Burn boss in court today

From: Buchanan, Jacqueline – FS, CO
<jacqueline.buchanan@usda.gov>
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2024 8:40 AM
To: Region 6 FS employees
Subject: Malheur Situation Update 2/15/2024

Good Morning R6 Team,
Like so many of you, thoughts around the upcoming arraignment and what it means for Rick and his family have been at the forefront of my thoughts. I know this can be an anxious time, but I am hopeful that this case will ultimately be handled fairly by the courts and will not single out a federal employee for carrying out their official duties.

Based on a request from Rick’s lawyers, the arraignment date has been changed from March 4th to tomorrow, February 16th. The proceeding will be held virtually. We have not been made aware of opportunities for agency representatives or those wanting to show up in support of Rick to attend.

Rick’s attorney, provided through the Department of Justice, and Regional and Washington Office leadership will be with him every step of the way during the arraignment and in navigating whatever follows. Although we do not yet know what the outcome will be, our support will not waiver no matter how long the road to resolution may be.

Anyone wanting to express their support for Rick is welcome to send cards and tokens of solidarity to:
Attn: Rick Snodgrass
Prairie City Ranger District
327 SW Front St
Prairie City, OR 97869

We will continue to provide updates as events unfold. Thank you for all that you do and for your unparalleled dedication to each other in carrying out the agency’s mission.

Jacqueline A. Buchanan
Regional Forester
Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region
(575)644-9678
jacqueline.buchanan@usda.gov
1220 SW 3rd Avenue
Portland, OR 97204

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.