TBT: Fire effects in Yosemite NP, 1897

For Throwback Thursday we’re throwing WAY back, to 1897. This photo shows Yosemite National Park Superintendent Capt. Alex Rogers standing next to a fire-scarred tree near Tioga Road in September, 1897.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

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.

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”

Images from mud flows and flooding in Southern California

We spent a few minutes on Twitter Tuesday evening looking for information about the impacts of the very heavy rain northwest of Los Angeles over the last 24 hours. The freshly barren burned hills above some of these areas contributed to the extraordinary amount of water and debris transported into the communities.

Report released on Thomas Fire Fatality

Above: A map from the report showing the entrapment location. The red line was the firefighter’s path of travel. It leads from the black circle, which was the site of the first spot fires, to a drainage.

(Originally published at 6:25 p.m. MST January 8, 2018)

CAL FIRE has released a “Green Sheet” preliminary report for the line of duty death of CAL FIRE Fire Apparatus Engineer Cory Iverson of the CAL FIRE San Diego/San Diego County Fire Authority. Engineer Iverson was overrun by fire and killed December 14, 2017 while battling the Thomas Fire in Ventura County north of Fillmore, California.

While working with a hose lay along a dozer line he was attempting to suppress a  spot fire across the fireline. As one spot fire became multiple spot fires he attempted to escape but was not successful.

The entire 2.6MB report is here. The portion of the document that describes the entrapment is below. Fire Apparatus Engineer Iverson is “FAE1” in the report.

…FAE1 responded on the assigned tactical frequency, that he saw the spot fire. He engaged the spot fire that was on the edge of the dozer line with his hand tool.

Immediately after the report of the spot fire, a second spot fire was reported approximately 20 feet into the green.

At some point, before leaving the dozer line, FAE1 dropped a 100 foot length of hose from his hose pack on the dozer line. This action left 200 feet of hose still in his hose pack.

As FAE1 reached the second spot and began to take action, it erupted. At the same time, additional spot fires erupted along the dozer line west of the original spot fire. FF1 sprayed in the direction of the spot fires. The spot fires rapidly increased in size and the hose stream was ineffective. FAE1’s escape route back to dozer line was cut off. FAE1 began traveling southwest, paralleling the dozer line. Due to fire intensity, FAE1 turned and headed down slope to the south. FAE1 made a request, on the assigned tactical frequency, for immediate air support. This was the last confirmed radio transmission by FAE1. STL1 contacted HLCO for immediate air support. HLCO responded, he had additional copters coming in and they too would begin to work the area.

At approximately 9:25 AM, FC1 reported to FAE1 on the assigned tactical frequency, additional spots were below him and he told FAE1 to “Get out of there.”

The fire intensity increased in the green along the dozer line. FF1 and FF4 retreated along the dozer line, while FF2 and FF3 retreated along the dozer line and then up into the black, towards the mid-slope road. All four FF’s dropped their hose packs on the dozer line while retreating.

At approximately 9:27 AM, FC1 declared, on the assigned tactical frequency, “Mayday, we’ve got a firefighter down.” FC1 then clarified, “We have a firefighter trapped.” STL1 confirmed with DIVS X he copied the “Mayday” of a firefighter trapped. DIVS X acknowledged the traffic with STL1 and requested, through Thomas Communications, an ALS ambulance to the address of the staging area below the avocado orchard.

At 9:28 AM, the response from Ventura County Fire Station 27 was started.

Copter 1, and two CWN copters, continued working the area below the dozer line attempting to provide an escape route for FAE1. These copters saw FAE1 retreating down through the green.

At that time, two spots erupted down slope and south of FAE1, in his path, causing him to turn southwest and start down slope toward the eventual entrapment site.

FC1 saw FAE1 fall and lost sight of him. Copter 1 also saw FAE1 fall, but get back up and continue down slope toward the eventual entrapment site.

It was described by those who saw FAE1 moving through the vegetation that the height was chest to head high; and in some cases, all that could be seen was the top of his helmet.

Prior to the fire, the vegetation height and thickness masked the view of the deep gulch in the drainage, which was the location of the eventual entrapment site.

STL1 contacted HLCO, re-confirmed a firefighter was trapped, and was told by HLCO, six helicopters were enroute.

The additional CWN copters arrived and each copter began working the area where FAE1 was last seen. Those copters dropped retardant at first, and then switched to water due to a faster turnaround time.

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

Evacuations ordered below wildfires in Santa Barbara County

Very heavy rain could produce flash floods, mudslides, and life-threatening debris flows

(UPDATED at 12:22 PST January 9, 2018)


(UPDATED at 1:24 p.m. PST January 8, 2018)

Some of the same residents who were forced to evacuate during this year’s wildfires in Southern California are being ordered to evacuate again as a very dangerous storm bears down on the area. Weather forecasters predict the Coast and valleys can expect 2 to 4″ with foothills and mountains seeing 4-7″ (locally up to 9″). Ojai, which is surrounded by the footprint of the Thomas Fire, is expected to receive 5.98″.

southern california storm total rain map

The fear is that flash floods, mudslides, and debris flows could be life threatening.

Santa Barbara County Emergency Management issued evacuation notices for areas below the Thomas, Whittier, Sherpa and Rey Fire burn areas beginning at 12 p.m. Monday, January 8. Residents can visit www.countyofsb.org and refer to the interactive map to determine if their property is affected by the notices, or call 211 or 800-400-1572 for more information.

Weather forecast for Santa Barbara
Weather forecast for Santa Barbara through Wednesday. NWS.

The very powerful storm moving into the area is resulting in not only predictions for heavy precipitation, but also strong winds. Various types of weather related warnings have been posted by the National Weather Service for the following counties: Ventura, Orange, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Monterey, and Kern. The Monday night forecast for Santa Barbara calls for 25 mph winds gusting to 38 mph out of the southwest and southeast.

warning debris flow wildfires