Man sentenced to 5 years for burglarizing fire department truck during Carr Fire

Brian Martinson
Brian Martinson, Chico Police Department

A man who stole items from inside a Redding Fire Department truck during the Carr Fire at Redding, California received much more than the 1-year sentence plus probation recommenced by the Probation Department. Judge Cara Beatty gave Brian Daniel Martinson five years in county jail, according to the Shasta County District Attorney’s Facebook page.

Mr. Martinson had pleaded guilty to grand theft and committing the crime during a natural disaster.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Redding Searchlight:

Martinson was accused of stealing items belonging to Redding firefighter Erick Mattson that were inside a fire department utility truck while it was parked in front of Mattson’s home.

Mattson was at his Palo Cedro home resting in between fighting the Carr Fire when Martinson broke into the truck.

In August, Martinson was arrested in Chico after being caught shoplifting from a Sportsman’s Warehouse. Officers there found Martinson with a backpack belonging to the firefighter and items from the fire department.

The stolen property included more than $5,000 worth of things that included a laptop and a hard drive containing family photos. Chico police said at the time the hard drive wasn’t located.

Butte County investigators questioned Martinson and he admitted to burglarizing the fire truck, the DA’s office said.

The Carr Fire started July 23, 2018, killed eight people and burned over 229,000 acres and 1,604 structures.

In a different but similar incident, the two men who were arrested on the first day of the Camp Fire for stealing a vehicle and other items from a fire station at Jarbo Gap November 8 have pleaded not guilty to the crimes. Robert DePalma and William Erlbacher, both of Concow, California are scheduled to appear in court December 6 for a preliminary hearing. They remain in custody with bail set at $250,000 each. More information about this incident is at the Chico Enterprise-Record.

The Camp Fire burned more than 153,000 acres at Paradise California, killed approximately 85 people (as of November 25, 2018), and destroyed over 14,000 homes.

911 call from entrapped dozer operator: “Don’t risk anybody’s life for mine”

(Published at 8:30 a.m. PDT October 22, 2018)

During the Carr Fire earlier this year at Redding, California a dozer operator entrapped by the rapidly spreading fire told a 911 operator, “Don’t risk anybody’s life for mine”.

The Redding Searchlight obtained the recording of the July 26 call in which the dozer operator said there were two other dozers with him and, “There’s a CAL FIRE pickup just exploded right in front of me. I think the guy didn’t get out.”

“I don’t know if the two guys behind me are alive,” the man told a dispatcher, possibly referring to the other two dozers working with him.

There were two deaths that day on the Carr Fire, but the 911 caller who identified himself as “Don”, was not one of them. Redding Fire Department Inspector Jeremy Stoke was burned over in his truck on Buenaventura Boulevard, not far from the location of the caller. On the other side of the Sacramento River, the west side, Don Ray Smith was entrapped and killed in another dozer.

The caller said the windows in his dozer had been blown out and he had lowered his curtains, referring to the drop-down curtains made of fire shelter material that can reduce the amount of radiant heat entering the cab.

Below are excerpts from an article at the Redding Searchlight:

“Don’t risk anybody’s life for mine, but as soon as it lays down…” he trails off in a 911 call obtained by the Record Searchlight on Friday in response to a California Public Records Act request. “As soon as it lays down, send somebody for me, please?”

“I’m in a dozer. All the windows got blown out. I got my curtains down,” he starts off telling the dispatcher.

“OK, sir, I need you to get out of there,” she tells him with urgency.

He’s still calm as he tells her the horrifying truth.

“I can’t.”

‘I don’t know how long I can last’

According to a Green Sheet report by CAL FIRE, the conditions that resulted in the entrapment of the three dozers and the Redding Fire Department Fire Inspector that day were due to a fire tornado — a large rotating fire plume that was roughly 1,000 feet in diameter. The winds at the base were 136-165 mph (EF-3 tornado strength), as indicated by wind damage to large oak trees, scouring of the ground surface, damage to roofs of houses, and lofting of large steel power line support towers, vehicles, and a steel marine shipping container. Multiple fire vehicles had their windows blown out and their bodies damaged by flying debris.

The strong winds caused the fire to burn all live vegetation less than 1 inch in diameter. Peak temperatures likely exceeded 2,700 °F.

The conditions described by the 911 caller, including his location and the fact that he was with two other dozers, are consistent with the section of the Green Sheet report describing the entrapment of  three pieces of equipment identified in the document as Dozer 2, Dozer 3 and Dozer 4. Wildfire Today covered this report on August 20. Below is an excerpt from the section about the three dozers:


(From pages 13-14)
At approximately 8:02 p.m., Dozer 2, Dozer 3, and Dozer 4 continued northbound on Buenaventura Boulevard toward Keswick Dam Road. Approximately one-half of a mile from Land Park, all three dozers were violently impacted by flying debris, rocks, embers, smoke, and intense heat. The flying material shattered windows on all three dozers. As hot air entered the cab of Dozer 2, the operator repositioned the dozer and parked next to Dozer 3. When Dozer 3’s windows shattered, airborne glass entered the operator’s eyes. Dozer 3 stopped on Buenaventura Boulevard and deployed his fire curtains.

Carr Fire fatality report
From the CAL FIRE Green Sheet Report.

Dozer 4 became disoriented when impacted by the flying debris. As a result, the dozer hit a civilian vehicle that was stopped along Buenaventura Boulevard. The impact caused the dozer operator to land on the floor of his cab. The dozer continued to travel until it came to rest against a tree. Once stopped, the operator tried to drop the fire curtains. Due to burn injuries on his hands, he was unable to manipulate the straps, and had to cut the straps with a razor knife to deploy the curtains. He successfully dropped three out of the four curtains. The operator then deployed a fire shelter. In order to escape the intense heat, he exited the cab and sought refuge under the dozer, but saw a tree blocking his route. When the dozer operator reentered the cab, he saw emergency vehicle lights on Buenaventura Boulevard. He ran up to the vehicle where PREV1 directed him into the backseat. Once in the pickup truck, the dozer operator noticed there was also a civilian in the vehicle.

Prior to the rescue of the Dozer 4 operator, at approximately 8:01 p.m., PREV1 and SUP1 exited north on Buenaventura Boulevard from Land Park and Stanford Hills. SUP1 was now travelling back out of the subdivision with the evacuated family members.

Both PREV1 and SUP1 drove slowly, due to the heavy smoke conditions. Both vehicles were in close proximity to each other. As they approached the general area where the three dozers were stopped, PREV1 saw a civilian vehicle on fire. SUP1 passed PREV1 as he slowed to a stop. SUP1 continued north approximately 150 feet when both of their pickup trucks were suddenly impacted by flying debris, rocks and embers.

SUP1’s vehicle began to shake violently, and the passenger windows shattered. SUP1 ducked down to avoid being hit by flying debris and he momentarily drove off the road. SUP1 regained control of his vehicle, drove back onto the road, and exited the area to the north.Carr Fire fatality report

As PREV1 slowly approached the burning vehicle, he felt his pickup truck get “pushed” from the west. All the windows in his pickup truck except the windshield shattered. PREV1 took refuge in his vehicle. Approximately 30 seconds later PREV1 observed a male civilian attempting to get in his pickup truck. PREV1 directed the civilian to get in the back seat. Moments later, PREV1 saw a second individual (Dozer 4 operator) running toward him wrapped in a fire shelter. PREV1 directed the dozer operator into the back seat. PREV1 asked if they were injured. The dozer operator indicated that his hands were burned. PREV1 notified Redding ECC that he had a burn victim.

A firefighter analyzes how the Carr Fire burned into Redding, California

When Royal Burnett retired he was Chief of the Shingletown Battalion of the Shasta-Trinity Ranger Unit in Northern California

Above: Screen shot from the video of the fire tornado filmed by the Helicopter Coordinator on the Carr Fire July 26, 2018 near Redding, California. 

When Chief Royal Burnett retired in 1993 his employer’s agency was still called California Department of Forestry (CDF). At that time he was Chief of the Shingletown Battalion of the Shasta-Trinity Ranger Unit in Northern California. Still keeping his hand in the game, Chief Burnett recently spent some time analyzing how the disastrous Carr Fire spread into his town, Redding, California in July of 2018.

“I retained my interest in fire and fuel modeling after retirement”, the Chief said, “and with my fire geek friends I try to keep current.”

Chief Burnett told us that when he left the CDF he was qualified as a Type 2 Incident Commander, Type 1 Operations Section Chief, Type 1 Planning Section Chief, and Fire Behavior Analyst. He has lived Redding, California for 40 years.

The article below that the Chief wrote about his analysis of the Carr Fire is used here with his permission. A version of it has previously appeared at anewscafe.


The Carr Fire burned 229,651 acres and 1,079 residences, about 800 in the county area and the remaining number inside the city limits.

My friends Steve Iverson, Terry Stinson and I spent several days looking at the portion of the Carr Fire burn where it entered the city of Redding. This would be the Urban portion of the Wildland Urban Interface. That part of our town is newer construction, high-end subdivision homes built to California’s “SRA Fire Safe Regulations”. That is, non-flammable roofs, stucco siding, and all the rest of the State’s requirements. How did we lose almost 300 of them in one wildfire?

Royal Burnett
Royal Burnett

Many of these homes were built right on the edge of the Sacramento River canyon on finger ridges to maximize the view, or on the rim of side draws — anything to maximize the view from the property and capture the afternoon up-canyon wind flow. Most had large concrete patios and some had pools. There were no wooden decks extending over the canyon that I saw.

The Canyon is about ½ mile across where most of the houses burned, with the slope estimated at around 100 percent. The aspect where most of the homes burned is west-facing, meaning it catches the afternoon sun and preheats the forest fuels.

The canyon itself was predominantly filled with manzanita 12 to 15 feet high (75 percent) and the remainder was oak woodland, with scattered ceanothus brush and poison oak . The brush field was approximately 75 years old, having sprouted after Shasta Dam was completed in 1945. Available fuel loading ranged from 1 to 3 tons per acre in the oak woodland to 13 tons per acre in the heavy brush. All herbaceous material was cured and live fuel moisture was approximately 80 percent in manzanita — right at the critical level, which means it will burn as if its a dead fuel, not a live one.

map Carr Fire Redding
The east side of the Carr Fire near Redding, California. Mapped August 26, 2017. Click to enlarge.

So, we’ve got a canyon filled with tons and tons of very flammable brush on an extremely steep slope with hundreds of very pricey homes perched on the rim, on a day when the temperature was 112 degrees and relative humidity was around 9 percent. To repeat a phrase from the 1960s, this was a “Design For Disaster”. (That was the title of fire training film describing the events of the Bel Air fire in Los Angeles County in 1961). [below]

We can determine how things burned by looking at burn patterns and other forensic evidence. For those who did this for a living its like reading a book. It was easy to figure out why the houses on the rim burned — they were looking right down the barrel of a blowtorch. Even though they had fire resistant construction, many had loaded their patios with flammable lawn furniture, tiki bars and flammable ornamental plants. Palm trees became flaming pillars, shredded bark became the fuse, junipers became napalm bombs.

Under current standards houses are build 6 to an acre; 10 feet to the property line and only 20 feet between houses. Once one house ignited, radiant heat could easily torch the next one.

We followed burned wood fence trails from lot to lot — wooden fences were nothing more than upright piles of kindling wood — and then into some ornamental shrubbery with an understory of shredded bark which torched and set the next house on fire. Then the fire progressed away from the canyon rim, not a wildland fire now, but a series of house fires, each contributing to the ignition of the next one.

We noted several, perhaps as many as a half dozen homes that burned from the ground up. Fire entered the building at the point where the stucco outer wall joined the slab and fire in the decorative bark was forced into the foam insulation and composition board sheeting under the stucco by the wind. Normally a fire in decorative bark is not a problem, it simply smolders. But in this case, where literally every burning ember was starting a spot fire and those spot fires were fanned by 100 mph in-draft wind, those smoldering fires were fanned into open flames which burned the homes. A simple piece of flashing could have prevented some of that loss.

We built homes to a fire resistant standard and then compromised them.

The fire hit Redding on an approximately two-mile front. It spotted across the Sacramento River in several locations and spread rapidly in the canyon, spawning numerous fire whirls. The updrafts caused the convection column to rotate, generating firestorm winds estimated at 140 mph. I’d guess most of the homes that were lost burned in the first hour after the fire crossed the river. The fire and rescue services were overwhelmed.

Sacramento River Redding
View from the Sacramento River in Redding north of the Sacramento River Trail Bridge. Google Street View. Click to enlarge.

The city of Redding allowed home construction on canyon rims, places that have proven to be fire traps over the years in almost every community where this construction has been allowed. Houses built in those exposed areas are similar to houses built in a flood zone. Its not a question IF they will burn, the question is When?

These subdivisions had limited egress. In one high-priced gated subdivision there is only one way in or out. Redding planners have seemingly ignored the lessons from past disasters like the Tunnel Fire in Oakland Hills in 1991 where 2,900 homes burned and 25 people died.

The city’s green belts have proven to be nothing but time bombs — fuel choked canyons that are a haven for her homeless. How many fire starts have we had in the canyon below Mercy Hospital, or in Sulfur Creek below Raley’s on Lake Boulevard? The homeless problem has exacerbated the fire problem. The fuels are there, the homeless provide the starts.

Even today, new subdivisions are being built overlooking the burned out canyons, looking across the rim at the ruins of homes burned in the Carr Fire.

The Sacramento River canyon will regrow, and it will be more flammable next time and stumps sprouting brush and noxious weeds will germinate in the burned area. The skeletons of the burned trees will become available fuel. In a couple of years the fuel bed will be more receptive to fire than it was before the Carr Fire.

If we don’t learn from our mistakes we are doomed to repeat them.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Report on dozer rollover on the Carr Fire in Northern California

CAL FIRE has released a “Green Sheet” report on the accident that occurred August 1, 2018

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has released a Green Sheet report about the rollover of a dozer that occurred August 1, 2018 on the Carr Fire west of Redding, California.

Below are excerpts from the 14-page report:

“At approximately 7:00 AM on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, two CWN bulldozers (DOZ1 and DOZ2) were 24 hour resources assigned to Branch III, Division D on the Carr incident. DOZ1’s operator (OP1) had been assigned to the same area on the previous 24-hour operational period (south of HWY 299E on County Line Road) and worked the night shift (7:00 PM to 7:00 AM). OP1 had 4 years of bulldozer operating experience and at least 17 years in the logging industry. OP1 had used the bulldozer extensively in Sonoma and Napa counties in the Fall of 2017.

[…]

“At approximately 12:30 AM, STL1 looked toward DOZ1, located up the spur ridge and observed DOZ1 close to the steeper east aspect of the spur ridge. From STL1’s vantage point, DOZ1 was facing him and appeared to be tilted to the right at approximately 40-45 degrees. STL1 observed DOZ1 attempt to climb back to the center of the spur ridge in reverse. While DOZ1 backed, STL1 further observed the front of DOZ1 abruptly rotated 90 degrees to the left and the front of the dozer lift into the air. DOZ1 then lost traction and slid backwards downhill, at which time STL1 saw DOZ1 roll twice, end over end, before he lost sight of it down the slope. STL1 could hear DOZ1 continue to roll down the slope, and then stop. STL1 went to the edge of the slope where DOZ1 left the ridgetop, and could see DOZ1 approximately 300 feet downslope.

“At approximately 12:32 AM, STL1 notified Branch II (t) of the accident and his intention to proceed to DOZ1 to ascertain injuries and needs. STL1 contacted DOZ2 to cease operations and then proceeded to DOZ1’s location. Branch II Safety Officer and Division C Fireline Medics responded to the accident site. Carr Communications was notified of the accident at 12:34 AM by Branch II (t).

“While walking downslope to DOZ1, STL1 heard the engine speed fluctuating up and down. STL1 found the dozer upright on its tracks with the cab still intact. STL1 observed movement inside the bulldozer cab. DOZ1 appeared to be stable and STL1 boarded the dozer on the uphill (right) side. The right cab door was jammed and would only open a couple of inches. STL1 contacted OP1 and did a quick visual assessment. OP1 suffered injuries to the head but was alert and oriented.

“At approximately 12:35 AM, STL1 updated Branch II (t) of OP1’s condition via radio. Branch II (t) advised STL1 to follow the “Incident Within an Incident” protocol in the Incident Action Plan. OP1 self-extricated through the left cab door. With OP1 sitting on the ground, STL1 performed a thorough secondary patient assessment. A night hoist capable helicopter was requested due to mechanism of injury, patient location, and extended ground transport time to a medical facility. A California National Guard night vision equipped 24-hour helicopter medivac resource, assigned to the incident, responded from Redding Helibase and an Advanced Life Support ground ambulance was dispatched to Hwy 299E and County Line Road (Buckhorn Summit) from their staging area in west Redding.

“Division C Fireline Medics arrived at the accident site at 1:35 AM. Due to a heavy smoke inversion, the helicopter experienced difficulty accessing the accident site and at 2:01 AM, Division C Medics cancelled the helicopter and walked OP1 out to meet the ground ambulance. OP1 was transferred to the ALS ambulance at 2:43 AM and began transport to Mercy Medical Center with a 2-hour estimated time of arrival…”

Carr Fire Dozer Rollover California
The rollover path of the dozer accident on the Carr Fire, August 1, 2018. Image from the CAL FIRE Green Sheet.

Retired police officer describes how he survived fire tornado at Carr Fire

carr fire tornado redding california
Steve Bustillos tells his story of surviving the Carr Fire. Screengrab from KRCR video.

KRCR has the story of how a retired police officer in Redding, California who was trapped in the Carr Fire survived the same fire tornado that killed a Redding firefighter.

As the fire approached, Steve Bustillos was driving away from his home with his most important possessions in the back of his truck when the strong winds and debris broke a window in his vehicle allowing burning embers to blow inside the cab. He turned around to see that everything in the bed of the pickup was on fire, then the seats in the cab ignited.

He told the reporter, “The truck is moving and I’ve got both feet planted on the brake pedal and the truck is literally starting to lift itself up off the ground.”

CAL FIRE issued a Green Sheet report about the incident which included this information about the fire tornado that entrapped Mr. Bustillos.

Winds at the base of the fire tornado reached speeds in the range of 136-165 mph (EF-3 tornado strength), as indicated by wind damage to large oak trees, scouring of the ground surface, damage to roofs of houses, and lofting of large steel power line support towers, vehicles, and a steel marine shipping container within ½ mile of the entrapment site. The strong winds caused the fire to burn all live vegetation less than 1 inch in diameter and fully consume any dead biomass. Peak gas temperatures likely exceeded 2,700 °F.

Report concludes fire tornado with 136+ mph winds contributed to a fatality on Carr Fire

Above: Fire tornado filmed by the Helicopter Coordinator on the Carr Fire July 26, 2018 near Redding, California. The video can be seen HERE.

A “Green Sheet” report on the two firefighter fatalities that occurred July 26, 2018 on the Carr Fire was released this week. Extreme fire behavior during a two-hour period led to a Redding Fire Inspector (FPI1) and a dozer operator (Dozer 1) being overrun by the fire and killed. The report concluded that FPI1, “suffered fatal traumatic injuries when entrapped in a fire tornado while engaged in community protection operations. Dozer 1 suffered fatal thermal injuries while he was improving fireline”, but the report did not say the entrapment was related to the fire tornado.

At times the media or the general public loosely throws around the term “fire tornado”, giving the name to fairly common much smaller fire whirls. But documented fire tornados are much larger, and usually a very destructive weather-induced fire phenomenon.

Below are excerpts from the Green Sheet report:


A large fire tornado was one of the primary causes of the entrapment and death of FPI1 on July 26, 2018. The fire tornado was a large rotating fire plume that was roughly 1000 feet in diameter at its base. tornado Fujita scaleWinds at the base of the fire tornado reached speeds in the range of 136-165 mph (EF-3 tornado strength), as indicated by wind damage to large oak trees, scouring of the ground surface, damage to roofs of houses, and lofting of large steel power line support towers, vehicles, and a steel marine shipping container within ½ mile of the entrapment site. The strong winds caused the fire to burn all live vegetation less than 1 inch in diameter and fully consume any dead biomass. Peak gas temperatures likely exceeded 2,700 °F.

Current understanding of how large fire tornados form and propagate suggests that necessary factors include high energy release rates, sources of vorticity (rotating air), and low to moderate general winds. All of these factors were present in the area of Buenaventura Boulevard on July 26. Observations from witnesses and other evidence suggest that either several fire tornados occurred at different locations and times, or one fire tornado formed and then periodically weakened and strengthened causing several separate damage areas.

[…]
(From page 8-9; Dozer 1 was improving a dozer line toward Spring Creek Reservoir)
At approximately 5:44 p.m., the fire jumped the top of the dozer line near the access road (picture 2). Multiple spot fires became established in the area. Approximately two minutes later, CREW1 Leader returned to the water treatment plant and asked where Dozer 1 was located. CREW1 Leader was told that Dozer 1 had proceeded down the dozer line. CREW1 Leader made several attempts over the radio to contact Dozer 1 in order to tell him to “get out of there”.

Two firefighters from a local government engine strike team were positioned near the top of the dozer line and recognized the urgency of the situation. They attempted to chase Dozer 1 on foot, but were unable to make access due to increasing fire activity.

CREW1 Leader was finally able to establish radio contact with Dozer 1. Dozer 1 stated he could not get out because he was cut off by the fire, and he would push down instead. Sometime between 5:46 p.m. and 5:50 p.m., radio traffic was heard from Dozer 1 that he was on a bench attempting to make a safety zone. Dozer 1 was also requesting water drops.

At approximately 5:50 p.m., a CAL FIRE Helicopter (Copter 1) began making numerous water drops through the smoke in and around Dozer 1’s last known location. Copter 1 notified the Helicopter Coordinator (HLCO) of Dozer 1’s situation, and HLCO assigned three more helicopters to drop water in the area. HLCO noticed a dramatic increase in fire behavior; however, the helicopters continued to make water drops as conditions worsened. At approximately 6:08 p.m., Copter 1 was forced to land due to a temperature warning light resulting from the high atmospheric temperatures. Approximately 30 minutes later, Copter 1 returned to service and continued to drop water on Dozer 1’s location.Carr Fire fatality report

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