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:

Tinder:

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

Facebook:

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

Instagram

  • 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.

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

Interview with Josh Brolin about his role in “Only the Brave”

Josh Brolin

Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today sat down with Josh Brolin in Phoenix about a week before the opening of the movie about the Granite Mountain Hotshots, “Only the Brave”. He explained that he and the other actors felt that the subject of the film was very meaningful.

If you are having trouble watching the video above, you can see it on YouTube.

You might notice that he wore a Granite Mountain Hotshots shirt during the interview.

The film opens nationwide October 20, 2017.

Red Carpet for “Only the Brave” in Phoenix

(Originally published at 10:56 p.m. PDT October 11, 2017)

A red carpet premiere of “Only the Brave” occurred October 10 in Phoenix. Actors in the film that appeared included Josh Brolin, James Badge Dale, and Miles Teller. Director Joseph Kosinski also appeared, along with producers Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Thad Luckinbill, Molly Smith, and Trent Luckinbill.

Many family members associated with the fatalities of the 19 firefighters and others affiliated with the film also were present.

After the red carpet event, the participants viewed the film.

Wildfire Today’s review of “Only the Brave”.

Trailer released for the movie about the Granite Mountain Hotshots

The film is due to open October 20.

The Director of the film about the Granite Mountain Hotshots just recently completed the final edits and has released the official trailer (above).

Supposedly it tells the story of the 19 firefighters that were entrapped and killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona June 30, 2013. One crewmember who was not with the others at the time of the burnover and survived, Brendan McDonough, is listed in the credits as a Creative Consultant.

The images shown here are from the website and the trailer.

scene film Only the Brave

The name of the film has changed, from No Exit, to Granite Mountain, and finally to Only The Brave: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The release date has been pushed from September to October 20.

A number of books and articles have been written about the tragedy, but the producers say the film is based on an article published in GQ Magazine titled No Exit, by Sean Flynn.

scene film Only the Brave

GQ published an article today featuring an interview with the Director, Joseph Kosinski. Here’s an excerpt in which he talks about casting:

..The two roles I cast first were Eric Marsh and Brendan McDonough. Josh Brolin was always at the top of my list. I flew out to Asheville, North Carolina, where he was filming another movie, and sat down with him on a Saturday afternoon. I talked him through the vision I had for this film, and the importance of this story, and he got it instantly. He had actually worked as a volunteer firefighter at one point in his life, and he had lived in Prescott, Arizona, at one point. He felt an instant connection to the material and the story; that got him interested.

Before production began, the director hired two former members of Granite Mountain who put the 20 actors playing the parts of firefighters through a two-week “Hotshot camp”.

Here’s another excerpt from the GQ article about the reaction to the film from the Granite Mountain family members.

I just finished the film two weeks ago, so we’re just starting to show it to the family members now. The reaction so far has been everything I would have hoped and more—which, to me, is almost the most important thing. I believe so wholeheartedly in [the Granite Mountain Hotshots’] story being a heroic one, and one that needs to be told. Of all the opinions on a film, [the family members’ reaction] is one that truly matters to me on the deepest level. And so far, every reaction I’ve gotten from the family members is that we did our job.

scene film Only the Brave

cast film Only the Brave

 

The film’s website has more information.