopped to render assistance to a vehicular traffic accident. An altercation occurred between the officer and the subject, Tyler Miller of Kansas. It was later determined the officer was injured and treated on the scene by EMS personnel.  Miller was shot and transferred to a medical center and later declared deceased.


(UPDATED at 12:50 p.m. MST January 7, 2018)

According to KWCH, the person killed in the shooting that involved a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer January 5 has been identified as Tyler Miller. The uninjured USFS officer has not been named.

The FBI says 51-year-old Tyler Miller was injured and later died at a hospital. The officer’s name was not released, he suffered no injuries.

According to the office of the Kansas Secretary of State, Miller is the owner of TNT Bonding in Hutchinson [Kansas]. The family’s attorney, Matt Bretz, says Miller is a well-respected entrepreneur from Hutchinson.

The FBI says Miller was involved in a wreck earlier that evening.


(Originally published at 8:14 a.m. MST January 6, 2018)

A U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer was involved in a shooting Friday January 5 north of Sedona, Arizona. According to local media the officer was not injured but one person was transported and pronounced dead at a hospital.

State Route 89A was closed for about five hours as the FBI investigated the incident.

On December 11 a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service was shot while driving a vehicle in Monterey County, California. The victim, Division Chief Peter Harris, was shot in the neck and ear. The suspect, Jacob Kirkendall, fled but was found and arrested.

In 2012 National Park Service Ranger, Margaret Anderson, was shot and killed in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Professor accused of stalking members of hotshot crews

During the investigation one crew was grounded — unable to be dispatched to wildfires.

Melissa Ann Santana firefighters hotshots stalking
Melissa Ann Santana. Photo: Flagstaff Police Department.

A former college professor has been indicted and charged with stalking wildland firefighters on two Arizona hotshot crews. Melissa Ann Santana, who at the time was an associate professor of interior design at Northern Arizona University (NAU) at Flagstaff, was arrested October 30, 2017. On November 14 she was indicted by a federal grand jury on eight felony charges, five for stalking, and three for making false statements to federal officials of the U.S. Forest Service.

The day after her arrest her employment ended at the University.

The 36-page federal complaint prepared by Sophia Fong, a Special Agent with the U.S. Forest Service, lays out in intricate detail numerous allegations of Ms. Santana harassing, threatening, following, calling supervisors of firefighters, and posting false information on social media sites. The investigators used multiple search warrants on the sites and Ms. Santana’s cell phone to link her to the false identities used.

Her main targets were firefighters with the Globe and Flagstaff Interagency Hotshot Crews. The victims of the stalking charges include two members of the Flagstaff Hotshots, the fiancée (and later wife) of a Flagstaff Hotshot, a student at NAU, and an unlucky man who was visiting his father in Flagstaff.

The felony “making false statements” allegations are for contacting the Superintendents of the two crews telling both of them, using a false name for herself, that one of their firefighters had impregnated her. She complained that he was not returning her calls — when in fact Ms. Santana had no relationship with the firefighter. She is also accused of telling three supervisors on the  Flagstaff Hotshots, again while using a false identity for herself, that her teenaged daughter was sexually assaulted by firefighters while they were assigned to a fire in Wyoming. The complaint says Ms. Santana does not live in Wyoming, does not have a daughter, and no such assault took place.

On September 9, 2016, during the investigation, the Flagstaff Hotshots were grounded, and prevented by the Forest Service from accepting an assignment on the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California. This was near the end of their fire season and would have probably been their last fire. It resulted in a significant loss of overtime income for the crew.

The personal vehicles of two of the victims were vandalized, but the complaint does not say it was done by Ms. Santana. One of the cars was spray painted and the license plate was stolen. The plate later mysteriously appeared at the incident command post at a fire. On the  other car the word “s***” was  was “keyed”, or scratched into the paint and a tire was punctured with a knife.

Of course the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but below we list some of the allegations against Ms. Santana in the federal complaint.

A member of the Flagstaff Hotshots was matched on Tinder to “Ann, 29” in August of 2016. Initially he communicated with her until he realized it was the same person who had contacted one of his co-workers. The next month he received a Tinder message from “Kendall”, but he deleted it and blocked the sender. Then “Kendall Patterson” sent him a message on Facebook:

Hey (redacted) yea, remember me. You are a worthless piece of s***. You do a job that requires no brains what so ever. You are just a tree cutter and hole digger. The government finds you as a disposable front line against fire. You can easily be replaced by a younger dumber version. You are worthless that they don’t really care if a whole crew the the granite mountain guys die. Because you guys don’t provide a unique service….. Be a success like the granite guys and die at your next fire.

In other messages through another Tinder account, this firefighter confronted her to find out what was going on. She explained it was a Snapchat game where they post conversations of guys they “screw over”. More points were awarded for hotshots than engine crews. She mentioned a number of hotshot crews, including Flagstaff, Blue Ridge, Mesa, Black Mesa, Prescott, Morman Lake, Carson, Payson, Sawtooth, and Snake River.

Ms. Santana used 19 different identities to initially contact, threaten, and harass the victims:


  • Ann, 29
  • Ann, 27
  • Amanda, 25
  • Kendall
  • Ann


  • Melissa Santana
  • Ann Santa 73
  • Kendall Patterson 127
  • Kendall Patterson 7393
  • Amanda Foster
  • Jo Hotshot
  • Kelli Torrance
  • Lara Towner
  • Lauren Kholey
  • Brandi Scroggins


  • Amanda Foster
  • Msantana1030

Kik messenger

  • ms1930

And an unspecified alias on Craigslist Las Vegas.

We listed them here in case there are other firefighters that were stalked or harassed by this person that have not yet been contacted by the Forest Service investigators.

The fiancée, now wife, of one of the Flagstaff Hotshots, was targeted by Ms. Santana who posted on the fiancée’s Facebook page the following comment below an engagement photo:

Look at these love birds, Too bad I f***** her fiancé over and over while he was out fighting a fire. He even wanted to keep the relationship going. Said he regretted proposing.

Two weeks later Ms. Santana sent a text message to the woman saying she and the woman’s fiancé were in love and that since the fire season was over they could see each other more often. When she did not respond, Ms. Santana texted back, saying “You’ll regret not talking to me”, and later, “I will show up at your work to address this”. Later that day she was in a restaurant, McMillan Bar and Kitchen, near her workplace. Just after arriving she received a text from Ms. Santana, saying, “Hopefully the mcmillan is fun”. This terrified the woman who two days later purchased a handgun for protection from the stalker.

Ms. Santana knew the time and place of the planned wedding and texted the fiancée, “I guess I will see you [there]. I will probably be f****** in the coat check before you walk down the aisle, unless he dumps your ass before then”. Ms. Santana continued to send similar messages in the months leading up to the wedding, prompting the couple to hire security for the event.

Arizona Supreme Court refuses to hear case about burned structures in Yarnell Hill Fire

Property owners sought compensation from the state for houses that were destroyed.

Yarnell Hill Fire approaching Yarnell, Arizona
Yarnell Hill Fire approaching Yarnell, Arizona, June 30, 2013. Photo by Joy Collura.

The Arizona Supreme Court has refused to hear a case in which property owners sought to obtain compensation from the state for the structures that were destroyed in the Yarnell Hill Fire in June, 2013. A lower court had already ruled that the owners had no legal recourse.

According to media reports, Attorney David Abney had hoped to argue that since Arizona state employees told the residents that they would protect the structures, the government was then obligated and had a duty to perform fire suppression activities in a nonnegligent manner.

“If the people of Yarnell had understood the state was going to do this incredibly incompetently, and the state was going to do a late and improper evacuation notice, they could have taken some measures to protect themselves,” Mr. Abney explained.

“They could have gotten their personal possession out, their pets and livestock out,” he continued. “They could have removed propane tanks that blew up in the fire, they could have removed their excess vehicles.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Joy.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Spectacular weather, time-lapsed

This film can be a learning opportunity for firefighters.

Mike Olbinski spent months putting together these time-lapse videos of storms, mostly in Arizona.

I hope wildland firefighters find this interesting, informative, and see it as a learning tool. Keep in mind that it was a storm with very strong outflow winds that caused the fire behavior leading to the deaths of 19 firefighters in Arizona on June 30, 2013.

The film includes shots of impressive outflow winds  — examples are at 2:08 and 4:45. It is rare to see this enormous threat to firefighters so graphically illustrated.

The video and text below are from Mr. Olbinski’s Vimeo page.

I recommend full screen for viewing it.

Monsoon IV (4K) from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo.

Blu-Ray discs available.
Music by Peter Nanasi, find Peter’s work here:
Follow Mike: Twitter |  Facebook  | Instagram

Early on this summer when I found myself down by Santa Rosa, AZ watching a gorgeous hail core fall on the stunning desert landscape, and then later that day staring at a haboob with a stacked shelf cloud above it near the border of Mexico, I had a feeling it would be a unique monsoon. It’s funny how every year is different. That’s the beauty of chasing the summer storm season out here in the desert southwest. You never know what’s going to happen or what you might see.

This year I ventured far and wide. Phoenix never saw a good dust storm all summer, but I still was able to capture a few good ones in southwest portions of the state. The cover photo for this film was halfway to Yuma standing in the middle of Interstate 8 watching an ominous wall of dust roll down the highway towards me with lightning flashing behind it. It was an incredible moment.

One bonus this summer was a few successful chases up at the Grand Canyon. Finally. A couple of gorgeous sunsets, rain dumping into the Canyon, lightning at night, Milky Way…it all worked out and I’m stoked for the footage I captured there that made it into this film. I also ventured over into New Mexico twice to chase some wonderful, plains-like structure to end the monsoon this year.

All told I covered about 13,000 miles and chased as far west as Desert Center, CA, as far east as Wilna, NM and as far north as Tonelea, AZ. And two great storms down in Organ Pipe National Monument, which is only about 10 miles from Mexico.

I loved what I saw this year. It felt so unique. I found myself submerged in cacti and desert flora a few times with stunning light and structure. Explored places in New Mexico I hadn’t seen before. Smiled at the gasps of amazement from the crowds at the Canyon when a lightning bolt would strike. Finally discovered that the Santa Rosa area is a hotbed for supercell activity. And while it didn’t make it on time-lapse, I captured a brief tornado over downtown Phoenix!

So…the film. So much effort and energy went into it. I shot over 110,000 frames of time-lapse and likely only half of it ended up in the final cut. The editing has taken me weeks and even right up until Monday evening I was still fixing and tweaking. The music is all custom, thanks to the amazing work of Peter Nanasi. PLEASE check out his website and buy his albums! I love how we work together to develop a track that seems to fit exactly with the clips I capture. I am so incredibly blessed that his work crossed my path.

A quick thank-you to the workshop guests I had this summer. You guys were amazing troopers, staying out to all hours and being around for some awesome storms. In fact, I am not sure that I would have even been on the shelf cloud in the final scene of this film if it hadn’t been for my workshop. Thank you, thank you!

As always though, what made it fun was sharing a lot of it with my kiddos. They made the trip up to the Grand Canyon with me once and it was such a blast of an experience. Asher joined me in New Mexico one day, just he and I, and I got to see his face light up when he captured his first ever lightning strike on video on his little iPad.

To my wife Jina…we’ve come a long, long way since we started this storm chasing journey years ago. It’s not been easy all the time, especially with me being on the road so much between April and October these days. But we’ve slowly figured things out and I’m unbelievably grateful to you for your support and belief in what we’re doing together.

To everyone else…thank you for your continued support of my work. I am constantly blown-away at the kindness that you show to me.

And now…I hope you enjoy this film.

Technical Details:

I used two Canon 5DSR’s along with a Canon 11-24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 135mm and Sigma Art 50mm. Manfrotto tripods. The final product was edited in Lightroom with LR Timelapse, After Effects and Premiere Pro.