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.
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 Guardian, NBC News, ABC News, Reuters, 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.