Burn boss indicted by grand jury

The Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day, Oregon reports that Grant County Sheriff Todd McKinley, arrested Ricky Snodgrass, a USFS employee and prescribed fire burn boss, on October 19, 2022, for reckless burning — while the fire he was supervising was still burning. It is the first time a Forest Service firefighter was arrested in the course of doing his job.

On the day of the burn, weather recorded at the EW3547 Seneca weather station at 2 p.m. was 73°F with 16 percent RH and mostly calm winds that occasionally gusted to 3 mph.

The planned burn, conducted by crews with the USFS and ODF and contract crews, escaped the prescription area, spotting across a road onto private property. Several acres on the adjacent ranch burned before the spot was contained. A conflict erupted with neighbors and Snodgrass called 9-1-1 to report aggressive behavior toward his crews. The sheriff arrived, met with Snodgrass, and then arrested him and drove him to the jail in handcuffs.

Firefighters who remained on the job brought the private land slopover under control in about an hour; they also maintained control of the prescribed burn on national forest land.

Grant County Sheriff Todd McKinley
Grant County Sheriff Todd McKinley

Snodgrass was driven to the county jail, where he was officially booked and then quickly released.

The Starr 6 Burn very quickly hit the news and ignited controversy — far beyond Oregon and the wildland fire community.

The story was picked up by news organizations  including the Washington Post, The GuardianNBC NewsABC NewsReuters, and others. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore quickly vowed he would “not stand idly by” after this first-ever arrest, and that he and others would defend USFS employees. The head of the NFFE union said the sheriff interfered with a federal employee in the course of his duties.

Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter
Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter

Sheriff McKinley eventually completed his investigation and presented the case to the office of Grant County D.A. Jim Carpenter for review, and on February 2, 2024, the case was finally presented to a grand jury, which returned an indictment against Ricky Snodgrass for Reckless Burning, ORS 164.335, a class A misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a  $6,250 fine.

In the State of Oregon, a person commits the crime of reckless burning if the person recklessly damages property of another by fire or explosion. Not long after Snodgrass’ arrest, Carpenter laid out what he said was the legal standard for determining whether a burn is reckless. “The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation,” he said.

Arraignment is scheduled for March 4, 2024 at 1:00 p.m.

“It is anticipated that this case will proceed through the court system like any other class A misdemeanor,” said Carpenter. “While this case remains pending, the State will have no other comment on the matter.”

For more information you can email the District Attorney’s Office in John Day at gcdastaff@grantcounty-or.gov or call (541)575-0146.  Carpenter’s press release and the Ricky Snodgrass indictment are both posted on our DOCUMENTS page.

~ Thanks and a tip of the hardhat to Geoff.


 

Ricky Snodgrass indictment
Ricky Snodgrass indictment

 

Tony Chiotti, ace reporter with the Blue Mountain Eagle in
John Day, Oregon, wrote an in-depth report after the Snodgrass
arrest, re-published on 10/26/22 by WildfireToday.

University professor admits setting fires behind Dixie Fire firefighters

A former university professor who taught criminal justice (you can’t make this stuff up) has pleaded guilty to setting fires behind firefighters on the 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California, which was at the time the second-largest fire in state history.

arsonist "Professor" Gary Maynard
Arsonist Professor Gary Maynard

Gary Maynard, 49, of San Jose was in federal court this week on three counts of arson on federal property, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento. The fires that Maynard started effectively surrounded the firefighters, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The Mercury News reported that 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.

Maynard faces up to 20 years in a prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the three counts of arson on federal property, the U.S. Justice Department said in a press release following his plea on Thursday; sentencing is set for May.  He was charged with setting four fires — Cascade, Everitt, Ranch, and Conard — and under the plea agreement he admitted to three of the four counts.

The Dixie Fire itself was ignited when Pacific Gas & Electric powerlines came in contact with a nearby pine tree, according to Cal Fire. PG&E paid $45 million to settle the lawsuit.

At Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, Maynard lectured in criminal justice, cults and — seriously — deviant behavior.

Gary Maynard, arsonist

USFS agents started their investigation of him and his activities back in July of 2021 after the Cascade Fire was reported on the slopes of Mt. Shasta; an investigator found Maynard underneath his black Kia Soul, which was stuck in a ditch with its undercarriage high-centered. A second fire took off on Mt. Shasta the next day, and investigators found tire tracks similar to those of the Kia. They set a tracking device under Maynard’s Kia in August, which recorded his travel  to the area where the Ranch and Conard fires started on the Lassen National Forest.

As part of his plea, Maynard also agreed Thursday to pay up to $500,000 in restitution to the federal government.

~ Thanks and a tip of the hardhat to Jim. 

Fuel, fire and smoke: Evolving to meet our climate challenge

IAWF conferenceWildfires have become an increasing challenge to humanity, the ecosystem, and the atmosphere we depend on. Responding to larger and more destructive wildfires and protecting against their climate impacts is challenging; understanding fire behavior and our responses is critical.

The 7th International Fire Behaviour and Fuels Conference is a forum in which fire management experience is documented, current work is showcased, and emerging research is shared as we together develop solutions to these challenges.

This conference on three continents brings together countries in three areas of the world to develop fire policies at national, regional– to learn from others how they address fire risks and build resilience. The conference unites policymakers, scientists, managers, and indigenous land stewards for a shared purpose in  living with fire.


The 7th International Fire Behaviour and Fuels Conference hosts events on three continents, highlighting a range of experience from different countries to develop fire management policies in facing risk and building resilience.

The conference will bring together policymakers, scientists, fire managers, and Indigenous land stewards, and more for a shared purpose of creating a future where we can live with fire. Join us for an authentic conversation on managing fires and creating a sustainable future.

Presenters and speakers this year include Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, Dr. Dean Yibarbuk, Dr. Lachlan McCaw, Prof. Nerilie Abram, Prof. Sarah Legge, Dr. Dan Pronk, Katie Lighthall, Dr. Mark Finney, Dr. Mark Parrington, Dr. Joseph Wilkins, Edward Alexander,and Dr. Conceicao Colaco. All conference registrants at any of the three locations will receive access to recordings of each presentation.

Workshops: Our interactive workshops are educational and feature a range of topics to choose from. You can learn new skills and connect with experts in their fields.

Field Tours: Each location has scheduled a collection of field trip opportunities. Field tours provide hands-on learning options  from exploring nature to sharing history and culture. Select your trip when you register.

Exhibitors: Our exhibition hosts a range of displays and demos. You will learn more about the latest products and services in fire science and management. We look forward to seeing you there!

BOISE conferenceTRALEE conferenceCANBERRA conference


The International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) professional association committed to a non-partisan approach for uniting the global wildland fire community. We were formed in 1990 as a global professional membership association. For 30 years IAWF has grown from a fledgling organization to a global member-focused association spanning 26+ countries. The IAWF was formed to promote a better understanding of wildland fire and built on the belief that an understanding of this dynamic natural force is vital for natural resource management, protecting the health, safety, and welfare of people including firefighters and the public, and for harmonious interactions between people and their environment. IAWF is dedicated to communicating with the entire wildland fire community and providing a global linkage for people with shared interest in wildland fire and all of the associated topics of this multifaceted community. To accomplish these goals, we convene and create networks across sectors, fields, and disciplines to connect the wildfire community through multiple platforms, through which we communicate — including conferences, our website, the premier academic journal in our field (International Journal of Wildland Fire), a popular-oriented magazine (Wildfire) and via social media outlets.

Oregon IMTs and firefighters out for ice storm recovery

Western Oregon’s recent ice storm cleanup, after one of the worst winter storms in history, is now in the mop-up stage, and firefighters with the Oregon Department of Forestry have teamed up with the City of Springfield to help. For most of a week now, they’ve worked in the Thurston area of Springfield east of Eugene, clearing downed trees and sidewalks. A team of 14 started by clearing students’ paths to area schools.

“We noticed that right after the ice storm, they were using the streets to walk because they weren’t able to access the sidewalk,” ODF forester Kolten Vickers told Albert James with KEZI News in Eugene . “So we started around schools, and now we’re branching off into other parts of neighborhoods.”

Vickers has been with ODF for five years, but this is his first time cleaning up after a winter storm. “Primarily I assist with fires during the summers,” he said. “But with ODF having incident management teams — it’s all incidents. So storm recovery falls under that response.”

Local resident Patty Gori regularly walks the neighborhood with her dogs and was grateful to see the clearing work. “It was a mess,” she said. “But now, it’s amazing. They got so much cleaned up in the last couple of days, I just can’t even believe it.”

Who ya gonna call? Firefighters. Besides clearing streets and chainsaw duty, ODF sent an IMT to coordinate a unified response to the storm.

“You don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes,” said Joe Hessel, from a longtime firefighting family in eastern Oregon.  “You see firefighters digging a fireline or public works crews working on city streets. At some point, somebody’s trying to organize that chaotic potential into something that makes sense. That’s what we’re here helping the city do.” Hessel serves as a deputy incident commander for this post-storm incident, but he’s usually an incident commander with a state team. He said the storm response effort was started and led by Lane County and the City of Springfield, but on January 25 they transferred command over to the city, with the IMT from ODF still assisting.

“In large part, the city staff and departments are doing the work, just like when we were with Lane County,” Hessel said. “We’re helping at the highest level to coordinate and put a plan together to ensure that the right work is getting done at the right place at the right time.”

“We do train for incidents outside of wildfire,” he explained. “The ICS system we use on wildfires carries right across to pretty much any other incident. We’ve been to Florida and helped the State of Florida in hurricane response. We’re prepared in the event that there’s an earthquake or a tsunami here. Last year one of our teams, a short team like we have here, went to a county and helped out with a cyber attack and planning for how to manage and deal with that.”

“ODF is great, they do this type of work for a living in fire management, so they have a lot of experience in incident management,” said Ben Gibson, operations maintenance manager with the City of Springfield. “They’ve been a great resource to our emergency operations center staff in helping us move forward smoothly.”

ODF truck
Oregon Department of Forestry logo on a truck door.

Hessel said both his team and the local crews have learned a lot from each other, and he hopes the information shared between the groups can go a long way in responding to future events. “That transference of skills and knowledge to each other will benefit pretty much either entity,” he said. “And then we’ll actually develop some products we’ll leave behind — some written documents, like a debris removal plan that could be used next time, or a contact list with names on it.”

Eugene and Springfield and the surrounding area endured a record-breaking winter storm with snow and ice and rain and high winds. The storm caused widespread power outages and severely damaged at least 60 percent of the trees at the Mt. Pisgah Arboretum. The storm took out powerlines at the arboretum and necessitated a safety closure, according the a report by Oregon Public Broadcasting. Brad Van Appel, longtime director at Mt. Pisgah, said there was about an inch of ice on the trees and it was more than most of them could take.

“We have 209 acres, much of it full of trees,” he said. “I think nearly every tree took some damage.” For those wanting to help, the arboretum and its sister organization Friends of Buford Park are looking for volunteers, and they can sign up online.

Also of note, ODF is looking for a Wildland Fire Supervisor to manage the fire program down in Klamath Falls. This is a permanent benefited position. $4,918 – $7,244 monthly depending on experience. Recruitment closes January 31. 

Details: WILDLAND FIRE SUPERVISOR APPLICATION

Yet another utility lawsuit over 2020 fires

A group of four law firms in Oregon and California has sued the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), Lane Electric, and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) for their roles in the  Holiday Farm Fire east of Eugene, Oregon — part of the Labor Day fire siege of 2020.

September 2020 Oregon fires

In the approximately 200-page lawsuit, attorneys claim the three utility companies neglected to prepare electrical operations and equipment before the fire burned across 173,400 acres and destroyed more than 700 structures. The Holiday Farm Fire burned on the Willamette National Forest, BLM lands, and private property within Oregon Department of Forestry protection units. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 238 victims who lost homes and property in the fire; the suit asks for $232 million.

As of September 10, 2020, the Holiday Farm Fire — named for a local tourist attraction called the Holiday Farm that included a wedding venue, RV resort, and year-round holiday Christmas gift shop — had burned over 144,600 acres about 14 miles up the McKenzie River from Eugene. Fire behavior and weather conditions were treacherous and kept firefighters from entering many areas, but they did protect some homes by burning out around them.

Jennifer Singh of KEZI in Eugene reported that the case was originally filed with Lane County Circuit Court against Lane Electric and EWEB — for neglecting to safeguard space around their powerlines from unstable trees and other hazards, but new records have revealed evidence that BPA also played a role in the disaster.

The lawsuit should come as no surprise to anyone — except maybe BPA — because local residents and fire officials were discussing the likelihood that the Holiday Farm Fire was ignited by powerlines while it was still in the initial attack phase.

Holiday Farm Fire
Holiday Farm Fire — Oregon Daily Emerald photo

“It wasn’t until the end of last year that we discovered new evidence that pointed to Bonneville Power Administration sparking a second fire,” said Alex Robertson, one of the four attorneys for the plaintiffs. He said that second fire merged with the Holiday Farm Fire. BPA provided power to EWEB and Lane Electric, and failed to power down its lines in a public safety shutoff. On Labor Day a danger tree fell onto a BPA line on Highway 126 and ignited another fire about 4 miles away.

This is the evidence that caused the law firms to bring BPA on as a co-defendant for the suit filed as a federal case — BPA is a federal agency, so unlike previous cases in county circuit court, this suit will be heard in federal court. The earlier case filed against Lane Electric and EWEB was dismissed to combine with the suit against the BPA.

[MORE DETAILS HERE]

Robertson said that on the same day the new lawsuit was filed, January 16, another suit was filed by 60 insurance companies seeking reimbursement of claims already paid to homeowners.

The Forest Service and Inciweb have wiped most of the records of the fire from their websites, but a BAER summary [PDF] of the Holiday Farm Fire is still available online.