The Onion satirizes Calilfornia wildfires

The Onion, a satirical magazine, has created a video that pokes good-natured fun at the annual tradition of shock and awe displayed by California residents, politicians, and newscasters when the brush fires burn thousands of acres.

We will go on the record as being sympathetic to the plights of the hundreds of residents who lost their homes, and, of course, the injuries and deaths of the firefighters are indeed tragic. But we can still see the humor in this video:

(video no longer available)

Wildfire legal news roundup

It’s odd how sometimes there is a flurry of similar news stories about wildfire. Here are four stories about decisions that were made today about fire causes and financial responsibility.

1. Two men, $300,000

Two men have been told that they have to pay $300,000 for costs related to the 2003 Alta Fire in the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest in Colorado. The fire allegedly started when John D. Wesson and Matthew D. Allen exchanged a lit cigarette, which ignited…

“aspen cotton fluff floating in the air and started the fire,”

according to U.S. Forest Service investigators.

Jeff Dorschner of the U.S. Attorney’s office said the settlement was reached…

“because we got as much as we could possibly get out of the defendants.”

The money, paid by Wesson’s and Allen’s State Farm homeowner’s insurance policy, was delivered to the U.S. Attorney’s office on Tuesday.

I have investigated the cause and origin of many fires, but this is a new one to me. And that must have been a very special “cigarette” the two men were exchanging.

2. Government not liable for $7 million in damages from Hayman fire

DENVER – A judge says the federal government doesn’t have to pay for damage caused by the Hayman wildfire, the worst in Colorado history.

U.S. Forest Service [Fire Prevention Technician] Terry Barton pleaded guilty to starting the fire in 2002 by burning a letter from her estranged husband. Insurance companies then sued the government to recover the approximately $7 million paid out in claims.

U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel ruled Tuesday that the government is only liable for the actions of its employees if they are performing within the scope of their duties.

Daniel said Barton violated a fire ban by the Forest Service when she burned the letter in a fire ring. He said he didn’t think she intended for the fire to spread beyond the ring.

3. Cause determined for Spokane fire that destroyed 12 homes.

A fire in the Spokane, Washington area last summer destroyed 12 homes, cost $3 million to suppress, and did $50 million in property damage. An investigation recently concluded determined that it was caused by a 16-year old boy’s campfire. The boy had permission from the landowner for the fire which was built in a fire pit that had been used many times before. However, the fire was illegal because burning restrictions were in effect.

The county prosecutor’s office and the attorney general’s office will decide if anyone will be charged with a crime and if they will pursue cost recovery.

4. Bullet fragments caused fire near Fort Collins

Investigators determined that a 90-acre fire currently burning 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado was caused by bullet fragments. The Paradise fire started Monday and is 50% contained.

Another perspective of Engine 5 entrapment, Freeway fire

Wildfire Today previously reported on some of the details of the November 16 entrapment of Corona Fire Department’s Engine 5 on the Freeway Complex in southern California. The engine had a 4-person crew–three men and one woman. The woman, Anita Jackson, is originally from New Zealand and is a firefighter/paramedic for Corona. A New Zealand web site has her story. Here is an excerpt:

Anita’s mother, Barbara Bryan, described what happened in an email to the Hutt News.

Her daughter left Stokes Valley in 1999 to complete her paramedics degree at the University of California. She married and lives in Anaheim. She is a paramedic / fire fighter for the City of Corona (Los Angeles).

On November 16 (in the US, 9.23am on Saturday the 15th) the engine she was on fighting the wildfires was engulfed in flames when hurricane-force winds caused the blaze to change direction.

The engineer was able to climb up on the rig and use the master stream (a huge nozzle capable of releasing 1200 gallons per minute) to spray water around to try to buy them some time. With just 500 gallons in the tank it rapidly ran out, leaving them with no protection.

The heat was so intense that the hoses ignited and the tyres on the engine started to burn and melt. The captain radioed their position and all available helicopters with monsoon buckets and water-carrying aircraft were dispatched to the area.

A specialised bush fire engine was also sent to help.

The one protection hose they had been using was burnt rubber but Anita hadn’t realised it had melted and picked it up to move it. The rubber burnt through her gloves, leaving her with second-degree burns to her hands and no water to take away the heat. It was so hot that she couldn’t remove her glove to stop the burning and had to continue to work beyond the pain.

Even though she was wearing her specialised protective gear, her legs felt like they were on fire as the ground ignited around them. With no water left in the engine, they had to beat back the flames with shovels until help arrived. She said that although it was terrifying, no-one panicked they all stayed focused and in survival mode.

Barbara, husband Tony and Anita’s brother Paul in New Zealand were frantic when the news came through that Anita had been hurt.

But Barbara says Anita’s husband Jack reassured them that all four crew had got out and were being treated in hospital. Anita’s worst injury was burning to her throat, airway and lungs. She is healing well, but Barbara says her daughter has confided that the emotional scar will take a little longer.

“They all stayed totally positive throughout the ordeal but reality hit the following day when they realised just how lucky they were to survive,” she says.

Barbara is particularly proud that despite her own injuries, Anita wanted her crewmates one of whom had eye injuries checked out first.

“In her line of work Anita continually deals with injury and death and always says to her family that we can never be guaranteed of tomorrow,” Barbara says. “Although she is miles away she always remains in close contact with home.”

Anita’s husband told the family in New Zealand that despite the harrowing experience, she is anxious to get back to work as soon as she gets a medical clearance doing the job she loves, which is helping people.

Inaja fire: 52 years ago today

It was 52 years ago today on November 25, 1956, that 11 firefighters died on the Inaja fire east of San Diego near Santa Ysabel, California.

From the Infamous World Fires:

Eleven firefighters – two Forest Service personnel and nine from Viejas Honor Camp – lost their lives fighting this human-caused fire west of Julian, California. Soon after this fire, the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders were developed. This was one of the first fires where sodium calcium borate was used as a fire retardant dropped from an air tanker. It was quickly discovered that this chemical sterilized the soil, and by 1957 it was no longer used. However, the term “borate bomber” lingered on for decades.

The fire was started by a 16-year old boy who “got a crazy idea” to throw a match into some grass to see what would happen.

The plaque on the memorial off highway 79 east of Santa Ysabel says:

“IN HONOR OF THE MEN WHO LOST THEIR LIVES FIGHTING THE INAJA FOREST FIRE ON NOVEMBER 25, 1956. Joseph A. Anderson-Albert W. Daniels-Miles F. Fallin-William D. Garcia-George R. Hamilton-Virgil Hamilton-Carlton R. Maxwell-Forrest O’Hara-Joseph P. Sheperd-Lonnie L. Tibetts-Leroy (Jack) Wehrung.”

The remains of ten of the firefighters were claimed by their families and buried in their hometowns. The body of Virgil Hamilton was never claimed and was headed to a pauper’s grave. But, grateful area ranchers banded together and claimed his body which was interred in Greenwood Cemetery in San Diego with full honors.

HERE is more information about the Inaja fire.

"Firefighter instructor" indicted for forging documents

On November 17 Wildfire Today covered the conviction of a Bitterroot Valley, Montana resident, Jay M. Gasvoda, for making false statements to a federal agency. He is a fire contractor who lied about the results of the physical fitness test (pack test).

Now there is news about David Monington of Miles City, Montana being…

…indicted last week in federal court in Rapid City, SD on two counts of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud.

The indictment alleges he forged about 14 signatures of South Dakota firefighting officials in an attempt to gain certification from the National Wildfire Suppression Association. The documents fraudulently attest to his training and experience as a firefighter.

“A number of the printed names and signatures of certifying officials were misspelled, while others were followed by incorrect listings of the certifying officials’ titles,” the indictment states.

Monington also was arrested in Miles City late last year on theft charges related to his fire business.

Of course he is indicted, and not yet convicted. But he misspelled names and screwed up the titles of people on the documents? Imagine how this turkey would perform as a fire instructor!

I love stories about Stupid Criminals.

Reminds me of the time…(yes…. a war story!)… that I encountered one. I used to work at a park where we used pagers to summon firefighter-trained park rangers to help out with 2nd alarm vegetation fires. One of the rangers had her purse with her pager stolen out of her car. We reported it to the park law enforcement rangers and the police, but nothing happened for about a week.

So I took matters into my own hands. I sent a page with my phone number to the stolen pager. When the Stupid Criminal called a few minutes later I then had their phone number recorded on my caller ID. After I gave the phone number to the law enforcement officers, they went to the residence attached to that phone number and recovered the pager along with some other stolen items.

Case closed. Stupid Criminal went to jail.

source: Argus Leader

Wildfire news, November 24, 2008

Fire in Hawaii is out

The fire on the island of Lanai is now declared out, thanks to 0.65 inches of rain over a 12-hour period. The 1,000 acre fire, previously covered by Wildfire Today, caused 600 people to begin evacuating the island in boats.

What You Need to Know about Filing a Wildfire Insurance Claim

HERE is an article that has some tips about dealing with insurance companies, for homeowners whose homes have burned in a wildfire.

Private fire crews

It is becoming more common to see private firefighting companies provided by insurance companies protecting expensive homes threatened by large wildfires. Wildfire Today covered this phenomenon earlier, but the LA Times has an article about how this worked during the recent fires in southern California.