Property owners sue over wildfires in Washington and California

Two lawsuits are being threatened over separate wildfires in Washington and California.

Poinsettia Fire

About two dozen landowners are suing a golf course over last summer’s Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, California. The lawsuit that was filed in San Diego Superior Court blames Omni La Costa Resort & Spa LLC for the May 14 wildfire that destroyed five homes, 18 apartment units, one commercial building, and 600 acres on May 14 in Carlsbad, California.

As we wrote on October 19, a fire investigator has determined that a golf club striking a rock is one of the possible causes for the fire which started near a cart path on the 7th hole on the resort’s golf course.

Carlton Complex of fires

In central Washington 65 landowners filed tort claims Friday against the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the management of the Carlton Complex of fires.

Below are excerpts from an article at King5:

…”We represent mom and pops, cattle ranchers, apple farmers, (and) business owners,” said Brewster attorney Alex Thomason, who filed the legal paperwork in Olympia.

Even before the smoke from the fires had cleared this summer, complaints from landowners started to echo through the Okanogan region.

“They sat over there in the field and watched and took pictures,” Kim Maltias told KING 5 on July 28.

Thomason says some of his clients believe that DNR allowed the fires to grow bigger so that they would receive more state funding.

“The DNR firefighters call this ‘God money.’ It’s an unlimited amount of resources, so they get access to that money by letting the fire get bigger and bigger,” said Thomason.

The tort claims accuse DNR of negligence for failing to protect the properties from the wildfires.

“In the very beginning, DNR stood by and did nothing. They let this fire grow and grow and grow,” said Thomason.

Thomason says some of his clients believe that DNR allowed the fires to grow bigger so that they would receive more state funding.

“The DNR firefighters call this ‘God money.’ It’s an unlimited amount of resources, so they get access to that money by letting the fire get bigger and bigger,” said Thomason.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Carl.

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Inversion traps smoke over prescribed fire

Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park

Smoke is trapped by an inversion in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park. NPS helitack photo.

In this photo taken Wednesday, smoke is attempting to break through an inversion over the Mosquito prescribed fire in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park in California.

Normally, as you rise in altitude, the temperature decreases due to the changes in air pressure. In a weather (or temperature) inversion, instead of getting cooler at higher temperatures, it is actually warmer higher up.

weather inversion

Cool air trapped under a warmer layer, creating an inversion. From Fortair.org.

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Report released about entrapment of three firefighters on the Beaver Fire

Beaver Fire entrapment

Photo taken of the Beaver Fire the day after three firefighters were entrapped. It was shot from along the Klamath River about a mile west of the Incident Command Post, looking in the direction of the entrapment, which occurred beyond the smoke visible in this photo taken by Bill Gabbert.

A facilitated learning analysis has been released about the entrapment of three firefighters August 11, 2014 on the Beaver Fire northwest of Yreka, California.

Entrapped that day were a Dozer Operator (DZOP), a Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB), and a Heavy Equipment Boss Trainee (HEQBt). They all got inside fire shelters in a small deployment site that was not large enough to qualify as a safety zone. Their injuries included some first and second degree burns, but overnight hospitalization was not required.

The dozer operator’s story in his own words:

By the time I got off the dozer, the fire had closed in on two sides—and was closing in on my third and fourth sides. I worked as long as I could to get us more protection. I intended to push up more berms. Embers were falling everywhere. I spent too much time getting dug in. I backed the cat in. I should have deployed sooner. My intent was to get us all together under the dozer. I was not in the best position.

I tossed off my ball cap, put my hard hat on, grabbed my gloves and shelter. I had my web gear bungeed to the cage. I grabbed it quick and rolled in the dirt under the dozer. I pulled the shelter’s tabs, but they didn’t work. So I ripped at it to get it open.

It was a confined space so it took a while to get the shelter open. I had to physically unfold every fold to get it deployed. That’s when my leg got a little scorched. Overall, the shelter worked the way it was supposed to. Those shelters no doubt saved our lives.

The video below includes videos and still photos taken during the entrapment.

beaver fire convection column

Don Hall sent us this picture of a convection column over the Beaver fire, saying it was taken at about the same time the three firefighters were entrapped.

We first wrote about the entrapment on August 12.

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Former CAL FIRE Battalion Chief pleads not guilty to murder

Orville Fleming

Orville Fleming

A former Battalion Chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection pleaded not guilty Monday to murdering his live-in companion. An instructor at the agency’s training academy at Ione, California, 55-year old Battalion Chief Orville Fleming had been charged in the May 1 stabbing death of 26-year old Sarah Jane Douglas. The plea was in spite of having earlier “admitted culpability in the stabbing”, according to Sheriff Scott Jones.

After the murder Mr. Fleming ditched his CAL FIRE truck and disappeared but was found 16 days later when he left his hideout near his home and boarded a bus to obtain food.

When he did not show up for work for five days, he was fired from his $130,000 a year Battalion Chief job. Earlier in his career he was a firefighter with the city of Madera for three years when the city contracted with CAL FIRE for fire protection. He was promoted to fire captain in 2001 and to battalion chief in 2012.

Read more about the capture of Mr. Fleming.

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Golf club may have started Poinsettia Fire in California

Poinsettia Fire, screen grab from Fox TV at 120 pm PDT, May 14, 2014

Poinsettia Fire, screen grab from Fox TV at 1:20 p.m. PDT, May 14, 2014.

A fire investigator has determined that a golf club striking a rock is one of the possible causes for the Poinsettia Fire that burned five homes, 18 apartment units, one commercial building, and 600 acres on May 14 in Carlsbad, California. The fire started near a cart path on the 7th hole on the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa’s golf course.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Union-Tribune:

As for arson, a viral suspicion on that infernal spring day, [Dominic Fieri, an investigator with the Carlsbad Fire Department] found no evidence of an incendiary device.

“Based on the location of the fire’s origin, and interviews conducted by the Carlsbad police,” he wrote, “I have ruled out any fire causes that resulted in a deliberate act of circumstances in which a person ignited the fire.”

That leaves Fieri with only one explanation he could not reject out of hand — a “smoldering ignition source that had direct contact with combustible materials.”

Given the starting point on a golf course, Fieri concluded that the blaze may have been started either by a burning cigarette or cigar (though he could find no physical evidence in the windy, charred ignition area) or a spark created by a “titanium golf club head” hitting a rock.

If a golf club started the Poinsettia Fire it is not the first time it has happened. There is at least one and possibly two other cases of this happening.

As we wrote in 2010, the Orange County Fire Authority in California said that a 12-acre fire in August of that year was ignited when a golfer, whose ball was in the rough, struck a rock with his club, causing sparks which started the fire. It took hand crews, helicopters, and 150 firefighters to put out the fire at the Shady Canyon Golf Club.

Earlier this year scientists at UC Irvine even conducted research to see if it was possible. Their conclusion:

Titanium alloy golf clubs can cause dangerous wildfires, according to UC Irvine scientists. When a club coated with the lightweight metal is swung and strikes a rock, it creates sparks that can heat to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough to ignite dry foliage, according to findings published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Fire and Materials.

If you look carefully in the video below, you will be able to see sparks created by a titanium club.

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