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.


Does the DC-10 air tanker deliver retardant at a lower cost than a BAe-146?

One of the likely reasons that the US Forest Service refuses to offer an exclusive use contract for a Very Large Air Tanker such as Evergreen’s 747 or 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s DC-10 is the agency assumes they cost more than smaller “large” air tankers like the P2V or BAe-146 that have a capacity of 2,200 to 3,000 gallons. Rick Hatton, the president of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, is attempting to change that perception. The company has a very popular page on Facebook that has accumulated over 9,000 “likes”. Today they posted an infographic claiming their two DC-10s can deliver retardant at less than half the cost of a BAe-146; about $4 a gallon for a DC-10 versus about $8 a gallon for a BAe-146. These prices do not include the cost of the retardant itself, just the costs for getting the retardant to the fire. In September, 2010, the price of retardant on the Fourmile Fire near Denver was $1.97 a gallon.

DC-10 air tanker cost per gallon to deliver retardant
DC-10 air tanker cost per gallon to deliver retardant. Credit: 10 Tanker Air Carrier. Used with permission. (click to enlarge)

There are many costs and variables that go into calculating the cost per gallon for delivering retardant, including daily availability rate for the air tanker, hourly rate, fuel costs, turnaround time for each aircraft, and retardant capacity of the air tanker.

Mr. Hatton told Wildfire Today that for their calculations they assumed a one hour turnaround time (very quick for a DC-10 which has to wait while 11,600 gallons of retardant are transferred into its tanks), a typical fuel burn, contract prices for fuel, both aircraft were on exclusive use contracts, and at least 11,600 gallons were delivered.

The most important variables are the daily and hourly rates for the air tanker. We asked Mr. Hatton what the rates are for his DC-10s and he did not answer. So it is impossible to verify his conclusions without knowing the costs for both aircraft.

According to the Billings Gazette, in 2012, the 50-year-old P2V air tankers, which can carry about 2,200 gallons, have an average daily availability rate of $10,000, plus an hourly flight rate of $5,750. The BAe-146 jets with a 3,000-gallon capacity have a daily availability rate of $23,500 and an hourly flight rate of $9,520.

On the Fourmile Canyon fire west of Boulder, Colorado in September, 2010, the cost of delivered retardant by large air tankers on the fire, P2Vs and P3s, was $3.55 per gallon. This included the cost of the retardant which was $1.97/gallon. So the cost of just the delivery of the retardant was $1.58 per gallon.

The round-trip time for each air tanker to drop, reload, and drop again on the Fourmile fire was 0.55 hour. This is extremely quick and is due to the fact that the air tankers were reloading at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Boulder, Jeffco air tanker base, about 15 air miles from the fire. This helped keep the cost per gallon of delivered retardant lower than on your typical fire, which is normally much more than 15 miles away from the reload base. Usually an air tanker spends at least 15-20 minutes on the ground, which includes landing, taxiing, refilling with retardant, taxiing again, and takeoff. If they have to refuel, it takes much longer. If as in Mr. Hatton’s calculations you assume a 1 hour turnaround time, it would have added approximately $1 a gallon to the costs on the Fourmile Canyon fire.

I am not saying that the cost of a delivered gallon of retardant is the most important factor in awarding or not awarding an exclusive use contract for an air tanker. You should also consider the age, safety, and dependability of the aircraft, as well as the exposure to risk –how many hours will be spent in the air flying low and slow over mountainous terrain in turbulent and smoky conditions. And, how many gallons can be delivered in a given length of time, to help achieve, working with firefighters on the ground, fast, aggressive initial attack on new fires with overwhelming force.

As William Scott said in his talk about wildfire arson and economic terrorism, the land management agencies “suffer 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.”

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

Reaction to al Qaeda forest fire arson threat

Wildfire Today reported on May 2 that 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. The article gave detailed instructions on how to build an “ember bomb” in order to set wildfires in the United States and Australia, and specifically suggested Montana as a choice location. The magazine article led the national news programs for a couple of days. Here are some of the reactions that have surfaced in response.

Dr. Anthony Bergin of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute:

…But [Dr. Bergin] said Australian authorities had recently adopted more sophisticated approaches to firefighting, including surveillance and land clearing measures.

The article provides specific examples and statistics of devastating bushfires in NSW and Queensland. It does not mention the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009.

The article talks up the devastation caused by fires and provides details about the best times of the year to start a fire in different parts of Australia.

The article says of past fires in Australia: ”These fires ruined the dry before the green, exhausted lives and properties, wiped out a lot of farms and houses, destroyed thousands of trees that are used in manufacturing and created an atmosphere of terror and panic.”

Montana’s Missoulian:

An al-Qaida threat to burn Western Montana’s forests hasn’t had the intended effect on Darby Marshal Larry Rose.

When the terrorist organization’s English-language magazine recently advised its readers to use forest fires to destabilize the United States, it used the fires of 2000 as an example — and said Western Montana was the ideal location for such an attack.

Specifically it recalled how in August 2000, “wildfires extended on the sides of a valley, south of Darby town. Six separated fires started and then met to form a massive fire that burnt down tens of houses.”

The magazine suggested using “ember bombs” to ignite forests, providing instructions for building trigger mechanisms and advice about the best weather conditions to promote big burns.

“My comment is the forests are pretty much all burnt up,” Rose said on Friday. “What more would they burn here?”

The fires of 2000 burned nearly 400,000 acres of the Bitterroot Valley, including much of the hillsides around Darby. Most were started by lightning during an extremely dry summer.

The idea that jihadist infiltrators might build upon their 9/11 World Trade Center destruction by torching trees hadn’t sparked much coffee-counter conversation, Rose said. It also hadn’t produced any alerts from the Department of Homeland Security for heightened vigilance.

The U.S. Forest Service:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the U.S Forest Service, works closely with its partners within the intelligence community, including both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice on any terrorist threats, including threats of this nature,” said Forest Service spokesman Brandan Schulze. “We are asking Forest Service employees, law enforcement and the general public to continue to be vigilant for any signs of wildfires, and to report unusual circumstances or situations that seem out of the ordinary for outdoor recreation on all public lands.

A video from ABC News:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player


Thanks go out to Chris and Dick

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