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. 

Less than 70 percent of Kansas wildfires are reported. Here’s why:

Kansas’ recognition as a top fire state has long been overdue.

The state experiences at least 5,000 wildfires annually, which ranks it among the top five states for number of wildfire incidents in the country among the likes of Texas, Oregon, and Montana. Kansas is also a top prescribed burning state in acreage, with well over one million acres burned yearly, according to the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils.

Despite this, Kansas is far from the first state many think of when wildfires are mentioned. A large reason for this, according to Kansas Forest Service Interim Fire Management Officer Eric Ward, is that wildfires have been chronically underreported throughout the state.

“The lack of reporting has been identified for years as a problem,” Ward said. “The problem is that, unlike many states, wildfires are nearly 100 percent a local responsibility.”

Kansas fire

The Kansas Governor’s Wildfire Task Force final report of 2023 estimated  that around 30 percent of the state’s wildfires go unreported annually. Ward attributed the underreporting to two aspects of the state: the lack of federally-owned land and the state’s designation as a “Home Rule” state.

In the nation, Kansas has the third-least amount of federally owned land compared with  privately owned land, according to a 2020 Congressional Research Service report. Only 253,919 acres of Kansas’ total 52,510,720 acreage, or 0.5 percent, is federally owned. The only other states with such a low federal land ownership are Connecticut and Iowa, both at 0.3 percent.

Additionally, Kansas has been a Home Rule state since 1961 by constitutional amendment, meaning that local jurisdictions, to an extent, have greater autonomy — and state interference in local affairs is limited. Kansas is also a “Dillon’s Rule” state, meaning that local governments only have powers that are explicitly assigned to them.

Kansas fire

Because of this combination, the duty of reporting usually falls to local jurisdictions, some of which fail to file the proper paperwork.

“[Kansas Forest Service] supports local fire departments as requested on major incidents, but as a home rule state, the local jurisdiction is still in charge, and responsible for reporting,” Ward said.

“With the vast majority of departments being small volunteer departments, some simply ignore the state law that requires reporting. And no one at any level of government wants to prosecute a local volunteer fire chief for not doing paperwork. So, many simply never get reported.”

Research suggests Kansas and other wildfire-prone states are projected to have 30 more days per year of extreme wildfire risk in the near future. To meet the current and future wildfire challenges, the state appointed a new State Fire Marshal last November and released a new wildfire risk tool last October. However, until wildfires are accurately reported in the state, Kansas won’t be getting the recognition of a top wildfire state that it deserves.

Kansas’ recognition as a top fire state has long been overdue.

The state experiences at least 5,000 wildfires annually, which ranks it among the top five states for number of wildfire incidents in the country among the likes of Texas, Oregon, and Montana. Kansas is also a top prescribed burning state in acreage, with well over one million acres burned yearly, according to the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils.

Colorado hit by increasingly dire wildfire-driven insurance exit

Insurance isn’t the sexiest topic to either write or read about, but an extreme weather-driven downtrend of insurance agency availability is tightening the noose on an already suffocating national housing market.

The U.S. had its highest number — 28 — of annual billion-dollar weather disasters in 2023,  including the Lahaina wildfire, California flooding, and Tropical Cyclone Idalia in Florida, according to a NOAA report. Homeowner insurance agencies’ response to the continually rising costs has either been to drastically increase their insurance rates or to back out from certain areas entirely.

The dire situation first made national headlines last year when numerous agencies, including State Farm, Allstate and Farmers, either paused or placed heavy restrictions on policyholders in wildfire-prone areas in California. Seven of the state’s top 12 insurance agencies have put the restrictions into effect as of November, ABC News reported.

Colorado appears to be the next state to face extremely tight, or nonexistent, homeowner insurance policies caused by increasing wildfire threats. The Durango Herald recently reported the average homeowner insurance premium in the state increased 51.7 percent between January 2019 and October 2022. Meanwhile, some new homeowners in the state are having trouble getting policies at all.

“A State Farm insurance agent in Durango wrote a couple a quote for homeowners insurance. But six days before closing, the State Farm office called to inform the Bowmans that it could not write them a policy,” said the Herald’s story on a couple who recently moved to Durango. “Geico, Travelers, other State Farm agents – all of them turned him down.”

Local insurance businesses in Durango reportedly have “plummeted” by 20 to 30 percent since insurers changed their policies sometime last September. Agents in Colorado expect the insurance issues to keep piling up in the years to come. A Climate Change in Colorado Assessment report for 2024 found climate change and increased atmospheric warming will lessen streamflows and make the state drier, leading to more and worse wildfires.

“Studies have uniformly indicated substantially worsened wildfire risk for Colorado by the mid-21st century compared with the late 20th-century, as additional warming further increases fuel dryness and enhances fire ignition and spread,” the report from the Colorado Climate Center said.

Climate change info -- by Colorado State University
Climate change info — by Colorado State University

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.