Trial date changed for Ellreese Daniels

30-mile fire memorial
30-mile fire memorial

Ellreese Daniels is facing criminal charges for his involvement in the fatal Thirty-Mile Fire. His trial date has been changed from April 14 to May 5. Here is more information about the trial from the Wenatchee World:

SPOKANE — A federal judge presiding over the case of Ellreese Daniels on Friday put off making a decision on whether the jury should be allowed to visit the site of the Thirtymile Fire north of Winthrop where four firefighters died in 2001.

Daniels is charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter for failing to order his firefighters to a safe area as flames advanced toward him and his crew on July 10, 2001. He is also charged with seven counts of making false statements to investigators.

Daniels’ lawyer wants the jury to see the site because pictures and videos do not provide enough detail for the jury to judge if Daniels was negligent in not getting his crew to a safe spot.

“To deny the jurors the ability to view the scene will significantly impair Mr. Daniels’ right to present the defense of his case,” Daniels’ lawyer wrote in a recent motion.

Prosecutors say the site is so well documented that there’s no need for the jury to see in person the place where 10 firefighters survived the fire in a wide spot on a road, while four died in their fire shelters on a rocky slope above.

The judge did not say when he will decide if the jury should visit the site, said prosecutor Tom Hopkins.

The judge did push back the trial date from April 14 to May 5.
The International Association of Wildland Fire conducted a survey of over 3,300 firefighters about the repercussions of a firefighter facing criminal charges following an accident on a fire. HERE is a summary of their findings.

Fire season outlook for Black Hills

The Rapid City Journal has an article by Steve Miller that pretty well summarizes the wildland fire situation in South Dakota and the Black Hills. Here is an excerpt.

“According to (Joe) Lowe (coordinator of the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division), state fire meteorologist Randall Benson said the data indicate a fire season this year that could approach that of 2000, when more than a quarter-million acres burned in the state. That year included the 83,500-acre Jasper Fire.

This year, Lowe said he will recommend contracting for at least three single engine air tankers, commonly called SEATs.

He said the division this summer will have only one heavy helicopter available from the South Dakota National Guard. That is down from as many as four heavy helicopters from the Guard in past years, Lowe said. “We’ve depended heavily on the National Guard for type 1 helicopters,” he said. “That’s no longer the case because of deployments.”

(Todd) Pechota (fire-management officer for the Black Hills National Forest) said the Black Hills National Forest will have the same amount of resources as it did last year, with one light helicopter, capable of carrying about 150 gallons of water; one heavy helicopter that can carry up to 1,000 gallons; 18 fire engines; three 10-member hand crews; the interagency Tatanka Hot Shot crew; and two bulldozers.
A government report earlier this month said Forest Service air tankers used to fight Western wildfires are potentially vulnerable to accidents. The agency owns 26 aircraft and leases 771 aircraft for firefighting. The Forest Service will require stricter inspections and maintenance on its leased aircraft.

Lowe said he didn’t know if it will become more difficult to get additional air tankers here. But, he said, “Anytime that we lose any of the tools out of the wildland fire toolbox in extreme fire conditions, that puts a strain on things.”

He also said it could become more difficult to hire the SEATs planes in the future. Pilots are finding it more lucrative to go back to crop-spraying operations, Lowe said.

He said his division’s budget has been maintained. The division currently has 17 fire engines, two hand crews and a batch of equipment that includes eight command trailers, a mobile kitchen and a mobile supply cache.

Lowe said the average fire season nationally has grown by 78 days over the past 15 years.

Teenagers arrested for starting fire near Julian, CA

From the San Diego Union:

JULIAN – Two Julian teenagers, accused of starting the 850-acre Angel fire that destroyed one house and a large part of an Episcopal church retreat, will appear in court later this month for a preliminary hearing on felony charges of recklessly starting a fire.

If convicted, Francisco Javier Abarca, 19, and Mario J.W. DeLuca, 18, both of Julian, could also be held liable for the $3 million cost of fighting the September fire, officials say.

The blaze, caused by an illegal campfire, forced the evacuation of hundreds in the mountain town on Sept. 15. Seventeen buildings were destroyed at Camp Stevens, which was purchased in 1952 jointly by the Episcopal Dioceses of Los Angeles and San Diego.

Abarca and DeLuca are charged with a form of arson that does not require prosecutors to prove they intended to burn forest or buildings. If convicted, the teens face a maximum of three years in prison.

The arrests of Abarca and DeLuca in January were not publicized by authorities.


FAA wants to evict Northern Great Plains Dispatch

Northern Great Plains Interagency Dispatch CenterThe Federal Aviation Administration has been saying for a couple of years that they want to evict the Northern Great Plains Interagency Dispatch Center from their facility at the Rapid City Regional Airport in South Dakota. In 2002 the state and federal fire agencies in the greater Black Hills area, including portions of South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming, joined forces to consolidate dispatch services. They received permission to gut and remodel an old unused building at the airport, spending about $1.8 million, mostly from state funds.

It is now used by the interagency fire dispatch center, state highway patrol, and several other state and federal agencies. Interagency fire training classes are held in the large expanded dispatch/training room in the winter. There is a great deal of unused land surrounding the airport. There is no need to force the interagency dispatch center to abandon their recently remodeled facility so another airplane hanger can be placed on the site.

Here is a portion of the story by Dan Daly in the Rapid City Journal:

Work continues on a new hangar in what used to be the parking lot of the old Rapid City Regional Airport terminal. Nearby, the Northern Great Plains Interagency Fire Dispatch Center, inside the old terminal, seems almost surrounded by concrete aircraft aprons.
There’s still room for automobiles in the remaining parking lot, and the dispatch center is still operating in the old terminal.

But how long it can stay? That remains the subject of ongoing talks between the airport board, Rapid City Mayor Alan Hanks, Gov. Mike Rounds’ office and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Hanks said he’s been trying to persuade the FAA to let the dispatch center stay at the airport. The center has been instrumental in getting fire crews and other resources to fires early, preventing them from becoming widespread wildfires, he said.

“In my mind, it’s extremely important that we maintain that dispatch center to provide fire protection, not only for the Rapid City area but for the entire Black Hills,” Hanks said.

Hanks, Rounds and the airport board want the dispatch center to stay, but since 2006 the FAA has been pressing Rapid City Regional Airport to terminate the center’s lease. The center has been renting its space without a lease since last year.

According to the FAA, the center — staffed by the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division and other state and federal fire agencies – doesn’t fit the FAA’s requirement that airports lease space primarily for aeronautical uses.

The state of South Dakota disagrees, said Jason Glodt, a senior policy adviser to Gov. Mike Rounds. He said the requirement is vague, and the dispatch center’s firefighting work does involve aviation uses. He said the state leases single-engine air tankers that are staged at Rapid City Regional Airport during the fire season. The state could end up buying its own tankers in the future.

While pressing that argument, Glodt said, the governor’s office is also asking the FAA for more time. “It’s our understanding we’ll have at least until 2010,” Glodt said.

Redding Smokejumpers Mistaken for Invaders

SmokejumpersShortly after 9/11, the Redding, California Smokejumpers, using a location for the first time for practice jumps, were mistaken for an invading army by a local woman who considered getting a rifle.

From the Redding Record Searchlinght:

“Smokejumpers preparing for the coming fire season could be dropping into the Swasey Drive Recreation Area as early as next week.

The U.S. Forest Service’s Region 5 Smokejumpers, whose base is in Redding, will be using parts of the 1,200-acre area managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for training through the summer, said Bob Bente, the smokejumpers’ training foreman.

The spot west of town will be one of five around the north state used for training.

“It’s a new area,” he said.

Terrain in the recreation area, which is popular among mountain bikers and hikers, is similar to what smokejumpers — firefighters who get to backcountry blazes by parachute — might encounter on calls, said Francis Berg, assistant field manager in the BLM’s Redding office.

“Yet it’s close to town so they can get out there pretty quickly,” he said.

Bente said he wanted to give the public a head’s up that the chutists will be coming down. The parachutes should be visible from Placer Road near Swasey Drive, with the first jumps possibly Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the smokejumpers used a new jump spot south of town, he said. The sight of people parachuting from a plane caused a stir among nearby residents, including one woman who thought it could be an invasion.

“She actually contemplated getting a rifle,” Bente said.”