Volunteer firefighter in Pennsylvania charged with 60 felonies after lighting two dozen fires

YET ANOTHER TOILET PAPER ARSONIST:  An 18-year-old volunteer firefighter allegedly started 21 wildfires over the last couple months; ABC-27 News reported that Adam Ewing, of Three Springs, was arrested by the Bureau of Forestry for setting wildland fires in February and March.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, a series of wildfires started in southern Huntingdon County. Just before 2:30 p.m., crews were called out to a fire near Captain Jack’s Road. This fire burned about a half acre in dead leaves and brush before firefighters could control the flames. About 20 minutes later, crews were dispatched to another fire along Old Tannery Road in the Saltillo Borough. Another third of an acre was burned before firefighters were able to control it, according to a criminal affidavit.

On Feb. 14, investigators from the Bureau of Forestry visited the locations of the two fires to determine a cause. They concluded the fires had been maliciously lit with the intention to burn or spread.

another toilet paper arsonist
Adam Ewing, of Three Springs, was arrested by the Bureau of Forestry for setting 21 fires in Huntingdon County in February and March. Huntingdon County Prison photo

WTAJ-TV News reported that just before 2:30 p.m., crews were called out to a fire near Captain Jack’s Road; it burned .51 acres of dead leaves and brush before firefighters were able to extinguish the flames.

Investigators then learned that Ewing was the one who had called in the fire along Captain Jack’s Road. Later on Feb. 14, multiple fire crews were called out after two wildfires were reported near Hamman Road and Sugar Grove Road in Cromwell Township. Investigators from the Bureau of Forestry responded to the fires and were able to confirm again that these fires had been intentionally lit, according to the criminal complaint. The Three Springs Volunteer Fire Company’s Chief Chris Grace told the forestry investigators that Ewing — a volunteer firefighter — was the first to arrive at the fire station for the call. On Feb. 23 and 24, another 10 fires were reported — and also called arson by state Forestry. Police noted in the filed charges that at three of the fires, they found pieces of toilet paper with a rose pattern. Investigators went to Ewing’s home, where they confirmed that the toilet paper at the burn sites matched the rose pattern toilet paper at Ewing’s home. Ewing has yet to post his $500,000 bail. He’s facing 63 felony charges

Northeast News: RxFire, highway closure, and drone warnings

April in New Jersey was dry and windy enough for numerous Red Flag Warnings this past week, but the state Forest Fire Service still pulled off a prescribed burn and contained a wildfire.

NJ Forest Fire Service firefighters Log Swamp Fire 20130416
New Jersey Forest Fire Service firefighters patrol the line on the Log Swamp Fire. Photo: NJ Forest Fire Service.

Another New Jersey fire, the Kanouse Fire, burned 1000 acres in northern New Jersey, leading to evacuations — of five homes and 100+ animals from the Echo Lake Stables. Embers were reported to have started fires a half mile across Echo Lake, with the fire staffed by multiple agencies.

Though fire danger has been high to very high statewide in recent days, fire restrictions have been lifted in two of the three statewide zones as today’s calmer winds reduced fire risk.

Today’s date also marks 60 years since New Jersey’s “Black Saturday” on April 20, 1963, when 30-50 mph winds, humidity in the low 20s and temperatures in the low 80s fanned the rapid spread of 31 major fires that burned 190,000 acres, destroyed or damaged 400 structures, and evacuated 2500 residents.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, after a week with the entire state in high fire danger, the southern and central zones are now in high fire danger and the rest of the state is classed as moderate.

This past weekend, according to Lehigh Valley Live, the 4000-acre Crystal Lake Fire east of Mountain Top led to the closure of 20 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike between the Poconos and Wyoming Valley interchanges.

Also during the weekend, a drone-airspace intrusion on the Peter’s Mountain Fire in Dauphin County was reported by WGAL-TV.  The report reminded people that interfering with firefighting operations on public lands, per the Federal Aviation Administration, can carry a 12-month prison term, and drone pilots who interfere with wildfire suppression could also receive a fine of more than $37,000.

Pennsylvania builds 16 new fire lookout towers

fire lookout tower Pennsylvania
The new 40-foot fire lookout tower at Big Pocono State Park in Monroe County, PA is one of 16 that are replacing old towers. Penn. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources photo.

While most land managers are abandoning their fire lookout towers or installing electronic systems to detect wildfires, the state of Pennsylvania is going old school.

From PA Environment Digest Blog:

In September 2017, [Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources] began a $4.6 million Department of General Services capital project to replace 16 forest fire lookout towers on state forest land. Many of the original towers still in operation today were constructed in the 1920s through 1940 and needed to be replaced.

The new fire towers are sturdier to meet today’s structural and foundation code requirements. They will be safer to ascend, with improved stairs and railings, and be topped with weather-proof cabs.

Below is an excerpt from an article at National Public Radio:

…This spring marks the first fire season for the 16 new towers built in Pennsylvania last year.

Gary Weber, treasurer of the national Forest Fire Lookout Association, was surprised by the project.

“My first reaction was, ‘Really?’” he said. “We’ll believe it when we see it.”

Over the past few decades, Weber has seen many states end their lookout programs. Pennsylvania is the only state recently to build new towers on such a scale.

“Nationwide, we figure there were somewhere over 9,000 lookout structures built along the way and probably a little over 2,500 actually left standing, but a lot of those are just abandoned,” Weber said.

He estimates 500 are still staffed, as states turn to other methods of fire detection like planes, cameras and citizen reports from cell phones.

“There are a lot of places where if people see smoke, they will get 10 calls to the 9-1-1 center,” said Mike Kern chief of the division of forest fire protection for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees the forest districts. “There’s other places in north-central Pennsylvania especially where no one will see a fire for a couple hours.”

Even if someone wanted to report a fire, they’d have a hard time finding cell service in the Pennsylvania Wilds. That’s one of the reasons why five of the new towers are in the Moshannon Forest District.

John Hecker, manager of the Moshannon Forest District, said the alternative is paying upwards of $1,000 per hour for a plane to search for fires.

“Our towers always spot the smoke quicker,” he said. “Just a little tiny column of smoke comes up, and they’re looking at that against the blue of the horizon and they can spot that.”

Most of Pennsylvania’s new lookouts replaced aging ones at the same location. The forest districts staff about two dozen towers statewide on warm, dry, windy days in the spring, as well as in the fall when fires tend to pop up again.

Pennsylvania: 16 Mile Fire

The 16 Mile Fire is two miles east of Cresco, Pennsylvania on the eastern shore of Browns Lake. It started April 20 and has burned 8,030 acres and two leased cabins, three seasonal homes and six outbuildings.

Rain Monday night and Tuesday afternoon has slowed the spread of the fire.

Management of the incident will transition from LeCrone’s Type 3 Incident Management Team to a Type 2 IMT. Inbriefing of the Type 2 IMT was scheduled to occur at 11 a.m. on April 25.

Fire Aviation has a photo taken from an air tanker looking at a second air tanker. Both were returning from the fire en route to an airport to reload with fire retardant.

Prescribed fire at Gettysburg

On April 18 the staff at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania conducted a 36-acre prescribed fire at Munshower field and a portion of the Trostle woodlot. The overall objectives were to maintain the conditions of the battlefield as experienced by the soldiers who fought there, perpetuate the open space character of the landscape, maintain wildlife habitat, control invasive exotic species, reduce shrub and woody species components, and reduce fuels in wooded areas to reduce fire hazard.

The photos are provided by the National Park Service.

Gettysburg NMP prescribed fire

Gettysburg NMP prescribed fire

Gettysburg NMP prescribed fire

Pennsylvania firefighter pleads guilty to arson

Dupont Volunteer Hose CompanyA volunteer firefighter in northeast Pennsylvania has pleaded guilty to setting 13 fires in Laflin, Pittston, and Dupont while he was a firefighter with the Dupont Volunteer Hose Company. Six of them were vegetation fires.

Below are excerpts from an article in the Times Leader:

A volunteer firefighter turned serial arsonist must pay tens of thousands in restitution — with more to come — after pleading guilty to charges stemming from a number of 2012 fires.

David Charles Donnora, 25, of Pittston, entered guilty pleas Monday to arson, burglary and burning charges before Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas, court records indicate. He must make more than $20,000 in restitution in connection with two of the blazes, court papers say, but that figure is likely to climb as restitution in at least two other cases remains uncalculated.

Donnora is scheduled to be sentenced April 27.

Donnora confessed to state police during an interview about the Dec. 10 fire at 251 Main Street, Dupont, police say. He was the only firefighter from the Dupont department who did not appear to be interviewed by state police the day after the fire.

He allegedly told police he set the Dec. 10 fire and 12 others because he enjoyed battling them and responded to each one he set.

The fires Donnora allegedly admitted to setting included two Dupont structure fires; two separate fires at the same unoccupied building and a trailer fire in Pittston Township; and six brush fires and a railroad tie fire in Laflin.