Wildfire news, September 15, 2008


Terry Barton’s trial nearing conclusion
The testimony phase of the trial has ended and attorneys from both sides will present summaries of the facts by September 22.  The judge will make a ruling on the case sometime after that. There is no jury.
From the Denver Post:
A federal judge is set to decide whether the government should pay for the negligence of Terry Barton, a former U.S. Forest Service employee (Fire Prevention Technician) who caused the largest wildfire in Colorado history.
Lawyers for several insurance companies that covered the losses from the 2002 Hayman fire have sued the federal government asking for more than $7 million in damages. Their lawsuit alleges that Barton was negligent in her duties as an employee while working for the government and that the United States should pay for what happened.
The Hayman fire started on June 15, 2002 after Barton burned a letter from her ex-husband, John Barton, in a campfire ring while the Pike National Forest was under a fire ban.
Barton, who has served six years in prison, testified in the case on Friday during the bench trial held in Judge Wiley Y. Daniel’s courtroom. She said that when she burned the letter, which she described as a reconciliation attempt written by her ex-husband, she was distraught and wanted to end her marriage.
“It was just a symbolic gesture,” she said. “I wanted to go on with my life.”
She also testified that when she walked away from the campfire and got into her truck, she thought the letter was extinguished. It was not until she was driving away, and returned to seek a faster route out that she saw the flames were approaching the trees.
At times tearful, Barton said she thought she used a shovel to move dirt to suppress the fire, but she could not remember the details of how she tried to stop the blaze. She also testified that she would have never walked away after she burned the letter had she seen it was still aflame.
Daniel did not say how he would rule in the case, but he hinted he was having a hard time deciding whether her actions that day were within the scope of her employment, which would make the government liable.
Mike Roach, who represented State Farm Fire & Casualty Company, Inc., argued that Barton, who had trained as a wildland firefighter, did not make a direct attack on the fire, which caused it to spread out of control.
“She had time to fight the fire before it got into the trees,” he said. “She did not perform a direct attack. A direct attack is much faster.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pharo argued that the insurance companies did not prove that she was acting within the scope of her employment when she tried to put out the fire or if the way she tried to put it out was the wrong way.
“There is no evidence had she done something different that this fire would not have spread,” Pharo said.
Tree felling + propane tank + power line + house = fire
Many of us have had things go wrong while felling trees.  This person had a particularly bad day.
From The Latest
John Woodland, Chief, Superior FD, Montana
A property owner in Superior set out Sunday afternoon to remove several trees from his rental property. He dropped the first tree without too much trouble but things went down hill from there.
The second tree fell about 90 degrees from its intended path, hitting the dome covering the valve and regulator on a just filled 500 gallon propone tank and causing a gas leak.
All that was needed now was a source of ignition, readily supplied by the overhead electric service line that the tree also took out. Completing the picture was the manufactured home 15 feet away, now more prone to ignition as a result of the broken window and exposed structural members in the roof where the upper portion of the tree landed.
When the Superior Volunteer Fire Department arrived, the propane tank and pine tree were burning vigorously and blinds in the house were melting. Superior cooled the house before any ignition occurred and focused on keeping the tank from getting too hot until the contents burned off. 1,000 feet of 5 inch hose was laid to a hydrant.
Marijuana grown in National Forests and Parks
The USA Today has a story that says 75-80% of pot being grown outdoors is on state or federal land.
Tighter border controls make it harder to smuggle marijuana into the USA, so more Mexican drug networks are growing crops here, Walters says.
“We are finding more marijuana gardens in the park year after year,” says Jim Milestone, superintendent of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Northern California.
“We’re dealing with some bad characters,” Milestone says. “We are arresting people … who have criminal records in Mexico, and almost all of them are here illegally with false papers.”
The number of marijuana plants confiscated on public land in California grew from 40% to 75% of total seizures between 2001-2007, says the state’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting task force.
Hunting and cleaning up after pot growers diverts resources at a time when parks face chronic funding shortfalls, says Laine Hendricks of the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association.
Recent busts:
•A site with 16,742 marijuana plants was raided last month in North Cascades National Park in Washington state. It was operated by a Mexican organization, says park Superintendent Chip Jenkins. People living at the site downed trees, dammed creeks and left 1,000 pounds of trash, he says.
•Thousands of marijuana plants were seized last month in Utah’s Dixie National Forest. Ignacio Rodriguez was charged with drug and immigration offenses, says Michael Root, a DEA special agent.
The problem is worst on the West Coast, but law-enforcement pressure on growers, Root says, “has pushed them out this way.”
•Last month, officials burned thousands of marijuana plants seized in Cook County, Ill., forest preserves. Drug organizations use the Chicago area as a base for distributing marijuana across the Midwest, says DEA special agent Joanna Zoltay.
•In July and August, officials seized more than 340,000 plants, some from Sequoia National Forest and Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks.
Ranger Alexandra Picavet says Mexican cartels are responsible for many sites in those parks. They leave behind car batteries and propane tanks and poach deer and birds, she says.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington has issued information, warning hunters about the possibility of pot farms in the forest.  Last month they found 74,000 marijuana plants within the boundaries.
Hybrid vehicle accidents and electric shock hazard
When wildland firefighters respond to a vehicle fire or accident it is becoming more and more likely that it will involve a hybrid vehicle since more are on the road.  The cables carrying 300 to 600 volts of electricity present much more of a hazard than the typical 12 volts from most vehicles.  Some electrical cables from the high-voltage battery packs are shielded in bright orange plastic for easy identification.  Most of the electrical components are shut down automatically if the system detects a fault, but this can take up to 5 minutes even if the key has been removed.
The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium has developed a curriculum and training program for First Responders to safely identify and deal with hybrid-electric vehicles. The NAFTC course offers hands-on, vehicle-specific training covering how to safely disconnect the high voltage power supply, how to deal with possible ruptured battery packs and how to safely extract drivers and passengers trapped inside these vehicles. The training is offered at the NAFTC Morgantown, West Virginia headquarters and also through a network of 33 National Training Centers located at community colleges, tech schools and Universities nationwide.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.