Ricky Whipple arrested for setting 11 fires in San Bernardino County

The suspect evaded officers by running through a series of storm drains

Ricky Whipple
Ricky R. Whipple

An arsonist accused of starting 11 wildfires yesterday in San Bernardino County in Southern California has been arrested. Ricky Russel Whipple of Fontana is suspected of starting the fires just before 8 a.m. January 15, 2018 at Glen Helen Regional Park near the Interstate 15/215 junction (map).

After igniting each fire, Mr. Whipple ran through a series a storm drain tunnels underneath the freeways to elude capture from the San Bernardino County Sheriff deputies. Sheriff’s aviation located Mr. Whipple as he walked through dense brush near Cajon Blvd. and Kenwood Avenue close to the last fire.

Deputies contacted Mr. Whipple, who was detained at the scene without incident. They found several items of evidence which connected Mr. Whipple to the crime of arson. The areas set on fire burned dry vegetation and caused a multi-jurisdictional response of fire crews from the San Bernardino County Fire Department, CAL FIRE, and the United States Forest Service. All of the fires were contained and extinguished. However, fire crews spent several hours mopping up.

Mr. Whipple was booked for aggravated arson and is being held on $250,000.00 bail. He is scheduled for court on January 17th.

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.

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.

Arsonist on horseback in Chile

Chile arson
In this low-res screenshot from the video the rider gets on his horse after starting a fire. The white smoke is just to the right of the horse’s right-rear leg. It is slightly easier to see in the video.

This video, shot February 3, 2016, shows evidence of intentionally set wildfires in southern Chile. In addition to the pattern of ignitions for several fires that indicate the work of an arsonist, you can actually see a horseback rider igniting fires.

When the black and white images appear, it indicates the camera operator has switched from regular video to infrared, which detects heat. The white areas are the hottest.

In recent days there has been much discussion in Chile about the cause of some of the scores of blazes in the country. At least 43 people have been arrested for allegedly starting fires. More than 400,000 hectares (almost a million acres) have burned and 11 people have been killed, including 4 firefighters and one air tanker pilot.

Again, this video is from a year ago.

map Chile arson
The red pointer marks the location of one of the scenes in the video, southeast of Conception.

Two juveniles charged with starting fire that burned into Gatlinburg

The juveniles were taken into custody Wednesday after an interagency investigation.

Above: Chimney Tops 2 Fire. Incident Management Team photo.

On Wednesday two juveniles were charged with aggravated arson for starting the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that burned into Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The fire resulted in the deaths of 14 people and damaged or destroyed 2,460 structures.

The juveniles were taken into custody after an investigation conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, National Park Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office.

Due to laws regulating the handling of juveniles, very little was disclosed about the two individuals, except that they do not live in Sevier County but are residents of the state of Tennessee.

Steve Kloster, Chief Ranger of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Steve Kloster, Chief Ranger of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, speaks at a news conference about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire, December 7, 2016.

Steve Kloster, Chief Ranger of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said the phone line established to gather information proved to be valuable.

The public was critical in responding to that tip line and giving the investigators something to work with. The tip line had about 40 tips within just a few minutes of going online.

The fire was reported November 23 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. By November 27 it had grown to 35 acres while being monitored by the National Park Service. A cold front brought very strong winds into the area on November 28 which caused the fire to spread explosively north into Gatlinburg, destroying lives, homes, businesses, and eventually 17,006 acres.

Below is a video of the press conference announcing the arrest.

For the most current information about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire at Gatlinburg, see our articles tagged “Chimney 2 Fire”.