1959 Decker Fire memories

We got a note today from Anna Dailey about the 1959 Decker Fire, which Bill Gabbert wrote about back in 2013. Three of the six firefighters killed on the Decker were El Cariso Hotshots — Bill Gabbert’s old crew.

Boyd Edwards, El Cariso Hotshots
Boyd “Mike” Edwards, El Cariso Hotshots

“I just read the report on the Decker Fire of 1959. My 2nd cousin Boyd M. Edwards was killed on that fire. Although Boyd, or Mike as the family called him, was killed about 2½ years before I was born, I grew up knowing how his death devastated our family. Not much was shared with me regarding his death, all I knew was that he died the summer after high school graduation fighting a fire. Now I know many of the details and I was in tears reading it. RIP to everyone who lost their lives that day and the days that followed.”

Anna attached a picture of Boyd, who was buried in Huntington Beach, California. She said she never knew until reading Gabbert’s report this week that her cousin lasted 8 days in the hospital before he succumbed to his injuries.

(NOTE in Gabbert’s 2013 news post that there used to be a report about the Decker Fire on wildfirelessons.net and it’s no longer there. The 1959 report is HERE.)

Bill Gabbert wrote in 2016:
The official report did a pretty good job of explaining the important facts of August 8, 1959. But more than half a century later, a former firefighter who served on the El Cariso Hotshots from 1963 through 1966 conducted extensive research on what happened that day in 1959 and assembled many details that were not included in the U.S. Forest Service report. Julian Lee, Professor of Biology, Emeritus at the University of Miami (now living in New Mexico), made available to us his 27-page description of the Decker Fire. It is very well written and comprehensive, laying out the details of what occurred during and after the fire, as well as providing some analysis.”

Map from Julian Lee’s report on the fatal Decker Fire:

Map from Julian Lee’s report on the fatal Decker Fire.


The Decker fire, 51 years ago today


Decker fire, 50 years ago today

Arraignment hearing for burn boss Ricky Snodgrass

THANK YOU to Bennett Hall, editor of the Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day, Oregon, who told us, “You can actually see a video of the hearing on our Facebook page. We asked the judge for permission to shoot video, and he surprised us by agreeing.”


In addition to modifying Ricky’s terms of release — which will allow him to be on the ranch property in case of a fire emergency and also travel out of state for employment purposes — a plea hearing was set for 01. April.

Burn boss in court today

From: Buchanan, Jacqueline – FS, CO
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2024 8:40 AM
To: Region 6 FS employees
Subject: Malheur Situation Update 2/15/2024

Good Morning R6 Team,
Like so many of you, thoughts around the upcoming arraignment and what it means for Rick and his family have been at the forefront of my thoughts. I know this can be an anxious time, but I am hopeful that this case will ultimately be handled fairly by the courts and will not single out a federal employee for carrying out their official duties.

Based on a request from Rick’s lawyers, the arraignment date has been changed from March 4th to tomorrow, February 16th. The proceeding will be held virtually. We have not been made aware of opportunities for agency representatives or those wanting to show up in support of Rick to attend.

Rick’s attorney, provided through the Department of Justice, and Regional and Washington Office leadership will be with him every step of the way during the arraignment and in navigating whatever follows. Although we do not yet know what the outcome will be, our support will not waiver no matter how long the road to resolution may be.

Anyone wanting to express their support for Rick is welcome to send cards and tokens of solidarity to:
Attn: Rick Snodgrass
Prairie City Ranger District
327 SW Front St
Prairie City, OR 97869

We will continue to provide updates as events unfold. Thank you for all that you do and for your unparalleled dedication to each other in carrying out the agency’s mission.

Jacqueline A. Buchanan
Regional Forester
Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region
1220 SW 3rd Avenue
Portland, OR 97204

El Dorado Fire couple finally sentenced

The couple who ignited the huge 2020 El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County, California by exploding a pyrotechnic device during a “gender-reveal party” was sentenced Friday after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

Charlie Morton, Big Bear Hotshots
Charlie Morton, Big Bear Hotshots

The couple accidentally started the 22,000-acre fire on a scorching hot day in a park in southern California with a device that was supposed to blow either blue or pink smoke. The fire killed USFS firefighter Charlie Morton, a squad boss with the Big Bear Hotshots, injured two other firefighters and 13 civilians, destroyed five homes, and forced hundreds of people to evacuate ahead of the fire.

The San Bernardino County district attorney’s office said Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. was sentenced to a year in county jail and two years of felony probation, plus community service — after he pleaded guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter (in Morton’s death) plus two felony counts of recklessly causing fire to an inhabited structure.

USA Today reported that besides jail time, Jimenez will owe 200 hours of community service and will also serve two years of felony probation.

“Resolving the case was never going to be a win,” San Bernardino County district attorney Jason Anderson said. “The Defendants’ reckless conduct had tremendous impact on land, properties, emergency response resources, and the displacement of entire communities — and resulted in the tragic death of Forest Service Wildland Firefighter Charles Morton.”

Angelina Jimenez pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing a fire to another’s property; she was sentenced to a year’s probation and community service. The Jimenezes were ordered to pay victim  restitution of $1,789,972.

Charlie Morton hired on with the San Bernardino National Forest in 2007 and worked on both the Front Country and Mountaintop Ranger Districts, for the Mill Creek Interagency Hotshots, Engine 31, Engine 19, and the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots. “Charlie is survived by his wife and daughter, his parents, two brothers, cousins, and friends,” wrote his family at that time. “He’s loved and will be missed. May he rest easy in heaven.”

A note from the Chief’s Office at the time said, “The loss of an employee in the line of duty is one of the hardest things we face in our Forest Service family. Our hearts go out to Charlie’s coworkers, friends and loved ones. Charlie was a well-respected firefighter and leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times.”

RIP Charlie and all his brothers.

The couple who ignited the huge 2020 El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County, California by exploding a pyrotechnic device during a “gender-reveal party” was sentenced Friday after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

Charlie Morton, Big Bear Hotshots
The couple accidentally started the 22,000-acre fire on a scorching hot day in a park in southern California with a device that was supposed to blow either blue or pink smoke. The fire killed USFS firefighter Charlie Morton, a squad boss with the Big Bear Hotshots,

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.