Washington fire’s explosive growth burns dozens of homes

A fast-moving wildfire has burned dozens homes in central Washington and evacuated hundreds of people.

A Seattle Times blog reported that more than 450 people were evacuated overnight. KING5 News reported this morning that construction crews may have caused the initial brush fire that flared up yesterday; by midnight the fire had grown to 16,000 acres and by 2:00 a.m. it had reached nearly 27,000 acres.

The Taylor Bridge Fire is threatening more homes in the area, along with wind farm towers, powerlines, and a chimpanzee sanctuary. The fire’s burned to within six miles of Ellensburg. A state mobilization has been declared and command is transitioning to a Type 2 IMT today.

Rich Elliott, deputy chief for Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue, told the Daily Record News that the fire never did lay down overnight. He said fire behavior is intense and flamelengths are running to 20 feet.

The Seattle Times reported that a crew barely outran flames yesterday, but managed to drive to safety ahead of the fire. KING5 News has a photo collection online.

Eastern Washington fire burning fast

An incident management team from Spokane is setting up operations in BridgeportBrewster, Washington to coordinate firefighting efforts on a fire that started yesterday north of Wenatchee and quickly grew to over 700 acres. The Sacramento Bee reported that the fire’s burning in grass, brush, scattered timber, and some wheat land. The Crane Road Fire was estimated this morning at about 2,000 acres. The Spokesman-Review noted that Deputy State Fire Marshal Ron Bowen said residents have been evacuated, and the Seattle Times reported that another 45 firefighters have been assigned.

[UPDATE:  KING5 news reports the fire grew overnight to 10,000 acres.]

Body found may be shooter of NPS Park Ranger

UPDATE at 4:10 p.m. PT, January 2, 2012

CNN is reporting that the National Park Service said the body spotted by personnel in an aircraft is confirmed to be Benjamin Colton Barnes, suspected of shooting and killing park ranger Margaret Anderson the previous day.


Benjamin Barnes
Benjamin Barnes

Law enforcement officers searching for the person who shot and killed Park Ranger Margaret Anderson yesterday in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, today spotted from an aircraft a face-down body and believe it may be 24-year old Benjamin Barnes, the suspect in the fatal shooting. The thermal infrared equipment on the aircraft did not detect any heat signature on the body. It will take about two hours for officers on the ground to snowshoe to the location. Obviously, it has not been 100% confirmed that the body is that of Barnes, or that Barnes is the person who killed Ranger Anderson.

Members of a SWAT team have been snowshoeing through chest-deep snow searching for the shooter. The team was not trained or equipped for tracking a suspect in deep snow and rugged terrain, but they were outfitted by National Park Service personnel with specialized equipment and information.

More details have emerged about the shooting. Driving a vehicle, the shooter approached a checkpoint in Mount Rainier National Park at which park rangers check every vehicle to ensure they have tire chains. He failed to stop and fled in his vehicle. The ranger at the checkpoint radioed ahead to Ranger Margaret Anderson who blocked the road with her vehicle. Dan Camiccia, another ranger, also responded, and according to CNN “they confronted him together,” Camiccia said. The shooter exited the vehicle and fired multiple rounds from a shotgun at both rangers while they were still in their vehicles, fatally wounding Anderson before she had a chance to get out of her patrol vehicle. Camiccia was not hit, but when the gunman approached him, he put his vehicle in reverse and left the area.

The suspect fled into the forest through deep snow and kept responding officers at bay by shooting at them with a rifle as they attempted to assist Ranger Anderson. No one was hit by the rifle shots, but at least 90 minutes elapsed before they were able to access her location. When they reached the 34-year-old mother of two, she had died.

Inside the suspect’s abandoned vehicle, officers found multiple weapons, ammunition, body armor and survival gear.

The suspect in the murder of Anderson, Benjamin C. Barnes, is also a suspect in a shooting in a Skyway, Washington apartment that left four people injured on New Year’s Eve. It was thought that he planned to hide in the National Park after the apartment shooting.

Barnes had two restraining orders filed against him by the mother of his one-year-old child. In an affidavit, the woman wrote that Barnes was suicidal and possibly suffered from PTSD after deploying to Iraq in 2007-2008. She said he gets easily irritated, angry and depressed and keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home.

Wildland firefighter LODDs, 2010

At Wildfire Today we try to keep track of the line of duty deaths (LODD) of firefighters working on wildland fires. The past year, 2010, again produced a lengthy list of firefighters who passed away while doing their job. We make no claim that it is a complete or official tally. If you are aware of any that we missed, let us know. Some of the dates are approximate and may be the date of the report of the fatality. The last three incidents are gray areas, in that the victims were not all firefighters, or were not necessarily actively involved in fire suppression at the time of the incident. They were included because they were very significant incidents.

At the end of the list is a report from the U.S. Fire Administration providing their statistics on the number of LODDs for 2010.

January 11. Australia. A firefighter was killed and four others were injured when their fire truck rolled over while they were responding to a grass fire at Lake Mokoan near Benalla in northeast Victoria, Australia. (map)

April 11. Kansas.  A firefighter was overcome by smoke and died while working on a fire west of Peru.

April 24. New Brunswick, Canada. A pilot from Grand Falls, with Forest Protection Ltd., was conducting a practice flight in a water bomber when the plane crashed shortly after taking off from the airport.

June 23. Washington. The chief of the Franklin Fire District 4 in Basin City, Washington, was killed when a snow cat that had been converted to a fire apparatus rolled about 100 feet down a hill while he was working on a vegetation fire.

July 30. Russia. Wildfires in Russia killed at least 25 people including 2 firefighters, and destroyed over 1,000 homes. Some reports say three firefighters died in the fires.

July 31. Canada. An air tanker crashed while working on a fire in British Columbia. The Convair 580, operated by Conair, went down in central B.C. The two pilots were killed.

August 2. Arkansas. A firefighter was operating an Arkansas Forestry Commission 2002 International tractor trailer, and was en route to check on the status of an earlier fire. The tractor trailer load reportedly shifted causing the vehicle to cross the roadway center line, go into a ditch and then overturn.

August 11. Portugal. Civil protection officials said a female firefighter died, one fireman was badly burned and their team had to be evacuated when they found themselves surrounded by flames after a sudden change in the direction of the wind in Gondomar region. On Monday, a fireman was killed and another seriously injured when their truck fell into a burning ravine in the mountainous Sao Pedro do Sul area.

August 13. Spain. Two firefighters were been killed in wildfires. The blazes hit near the village of Fornelos de Montes in the country’s northwestern Galicia region, close to the border with Portugal, where several forest fires are still raging.

September 21. Spain. A 46-year old firefighter died while extinguishing a wildfire in Senes.

September 24. Ohio. A firefighter was killed when a pressurized tank failed and he was struck by debris.

September 24. Virginia. A firefighter collapsed and later died while working on a fire in New Church, Virginia off Route 13.

November 16. South Carolina. A firefighter was suppressing a grass fire in the median of Interstate 20 when a van rear-ended a sedan as they approached the fire scene. The sedan was pushed into two parked fire trucks causing them to crash into a firefighter, causing his death.

November 23. California. One inmate was killed and 12 were injured when their crew carrier vehicle was involved in a head-on accident. Three of the injured were in critical condition. The elderly driver of the other vehicle was also killed. As far as we know the inmate crew was not assigned to a fire at the time of the crash.

December 5. China. A massive wildfire in Tibet’s Sichuan province killed 22 people, including Chinese soldiers during a rescue operation. Of the 22 killed, 15 were soldiers, two were workers with the grassland administration, and five others were local civilians.

December 6. Israel. At least one of the 43 government employees that were killed in the Carmel Mountain fire in Israel was a police officer. The Police Chief in Haifa (Israel) died in the Line of Duty from her burn injuries after 4 days of hospitalization. She was the first ever woman police chief there, and was gravely injured in the Carmel forest fire, while driving along with the bus full of Prison Service cadets that burned and killed the cadets as well.

Below is the The U.S. Fire Administration’s report of the on-duty firefighter fatalities in 2010. Click on FullScreen to see a larger version.

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