Esperanza engine crew, seven years ago today

Engine 57It was seven years ago today that five U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighters died on the Esperanza fire near Cabazon, California on October 26, 2006. Killed were engine Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, of Idyllwild; engine operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; assistant engine operator Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; and firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto. A fifth firefighter Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley, who was injured along with the other four, passed away on October 31. The five firefighters comprised the crew of a wildland engine, Engine 57, from the San Bernardino National Forest.

They were assigned to a state managed fire approximately 60 miles east of Los Angeles and were entrapped while protecting a structure. The crew and their supervisors were not aware of the location of the fire relative to the location of the firefighters. The fire overran their position.

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UPDATE November 12, 2013:

Esperanza Fire Factual Report, and the USDA Office of Inspector General’s Report on the fire.

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Wildfire briefing, August 19, 2013

Preparedness Level

The National Preparedness Level is going up to the highest level of 5 effective Tuesday.
Screenplay to be written for the Esperanza Fire

The Esperanza Fire, book cover
An arrangement has been made to write a movie script for John N. Maclean’s book The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder, and the Agony of Engine 57. Legendary Pictures has closed a deal with Sean O’Keefe to adapt the book about the 2006 entrapment and deaths of the five firefighters who were working on U.S. Forest Service Engine 57.

We talked with Mr. Maclean in February when he signed the movie rights deal with Legendary Pictures. He told us then that while the contract had been signed, including the stipulation that he will serve as a consultant, there are many steps that have to be completed before it appears on the big screen. The producers must arrange for someone to write the screenplay, financing has to be arranged, and actors have to be signed — just to name a few. So, the first of those three important steps has begun. But many scripts never become movies, Mr. Maclean said.

The arsonist who started the fire, Raymond Oyler, was found guilty of five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson, and 17 counts of using an incendiary device to start fires. He was sentenced to death.

The firefighters who died were engine Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, of Idyllwild; engine operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; assistant engine operator Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto; and firefighter Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley.

We have an excerpt from the book in our January 21 article.

Dry lightning starts fires in California

Numerous lightning strikes, some of them without rain, started several dozen new fires in the Sierras and in southern California. On Sunday 24,681 strikes were recorded in the state, but so far firefighters have kept the fires small. Scattered mostly dry thunderstorms are predicted to continue through Monday followed by widespread thunderstorms with wetting rain in the Sierras Tuesday through Thursday.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning due to the possibility of dry lightning in combination with gusty winds for most of the foothills and mountains of Northern California.

Aviation

There are three new articles over at Fire Aviation.

  • Tanker 910, a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, experienced an engine failure coming off of a drop on the Beaver Creek Fire in Idaho on Thursday, August 15.
  • Minden Air Corp has made a video available of the takeoff for the first flight test of their Tanker 46, a converted BAe-146, which occurred June 9, 2013.
  • An Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) has completed a detailed comparison of the use of a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) and P2V Large Air Tankers to complete the same task of creating 4.6 miles of retardant line on the Colockum Tarps Fire,

 Atlanta evacuated (not THAT Atlanta)

Little Queen Fire, August 18, 2013

Residents of Atlanta, Idaho have been ordered to evacuate by noon today, Monday, because of the 2,000-acre Little Queens Fire burning about four miles north of the town. The majority of the fire is in the Sawtooth Wilderness and Sawtooth National Forest.

The Great Basin Type 2 Team 5 (Wilde) is being reassigned to the fire.

From InciWeb, on August 17:

Jason Greenlee is the Incident Commander, “We will manage the Little Queens Fire as a long term fire. We will monitor the fire to ensure that it does not burn into Atlanta, Idaho and plan and prepare to defend the community if the fire changes direction and moves to the south”. This strategy is being used due to the shortage of resources to fight the fire due to other fires in the area.

In case you’re not familiar with Atlanta, it is 37 miles northwest of Ketchum, ID, and 23 miles northwest of the 104,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire.

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John Maclean and a panel of firefighters talk about the Esperanza Fire

John Maclean's Esperanza presentation

At the Rustic Theater in Idyllwild, California on March 8, not far from where the Esperanza Fire killed the five-member crew of U.S. Forest Service engine 57, John N. Maclean talked about his new book, The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder, and the Agony of Engine 57. A video recording of the presentation is on the C-SPAN web site. It is an hour and 21 minutes long, but if you are interested in the fire, it will be worth your while.

The video, which can’t be embedded here, includes Mr. Maclean’s talk which is followed by a brief statement from Norm Walker, a former Division Chief on the San Bernardino National Forest, who discussed the three investigations of the fire and how they all fit together, and didn’t in some ways. Then there is a period for questions from the audience, all of which generated very interesting answers from Mr. Maclean and a panel of firefighters who were on the fire.

If you are put off by the first speaker’s remarks, jump to 3:40 when Mr. Maclean’s presentation begins.

Mr. Maclean allowed us to publish an excerpt from his book in January.

 

Thanks go out to Kelly

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USFS Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation talks about pyroterrorism

Robert Baird

Robert Baird

The U.S. Forest Service’s Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation Management spoke about pyroterrorism in a keynote address at the Firehouse World conference in San Diego this week.

After serving in the Marine Corps for 25 years, mostly as a planner, Mr. Baird was appointed to his position in the Forest Service in November of 2011. While attending Marine Corps University he wrote a paper titled Pyroterrorism: The Threat of Arson Induced Forest Fires as a Terrorist Weapon, and an article on the same subject, Profiles in Pyroterrorism: Convergence of crime, terrorism and wildfire unleash as a weapon on population.

At the conference this week, according to Firehouse, Mr. Baird mentioned several incidents that could be classified as pyroterrorism, including the Japanese fire balloons during the second World War, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and the arson fires set by Raymond Lee Oyler, one of them being the Esperanza Fire that killed a 5-person USFS engine crew. He also referred to an article in an al Qaeda magazine that called for Western Muslims to wage war within the United States, urging them to engage in lone wolf attacks, including setting forest fires.

Below is an excerpt from the Firehouse article:

In 2004, the FBI came upon intelligence and issued an alert to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) suggesting that Al Queda had plans to start wildland fires in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, Baird said, noting that all the material he was presenting was unclassified information and his interpretations and analysis were his own.

“I am not going to be some suit out of Washington, D.C., coming out here and telling you how to fight wildland fires,” said Baird, who added that his family in California was evacuated during the Camp Pendleton fire.

 

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Esperanza Fire to become a movie

The Esperanza Fire, book coverJohn N. Maclean announced on his Facebook page that his book The Esperanza Fire is slated to be adapted for a movie. He provided a link to an article in Variety which disclosed that Legendary Pictures has closed a deal to adapt it.

We talked with Mr. Maclean, who told us that while the deal has been signed, including the stipulation that he will serve as a consultant, there are many steps that have to be completed before it appears on the big screen. The producers must arrange for someone to write the screenplay, financing has to be arranged, and actors have to be signed — just to name a few.

The book is about the 2006 wildfire that Raymond Oyler lit which raced up a canyon in southern California and overran the five-person crew of U.S. Forest Service engine 57. All five crewmembers, who were protecting an unoccupied house, were killed. Oyler was found guilty of five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson, and 17 counts of using an incendiary device to start fires. He was sentenced to death.

We have an excerpt from the book in our January 21 article. It will be officially published on February 12, but is already available from Mr. Maclean’s web site, and each book will be personally autographed by him. It is also available at Amazon, but without the autograph.

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UPDATE November 12, 2013:

Esperanza Fire Factual Report, and the USDA Office of Inspector General’s Report on the fire.

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Book published about Esperanza Fire

The Esperanza Fire, book cover
The book that John N. Maclean has been working on for years about the Esperanza Fire has been published. Titled The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57, it covers the 2006 wildfire that Raymond Oyler lit which raced up a canyon in southern California and overran the five-person crew of U.S. Forest Service engine 57. All five crewmembers, who were protecting an unoccupied house, were killed. Oyler was found guilty of five counts of first-degree murder, 20 counts of arson, and 17 counts of using an incendiary device to start fires. He was sentenced to death.

The firefighters who died were engine Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, of Idyllwild; engine operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; assistant engine operator Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; firefighter Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto; and firefighter Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley.

This extraordinary event, and the trial that followed, had a significant impact on many of us in the fire service.

Mr. Maclean’s other books about wildland fire, include Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon FireThe Thirtymile Fire: A Chronicle of Bravery and Betrayal, and Fire and Ashes: On the Front Lines of American Wildfire (out of print but may be available at your local book store or at Mr. Maclean’s web site).

The new book, The Esperanza Fire, can be purchased now directly from Mr. Maclean’s web site, and each book will be personally autographed by him. It is also available at Amazon, but without the autograph. It may not be at your local book store until February 12.

If Mr. Maclean’s other books and the excerpt below are any indication, this new one will be difficult to put down.

With the permission of Mr. Maclean and the publisher, Counterpoint Press, we have an excerpt from the book below.

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Introduction to the excerpt, written by John N. Maclean:

Just after midnight on October 26, 2006, an arsonist set a bundle of matches and a Marlboro cigarette, held together by a rubber band, into a patch of grass along a remote roadway in the Banning Pass, which connects Los Angeles with the desert communities to the east. The arsonist drove away, the cigarette burned down and ignited the matches, and the grass caught fire. That was the start of the Esperanza Fire, which eventually burned over 40,000 acres and destroyed over 30 homes and other structures. It also claimed the lives of the five-man crew of Forest Service Engine 57. The arson investigation led to the capital murder trial of Raymond Oyler, who was found guilty of arson and murder and sentenced to death.
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