John 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.”
Here is an excerpt from an article published today at the L. A. Times:
The U.S. Forest Service has launched an inspector general’s investigation and invited Congress to order a broad inquiry into last summer’s disastrous Station fire, after the recent discovery that dispatch recordings from the critical early hours of the blaze were withheld from The Times and a federal review team.
The inspector general’s probe will focus on why several days worth of recordings were not provided to The Times under the Freedom of Information Act or turned over to a Forest Service inquiry that had concluded the agency’s initial attack on the fire had been proper.
“I find this very serious,” Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told The Times on Tuesday. “I’m very concerned and troubled that this was not found earlier….We want to get this information to learn what occurred on the Station fire.”
Tidwell said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack invited Congress to request the fuller investigation of the Forest Service’s handling of the Station fire, a probe that would be conducted by the Government Accountability Office.
The content of the withheld recordings is not known. Tidwell said officials were still transcribing them and the results would be released in coming days.
He said the recordings were found after he ordered a reexamination of the agency’s response to The Times’ requests for copies of audio dispatch communications.
Next Tuesday, August 10, there will be a local congressional hearing on the Station Fire, organized by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank, CA). It will be held at 10 a.m. at the Volush Forum at Pasadena City College, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA. The panel will discuss issues that have been raised about the decision-making in the early hours of the Station fire. It is free and open to the public.
UPDATE @ 1:50 p.m. MT, Aug. 5, 2010
As Ken mentioned in a comment, the local congressional hearing has been postponed because the House of Representatives, which had been on recess, is being called back into session, creating a conflict for the Representatives that had planned on attending.
The following information was distributed by the International Association of Wildland Fire’s Firenet listserv.
Name: Chris Adams
Rank: Ranger 1 (Firefighter)
Status: Wildland, Full-time
Years of Service: 2
Date of Incident: 02 August 2010
Time of Incident: approximately 1030 hours
Date of Death: 02 August 2010
Fire Department: Arkansas Forestry Commission
Address: 3821 West Roosevelt Road, Little Rock, Arkansas 72204
Fire Department Chief: State Forester John T. Shannon
Incident Description: Firefighter Chris Adams was operating an Arkansas Forestry Commission 2002 International tractor trailer, and was en route to check on the status of an earlier fire. The tractor trailer load reportedly shifted causing the vehicle to cross the roadway center line, go into a ditch and then overturn. The accident is under investigation and undetermined at this time. Adams was reportedly wearing a seatbelt.
Incident Location: The accident occurred on Highway 360, approximately one-half mile east of Highway 29 in Lafayette County, east of Bradley in southeastern Arkansas.
Our condolences go out to his family and co-workers.
The National Interagency Fire Center has released their prediction for wildfire potential for the next four months. If this turns out to be accurate, there is not going to be a lot of overtime earned during this period. Click on the images below to see larger versions.
This CNN video shows a close call when four people in a vehicle find themselves surrounded by a fire in Russia. (Update: Fire Geezer has the long YouTube version of the vehicle close call video.)
The CNN video also has some EXCELLENT footage (at 2:05) of the Russian amphibious jet-powered air tanker, the Be-200, dropping on some active fire. It is one of the most spectacular videos of a drop that I have ever seen. As we reported on July 30, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called for proposals to be drawn up on the purchase of additional firefighting equipment, including Be-200 aircraft.
Be sure and click on “full screen”, the icon at the lower-right.