South Fork Fire evacuates Ruidoso

Emergency officials ordered residents of Ruidoso  to evacuate Monday, and to do it immediately, ahead of a fast-moving wildfire in southern New Mexico.

“GO NOW: Do not attempt to gather belongings or protect your home. Evacuate immediately.” Residents of the village of Ruidoso got this message about 7 p.m. from local officials if they were online. CBS News reported that the Public Service Company of New Mexico shut off power to about 2000 customers in the town — at the request of fire managers — when the fire burned to nearly 1300 acres.

KRQE-TV reported that hot ash was falling in nearby community of Alto.

By Tuesday officials said the fire was over 13,900 acres and was zero percent contained. The fire’s threatening multiple structures, officials said, and numerous buildings had been lost. Highways are closed and traffic’s being re-routed to Roswell, where hospitals were trying to admit as many patients as possible as they were moved from the hospital in Ruidoso.

The South Fork Fire started Monday on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, where President Thora Walsh Padilla declared a state of emergency. It’s burning on tribal land and USFS land around Ruidoso.

Mescalero Apache Tribe

A second fire, the 4880-acre Salt Fire, also was burning with zero containment on the reservation southwest of Ruidoso. Officials have closed Highway 70 from Botella Road to Highway 244 and residents east of Botella Road are evacuating.

Residents at Chatto Ridge are on “ready” status and Apache Summit is being evacuated. The Tribe is receiving reports of multiple additional fires on the Reservation. An evacuation center at Inn of the Mountain Gods Convention Center is available for residents — tribal members or not — at the Mescalero Community Center Gymnasium, and livestock can be held at the Mescalero Rodeo Grounds. Call (575)973-1394 if you need help with hauling your livestock.

Pamela L Bonner photo
Pamela L Bonner photo

 

Post Fire over 15,000 acres

 

A fire in Los Angeles County that evacuated hundreds of people from a state park has burned over 15,000 acres since it started Sunday. By Monday evening Cal Fire was reporting the fire at 15,611 acres with 20 percent containment.

CNN reported the fire at 8 percent containment Monday morning, with more than 1,000 firefighters assigned — including 34 crews, 7 helicopters, and 114 engines. Numerous airtankers are working the fire as windy conditions allow.

 

LA County Fire Department (LACoFD) Section Chief Kenichi Ballew-Haskett said Monday morning they’re notifying residents there may be mandatory evacuation orders pending.

“We’re getting people on notice that if we have to issue a mandatory evacuation order that they need to leave,” Ballew-Haskett said, advising residents to have their bags packed, a full tank of gas, and cell phones ready. “Once the sheriffs come by or law enforcement asks you to leave, it means the danger is imminent.”

Post Fire map

An Associated Press report said the fire forced the evacuation of at least 1,200 campers, off-roaders, and hikers from the Hungry Valley recreation area on Saturday, but Ben Nicholls, division chief with Cal Fire, said fire activity subsided overnight. “Forecasted winds are supposed to be less than we experienced yesterday, which should allow the resources assigned for this operational period to build and strengthen the control lines that were put in place yesterday,” he said.

Post Fire map

USAtoday reported that firefighters battled wildfires across northern and central California overnight. The Post Fire is south of Gorman, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles; it started Saturday around 2 p.m. and, pushed by strong wind gusts, spread south along Interstate 5. LACoFD said the fire had damaged two commercial properties by Saturday evening. The fire burned an auto repair shop, damaged another building, and threatened other structures to the south and west of I-5, according to the LA Times.

Evacuation orders are in effect west of I-5 between Pyramid Lake and Gorman, and warnings are in place for areas south of Pyramid Lake between Old Ridge Route and the Los Angeles County line. The National Weather Service warned Sunday of wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph and a red flag warning was issued for the I-5 corridor in Los Angeles County and the Ventura County mountains until 5 p.m. Monday.

Apple Valley, California is serious about fireworks

About 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles in southern California, the Apple Valley Fire Protection District is educating residents about illegal fireworks, fire danger, and the need for defensible space around structures.
Apple Valley, California
Apple Valley, California

Fire Chief Buddy Peratt said the fuel load of dry vegetation this year increases the risk  of wildland fires, particularly those started by fireworks.

In Apple Valley all fireworks are illegal

“It’s important that people understand that all fireworks, including those classified as ‘safe and sane,’ are illegal in Apple Valley,” Fire Inspector Jennifer Alexy told the Victorville Daily Press.

Apple Valley Fire

She said information about illegal fireworks is important for all residents, especially those who’ve recently moved to Apple Valley. “Sometimes people move here from down the hill or other areas, and they don’t realize that fireworks are illegal,” Alexy said. “They start using fireworks, unaware of the potential danger.”

How citations are issued:  The Apple Valley Fire Protection District uses a “contactless citation process” in which citations are delivered by district personnel directly to the offender in person or by mail. An administrative  citation is $1,000. If a fire official has proof of a renter’s possession or use of fireworks, the district can also cite the property owner.

“We’ll gather the information and send the owner a citation via certified mail,” said Alexy. “We’ll make sure owners are responsible for their tenants.”

Apple Valley fireworks reporting

QR code to report fireworks:  Apple Valley Fire uses a QR code to report the possession, sale, or use of fireworks in town. “If someone calls our office to report fireworks during the weekend,” says Alexy, “we may not get the message until Monday morning. The QR code allows us to get the information right away.”

Every year using fireworks causes numerous injuries, some severe, requiring emergency medical attention. Burns, eye injuries, and other medical traumas are common and often have long-lasting or permanent results.

Fireworks are literally explosively loud, panicking pets and many veterans, and can mean trauma for people with with sensory issues. The debris and chemicals left over from fireworks can harm the environment, pollute the air, and leave behind hazardous waste.

Mt. Rushmore photo © Bill Gabbert

Back in 2000 at least 10 fires were started on and around Mt. Rushmore during fireworks displays. Perchlorate, which is now in the water at the national park after numerous fireworks shows held there, has been linked to fetal and infant brain damage — 11 fireworks shows between 1998 and 2009 contaminated the water at the memorial. The fireworks explosions left perchlorate on the ground, and it worked its way into the water table. In 2016 a  USGS report showed that a maximum perchlorate concentration of 54 micrograms per liter was measured in stream samples at Mt. Rushmore between 2011 and 2015 — about 270 times higher than in samples collected from sites outside the memorial.

Wildfires: During those 11 shows at least 20 documented wildfires were ignited by fireworks in the middle of the wildfire season.

Garbage: The trash dropped by the exploding shells onto the National Monument and the forest can never be completely picked up. Left on the ground are unexploded shells, wadding, plastic, ash, pieces of the devices, and paper —  that can never be totally removed from the very steep, rocky, rugged terrain.

NOTE: Bill Gabbert, who founded this website and ran it for many years, was the fire management officer at the  Mt. Rushmore site during some of that time. 

BURN BOSS: Charge dismissed

The criminal case against Ricky Snodgrass resulting from a prescribed fire on the Malheur National Forest has ended, according to. a report by OPB, after the court dismissed the charge brought by the Grant County, Oregon District Attorney Jim Carpenter.

Todd McKinley

County Sheriff Todd McKinley arrested Snodgrass, the burn boss on the Starr 6 fire, in the midst of a dispute with adjacent landowners.

A Grant County grand jury back in February indicted Snodgrass, 41, on a misdemeanor charge of reckless burning. In part because Snodgrass and many of the firefighters he was supervising, on a federal agency operation on federal land, were federal employees, the case was moved from the rural Oregon town of John Day to federal court in Pendleton. Defense lawyers asked a judge to dismiss it and Carpenter did not oppose the motion. The judge in the case dismissed it this week.

Mr. Snodgrass was charged because the State — or more precisely, the local sheriff — took issue with the Forest Service’s decision to conduct the prescribed fire,” defense attorneys wrote last month in court documents. “But the State cannot charge Mr. Snodgrass with a crime simply because it disagrees with the Forest Service’s decision.”

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution means that Snodgrass was  immune from prosecution.

Supremacy Clause

OPB reported that in February of 2024 front of the grand jury, McKinley testified that the arrest got “huge national exposure.”

“I don’t know if you guys want to know how many hundreds of phone calls I got over this,” McKinley testified. “Either I was a pariah, the enemy, or they’re trying to make me a hero out of it.”

👮🏼‍♂️   Seriously, McKinley, no one thinks you are a hero.


Statement issued by Grant County Sheriff Todd McKinley)

Regarding the recent dismissal in Federal Court of the arrest of the Burn Boss at the Starr 6 uncontrolled burn in Grant County Oregon on October 19th 2022, I have the following to say: 

The United States Federal Government chose to use the “Supremacy Clause” as their basis for the request of dismissal. 

My interpretation of the use of this clause is such, that the State Law was sufficient for the charges, and the only way to circumvent this was to appeal to the Federal Court. 

I am saddened that our own Government, which was established, “of the People, by the People, for the People”, would to not “do the right thing” and make the damaged party whole, for fear of assuming responsibility for their actions. 

The hope out of all of this, is in the future, that more care will be taken, guidelines followed, and the United States Forest Service will heed their own motto: “Caring for the Land and Serving People”. 

Todd McKinley 
Sheriff 

New fire station in Blue River, Oregon

The little community of Blue River, upstream in the McKenzie River valley from Eugene, Oregon, has a brand-new fire station up and running —  almost four years after the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020 burned their station to the ground.

Station 2 in Blue River is part of the Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Protection District, featured in another of a series of stellar reports on KEZI by Noah Chavez. Christiana Rainbow Plews, the well-known and well-loved fire chief called “Chief Rainbow” by the locals, worked with the district both before and after the Holiday Farm Fire. She decided to retire as the chief, but only after the new fire station was fully operational.

Chief Rainbow on NBC News
Chief Rainbow on NBC News

She says the new station compared with the old one is just the difference between night and day. “It’s bigger and the building we had prior to the fire was really just a garage to house the trucks and equipment. It was not like a fire station,” she said. “It was really just a storage building, and the fact that we were able to build something as beautiful as this building with a day room and a kitchen and a chief’s office is just super exciting.”

 

Station 2
The new Station 2 is designed to be both fire-resistant and earthquake-resistant, unlike the old building that didn’t survive the fire. Mike Godfrey, board chair for the Upper McKenzie RFPD, said the building is extremely fire-resistant. “This thing is going to be here until after the apocalypse.”

Taylor Wickizer is one of the newest volunteers at Station 2. Born in Blue River, she and her family moved to Iowa, but Taylor returned after the Holiday Farm Fire. She said everyone in her family felt like they needed to come back to help the community and she has since become devoted to being a firefighter for the district — because of what the community has been through together, they are more than just neighbors.

“Up here it is not even like a community, it is like a family — I mean everybody is here for the people and especially the fire and emergency services,” she said.

The little community of Blue River, upstream in the McKenzie River valley from Eugene, Oregon, has a brand-new fire station up and running —  almost four years after the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020 burned their station to the ground.

Station 2 in Blue River is part of the Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Protection District, featured in another of a series of stellar reports on KEZI by Noah Chavez.

Arsonist sentenced to 5+ years in prison

A former criminal justice professor who set at least seven fires during a record-breaking 2021 fire season — including one fire near the Dixie Fire —  was sentenced last week to five years and three months in prison. Gary Stephen Maynard, 49, pleaded guilty to three counts of arson on federal land back in February, and in his sentencing memo prosecutors wrote that his actions were “wanton and deliberate” and he’d set fires intended to harm people.

Arsonist professor Gary Maynard
Arsonist professor Gary Maynard

The Dixie Fire burned through five counties over 963,300 acres, destroying 1,311 structures and killing one person, according to Cal Fire.

Also, Marcus Pacheco, an assistant fire engine operator for the Lassen National Forest, died of Covid while working the fire, as did two water tender operators, Jose T. Calderon and Cessar Saenz, both of San Diego County.

In a report by the Redding Record Searchlight, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said, “It is only because of the quick response by the U.S. Forest Service — and the actions of civilian witnesses — that those fires were extinguished as quickly as they were.” He said Maynard’s sentence underscores the danger that his fires created. “It serves as a reminder that federal law enforcement takes seriously the threats to life, property, and our national forests caused by arson.”

Dixie Fire at Greenville, California -- photo ©2021 Jay Walter.
Dixie Fire at Greenville, California — photo ©2021 Jay Walter.

Judge Daniel J. Calabretta of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California sentenced Maynard to 63 months in prison. After his term he’ll  be on supervised release for three years; prosecutors said he was also ordered to pay $13,000 in restitution.

“He intentionally made a dangerous situation more perilous by setting some of his fires behind the men and women fighting the Dixie Fire,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert, “potentially cutting off any chance of escape.”

The Record Searchlight has a dandy photo gallery by Ace Photographer Mike Chapman of the 2021 Dixie Fire online.

Arsonist professor Gary Maynard