The Press-Enterprise has a stunning article about a southern California U. S. Forest Service Fire Prevention Technician (FPT), Michael Karl McNeil, 35, who was investigated for arson at several places where he has worked.
The newspaper obtained a copy of a confidential July 2008 report that formed the basis for their lengthy, carefully worded article which says four of the fires for which the FPT was investigated were the same fires that match the dates and circumstances of fires that are associated with Raymond Lee Oyler, who has been charged with setting the 2006 Esperanza fire that resulted in the deaths of five firefighters on Engine 57 of the San Bernardino National Forest. However, investigators determined that McNeil was not responsible for the Esperanza fire.
It appears that two arsonists may have been working in the same general area in 2006, the Banning Pass area. This may complicate the prosecution’s case against Oyler during his trial for the Esperanza fire which begins January 5. His defense attorney is already claiming that “McNeil is a viable suspect” in some of the fires for which Oyler is charged.
McNeil has worked at the following locations:
- 1996, Utah, volunteer firefighter
- 2001-2002, Angeles National Forest, firefighter
- 2003-2004, U.S. Fish and Wildlife service; the report is vague about this employment. It does not state there was an increase in arson fires, but that “his employment with the agency ended with a termination and settlement agreement that prohibited supervisors and co-workers from discussing McNeil.”
- 2005-2006, San Bernardino National Forest, Fire Prevention Technician at the Banning Pass station.
The Utah, Angeles National Forest, and San Bernardino National Forest locations had very high arson rates while he worked there.
His last job with the USFS was with the Lassen National Forest in northern California, where in 2007 he was promoted into an Assistant Fire Management Officer position. In June of this year he was placed on leave without pay status.
McNeil has a checkered past. He pled guilty to a felony criminal-threat in 1998 and failed to disclose it on his USFS applications.
In August he was arrested by Los Angeles County authorities where he is being held on a 36-count arson and terrorist threat complaint. Bail has been set at $2.8 million.
The Los Angeles County case includes a list of threatening McNeil e-mails to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Rep. Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, the Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective investigating the case, and Lassen County officials, including two judges, the district attorney and the public defender. The report also says McNeil set fire to his father’s South San Gabriel home.
All I can say is: Holy Crap. Read the article–I only hit the high points. McNeil is being held on 36 counts of arson and terrorist threats. Any arson is disturbing and potentially fatal, as the Esperanza fire proved. McNeil may or may not be found guilty, but firefighter-arson is something that horrifies other firefighters.