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.

****

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.
Continue reading “Book published about Esperanza Fire”

Google Earth shows air tanker over Esperanza Fire

P2V on Esperanza fire, Google Earth
A satellite photo of a P2V air tanker working on the Esperanza Fire, October 26, 2006. Google Earth. (click to enlarge)

One of our loyal readers, Lone Ranger, has alerted us to something he found on Google Earth while researching the Esperanza Fire — a satellite photo of a P2V air tanker flying over the fire, perhaps about to make a drop along a dozer line. Or, maybe it’s just orbiting. I was not able to find a shadow of the aircraft so it’s difficult to determine how far he was above the ground.

To check it out yourself, in Google Earth search for 33.844446 -116.845768

At the bottom-left, click on the year. That will cause a slider to appear at the upper left. Drag the slider over to 10/26/2006, then zoom in.

Esperanza fire, six years ago

It was six years ago 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.

Tim Walton of Photo 1 Productions has put together a video of some nighttime firefighting on the Esperanza fire.

****

UPDATE November 12, 2013:

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

Supercomputer model of Esperanza fire

The video below is a simulation of the spread of the Esperanza fire which killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters in 2006 near Cabazon, California. Raymond Lee Oyler was sentenced to death after he was convicted of five counts of murder and 37 counts of arson for starting this fire and many others.

The simulation was produced by Janice L. Coen of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Philip J. Riggan of the Pacific Southwest Research Station.

The description of the video which is on YouTube:

===================================================

It takes a supercomputer to run a mathematical simulation, or model, of the complex processes observed in wildfires. It often takes yet more computing power to visualize the data coming out of the computer model. This fire-behavior simulation reproduces the October 2006 Esperanza Fire near Cabazon, California. Using data from the NCAR fire-weather model, simulations like this one are helping scientists explain the physical processes and behavior within large wildfires.

An arsonist ignited the blaze on the upwind edge of Cabazon Peak during a Santa Ana wind event. Driven by gusty Santa Ana winds, dry chaparral fuels, and steep terrain, the fire rapidly spread up into the San Jacinto Wilderness.

The simulation reproduces several features observed during the fire: the rapid spread to the west-southwest, runs of flame up canyons that lay perpendicular to the wind direction, splitting of the fire into two heads, and feathering of the fire line at the leading edge.

—–Coupled Weather-Fire Simulation of the Esperanza Wildfire—–

Science: Janice Coen (NCAR) and Phillip Riggin (Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service)

Visualization: Janice Coen and Alan Norton, NCAR, using VAPOR (Visualization and Analysis Platform for Ocean, Atmosphere, and Solar Researchers) http://www.vapor.ucar.edu

More information:http://www.mmm.ucar.edu/people/coen/files/newpage_m.html

****

UPDATE November 12, 2013:

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

$50,000 reward approved for Esperanza fire witness

Esperanza fire engine 57This afternoon the Riverside County (California) Board of Supervisors voted to give a $50,000 reward to a person who provided key testimony that helped to convict Raymond Lee Oyler of five counts of murder and 37 counts of arson, including starting the 2006 Esperanza fire and many others. The testimony was vital in Oyler’s conviction. The witness was not identified because of a concern for their safety, and the fact that they were harassed after the trial.

The Supervisors only awarded half of the $100,000 that had been offered by the county for the arrest and conviction of the arsonist. They did not say why they did not award the entire $100,000. Outside donors pledged another $400,000.

On October 26, 2006, five U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighters were entrapped on the Esperanza fire near Cabazon, California . 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.

Oyler was sentenced to death for starting the Esperanza fire, which in addition to killing the USFS engine crew, burned 43,000 acres and destroyed 39 homes.

John N. Maclean previews Esperanza fire book

hand holding matchJohn N. Maclean has been working on a new book about the Esperanza fire for quite some time, but he still has a lot of work left to do on the project. The earliest it will be published is late 2011. But in the meantime, we have a preview of the still untitled book through a lengthy article he wrote for the High Country News.  Here is a description of the piece:

“When a jury returns to a packed courtroom to announce the verdict in a capital murder case, every noise — even a chair scraping or a door opening — cracks like a rifle shot. That’s how it was at the trial of Raymond Lee Oyler, accused of murder for setting Southern California’s Esperanza Fire, which fatally burned five men on a U.S. Forest Service engine crew. As the jurors filed into the Riverside County Superior Court room … they had to work to keep their decision off their faces.”

With powerful scenes like that and compelling storytelling, writer John N. Maclean explores the world of wildfire arson in the cover story of the latest issue of High Country News, the nonprofit magazine that covers the American West.

Under the headline, “The Fiery Touch,” Maclean takes us into the courtroom where Oyler was tried in 2009 on arson and murder charges. He reports testimony of witnesses and kin of the dead and details of the jury’s deliberations. He reconstructs the 2006 Esperanza Fire’s fierceness and how investigators cracked the case. He also describes the history of notable wildfire arson cases and the longtime tolerance for people who start wildfires to create firefighting jobs, and talks about how, “The Oyler case stands as a warning to every would-be fire starter: Tolerance for the torch has gone the way of the Old West.”

A sidebar describes more than a dozen notable wildfire arson cases in the last half-century, including huge blazes in Southern California, Arizona and Colorado and the 1953 Rattlesnake Fire that killed 15 firefighters.

Maclean has written several books on disastrous Western wildfires and “A Fiery Touch” is adapted from a forthcoming book. For more on him, check his website: http://JohnMacleanBooks.com.

As a High Country News editor’s note for The Fiery Touch says: “Wildfire arsonists wield a devilish power over the environment and other people. Maclean focuses on a particularly terrible case and the toughest form of justice. It’s a riveting and timely read.”

John N. Maclean’s previous books 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.

****

UPDATE November 12, 2013:

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