Fire investigations and pyroterrorism

The Gazette in Colorado Springs has two interesting articles about investigating the cause and origin of wildfires and how thoughts of pyroterrorism have occurred to some folks in the state. No knowledgeable person as far as we know is saying the numerous suspicious fires that have occurred in the front range over the last two years are related to pyroterrorism. However, the 25 Teller County fires in June, 2012, combined with the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon fires that together destroyed about 850 homes and caused several fatalities, has fire investigators and detectives on edge, not ruling anything out.

Below is an excerpt from the second article, about pyroterrorism (which also quoted Dick Mangan, former President of the International Association of Wildland Fire):

…Investigators searching for the cause of a wildfire essentially work backwards, said Bill Gabbert, managing editor of Wildfire Today.

“You have to look for the direction of the spread to see which way the fire is moving,” he said. “So you have to work backwards.”

The quicker the response, the easier it is to find the point of origin because it decreases the area investigators must peruse.

Once the point of origin is located, investigators must determine what started the fire, which, depending on the igniter, “can be fairly easy or hard.”

“If they use a lighter and put it back in their pocket, it’s hard,” he said.

But arsonists also use devices that are left at the scene, sometimes something as tiny as a match.

“If you’re lucky, you can find the match,” Gabbert said. “Even if it’s charred, it helps.”


More information: articles at Wildfire Today tagged pyroterrorism and arson.

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.


Economic warfare by forest fire

“America, I think, is under attack by terrorists waging economic warfare by fire.”

In this important and compelling video William Scott talks about how terrorists could, and perhaps already are waging economic war inside the United State by starting wildfires which can cost the government and residents billions of dollars. He also refers to the al Qaeda magazine article which encouraged Western Muslims to wage war within the United States by engaging in lone wolf attacks, including setting forest fires.

Economic terrorism was one of the desired effects of the 9/11 attacks, to force the United States to spend billions of dollars beefing up our security infrastructure. The terrorists succeeded in meeting that objective.

Mr. Scott worked on the 2002 Blue Ribbon Panel that studied and made recommendations about the air tanker fleet after the mid-air wing failures of two air tankers that year. He also is a former editor of Aviation Week, former official of the National Security Agency, and the author of Space Wars.

In the video, Mr. Scott does not just complain and rant like some politicians, he actually has some constructive suggestions, including:

  • Using NASA and military assets, 24/7, to patrol fire-prone forests, using “fire combat air patrols” to quickly detect new fires and to track suspects leaving the scene;
  • Stop narrowly thinking of fires as a land management issue, and begin treating them as a national security issue;
  • “Finally it’s time. We have to develop and field a robust large air tanker fleet of firefighting aircraft. The Forest Service has made a good start, but it still suffers from a culture and attitude of what firefighters call ‘cheapism’, the idea that we can fight wildland fire on the cheap. And that’s no longer acceptable.”


Thanks go out to Walt

Al Qaeda magazine encourages forest fire arson in the US

A magazine published by members of al Qaeda has called for Western Muslims to wage war within the United States, urging them to engage in lone wolf attacks, including setting forest fires. According to ABC News, a recent issue of Inspire magazine has surfaced on jihadi forums with one article titled “It Is of Your Freedom to Ignite a Firebomb”, which gives detailed instructions on how to build an “ember bomb” in a forest in the United States, and suggested Montana as a choice location due to the rapid population growth in forested areas.

In America, there are more houses built in the [countryside] than in the cities. It is difficult to choose a better place [than] in the valleys of Montana.

A previous issue of the magazine contained information on how to construct remote-controlled explosives, and helpfully listed the needed parts along with instructions and photos.

ABC News has been calling around today to find a wildfire expert who can be interviewed on camera for a piece they expect to be on Wednesday’s Good Morning America. One person they called was Dick Mangan, a past President of the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF), but ABC was not able to work out the logistics of quickly getting a camera crew to his house in Montana. The last we heard they found someone in the Sacramento area who works for CAL FIRE.

It’s odd, or maybe that is why ABC contacted Dick, because he wrote an article for the March/April 2005 issue of Wildfire, a magazine published by the IAWF, titled Terrorists in the Woods, about the potential for terrorists to set vegetation fires in wildland areas. In the article he mentioned that police and structural fire departments receive funding for the possibility of terror-related incidents, but the land management agencies receive little or nothing to plan for or prevent threats such as these.

Below is an excerpt from Dick’s 2005 article.

…The massive increases in the federal budget for protection from terrorism mostly have been sent to police and structural fire departments. But what about the threat of terrorist-caused wildland fires in our forests, community watersheds and wildland-urban interface? Who’s worried about that threat, what are they doing about it, and how much is being spent to fund the efforts to prevent it?

The history of fire as a tool of warfare is well-documented: Native Americans used fire against their enemies, both other tribes and the expanding Europeans; the Aboriginal people of Australia used fire to discourage the incursion of the British settlers onto their island. In World War II, the ]apanese launched “fire balloons” against the western United States. While largely unsuccessful, they started a few fires and killed six people in Oregon. The Palestinians in ihe latter half of the 20th century used fire to try to destroy Israel’s carefully planted pine plantations.

Now, as more and more folks are moving into the wildland-urban interface, the danger of fire as a weapon is even greater. Even under the best of circumstances – when a single ignition occurs under critical fire conditions – hundreds and thousands of citizens are threatened with entrapment, injury or death from rapidly spreading fires. Imagine if a small band of determined terrorists, with only some basic fire weather knowledge and fire behavior training decided to set multiple ignitions in some of our most vulnerable areas like heavily populated valley bottoms with limited egress/acceass and a heavy, dry fuel loading at the peak of the burning period?

There are many such areas around the world: in the foothills of Andalusia in Spain; outside of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and in numerous areas of the United States from Florida to the Pine Barrens of New York to the foothills surrounding Los Angeles. Even my own hometown of Missoula, Montana has areas that fit all the above criteria, and is surely at risk under the wrong combination of weather conditions and a committed terrorist with fire on the brain.

We contacted a spokesperson for the IAWF, Paula Nelson, about the reported threat of terrorist-arson, and she responded:

Wildfire threats and terrorist threats cross borders and require us all to be prepared and vigilant. Training and communicating with fellow firefighters, regardless of agency or country, is always worthwhile in improving our capabilities in both arenas. This is a cornerstone for the work IAWF does.


USFS appoints a Marine as Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation

We were surprised when the U.S. Forest Service appointed a person with no on-the-ground fire experience to be Deputy Regional Forester for Fire and Aviation Management in the California Region. That trend is continuing, but at a higher level.

Robert Baird
Robert Baird

Robert Baird has accepted the position of Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation Management in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Forest Service. Mr. Baird is currently the Branch Head, Center for Irregular Warfare, US Marine Corps, in Quantico, Virginia.

Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told us that in his new position Mr. Baird will supervise the following functions:

  • Washington Office-State and Private Forestry / Fire and Aviation Management Assistant Director for Fire Operations located at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho;
  • Washington Office-S&PF/FAM Assistant Director for Risk Management located at NIFC;
  • Washington Office-S&PF/FAM Assistant Director for Aviation located in Washington, D.C.

Mr.Baird will report to WO-S&PF/FAM Director Tom Harbour.

HERE is a link to the organizational chart for USFS Fire and Aviation Management in the Washington Office. (If it is sideways, in Adobe Reader, click View/Rotate.) The chart was current as of May 11, 2011 and shows Rich Kvale in the Deputy Director position, who is being replaced by Mr. Baird.

On his Linkedin page, Mr. Baird describes his present duties as: “Explore, Develop, Coordinate, Plan, and Integrate IW Concepts for the Marine Corps”. From a brief bio that was provided for an event in 2010, his experience included:

  • Planner in Afghanistan for special operations integration and implementation
  • Planner in Iraq to establish initial Iraqi police capability in one province
  • Director of Operations for the Marine Corps University/Education Command
  • Lead planner for I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) rapid response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita
  • Chief of Plans for I MEF
  • He obtained a Masters of Operational Studies from Marine Corps University

Mr. Baird is also a former seasonal police officer for Ocean City, Maryland.

He has written a paper titled Profiles in Pyroterrorism: Convergence of crime, terrorism and wildfire unleash as a weapon on population. Wildfire comes up another time in his profile on Linkedin where he said he “Planned for Wildland Fire Fighting contingency mission, served in MCB Emergency Ops Center, and personally supported displacement of Div Cmd Post due to wildfire.”

We very much support the concept of hiring veterans and have highlighted such programs in the past, but we would be more comfortable if the person who is second in command in USFS Fire and Aviation Management had more wildland fire experience and knowledge than we have seen listed for Mr. Baird.

Thanks go out to Dick