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  • Wildfires & Arson

    DENVER (AP) - Thousands of southern Californians helplessly
    watch their homes and hillsides devoured by flames and ask, "Who
    could do this?"
    The answer: Mostly careless hunters, campers, smokers,
    trashburners. But also angry, bored kids. Drunks. Ghostly
    psychopaths who vanish into the smoke. Too often - and most
    disturbingly - firefighters themselves.
    If history is any guide, it may take years to arrest those
    believed largely responsible for a week of fire that has killed at
    least 20 people and destroyed 2,300 homes in what could be
    California's most expensive catastrophe. And they may never be
    caught. The typical rate of solving wildfire arsons is less than 10
    percent a year.
    Authorities in California are circulating a composite sketch of
    a young, long-haired, white man driving a light-colored van. He is
    suspected of igniting at least one, if not more, of the 13 blazes
    that have burned in a hellish corridor extending from the mountains
    north of Los Angeles to San Diego and across the Mexican border.
    Wildfire arson is a surprisingly common crime despite harsh
    penalties. In California, it can carry a sentence of 10
    years-to-life, plus murder charges when innocents die.
    But it's one of the most difficult crimes to solve. That's
    because investigators are confronted with an incomplete puzzle of
    fragile clues like ashes, matchheads and tire tracks, which can be
    obliterated in a single thunderstorm.
    Witnesses are uncommon and their recollections hazy. In the
    West, where overgrown forests extend for 100 miles (160 kilometers)
    and mountains soar into the horizon, it's too easy to melt into the
    rugged background.
    "The arsonist could drive to an adjacent ridge to watch his
    handiwork and you would never know," said Paul Steensland, a
    senior special agent with the U.S. Forest Service. "If they are
    serial arsonists, we will catch them. But it may take a number of
    years."
    The nation has averaged 103,112 wildfires annually over the past
    10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in
    Boise, Idaho.
    There are no firm numbers for wildfire arson incidents, arrests
    and convictions. Even a clear distinction between accidental fires
    and malicious ones is difficult to distinguish in the
    record-keeping. Experts say there just are too many jurisdictions
    and agencies to coordinate, from the Forest Service to county
    volunteer brigades, law enforcement and even the military.
    But the problem is obvious. Investigators agree that human
    activities, not lightning, are responsible for 9 out of 10
    wildfires. That breakdown remains constant even in drought years
    like 2000 and 2002.
    The easy part, investigators say, is finding the fires' physical
    origins. Unlike structure fires, which tend to burn hottest where
    they start, wildfires usually begin cooler.
    They rapidly spread, propelled in a V-shape by the wind, terrain
    and fuel. Investigators quickly work backward, narrowing the path
    by reading scorch marks on trees and the direction in which intense
    heat sucks the moisture from unburned leaves and needles,
    "freezing" them like signposts.
    About three-quarters of the human-caused fires result from
    carelessness, fire investigators say. Hunters and hikers leave
    smoldering campfires, or grass brushes against the hot muffler of
    an off-road vehicle. When the ignition point of dry forest litter
    is only 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 Celsius), it takes just a few
    seconds and a puff of wind for a spark to grow into a rising wall
    of flame.
    Investigators look into every reported fire, but how to
    prosecute the accidents is left up to local officials.
    San Diego authorities say one of this week's fires that killed
    12 and burned more than 1,000 homes was sparked by a lost deer
    hunter who set a signal blaze in the Cleveland National Forest. He
    was cited with a misdemeanor.
    But the number of accidental fires still leaves more than 23,000
    blazes a year to the firebugs.
    Sometimes the cops get lucky, like last year when they literally
    bumped into Timothy Nicholas Terry of Eugene, Oregon, down the
    trail from a smoke plume near the McKenzie River. Terry was charged
    with setting three fires in September 2002. But his vehicle had
    been reported near previous blazes, and authorities are
    re-examining scores of fires on both sides of Interstate 5 over the
    past five years.
    Another statistical twist: Arsonists typically get charged only
    for their last fire - the one that got them caught. But one arrest
    can effectively solve hundreds of incidents spanning several years,
    even if the statistics never reflect it.
    "In San Luis Obispo, I arrested one guy who we knew set 600
    fires," said Douglas Allen, who chairs the wildfire committee for
    the International Association of Arson Investigators. Ironically,
    wildfire forced Allen to evacuate his home near Lake Arrowhead,
    California, on Wednesday.
    "These people continue to set fires until they are caught,"
    Allen said. "But one arrest can make a big difference."
    The psychologists' profile of a typical woods arsonist is a
    person marinating in bottled-up anger and intimidation. Except,
    that is, for the intoxicating moment when the match strikes and the
    flame flickers. Then he exults as the sirens wail and people flee,
    terrified.
    Fairfax, Virginia, forensic psychologist Neil S. Hibler says
    that's when the firebug feels, "I did that. Man, I'm special."
    "This is a coward's game," Hibler said.
    Some are Beavis-style delinquents, like the seven Halloween
    pranksters who lit the 2001 Red Bird fire in the Daniel Boone
    National Forest in Kentucky. It left a firefighter in a wheelchair,
    paralyzed by a falling black locust tree.
    Disgruntled workers and ecoterrorists may seek revenge against
    logging companies; for example, $50 million in timber in Louisiana
    was torched in 400 separate blazes in 2000.
    Yet others see profit, not destruction, in flames. In the 1990s,
    investigators probed many blazes around depressed logging towns in
    the Pacific Northwest, but there were no convictions.
    In hard times, arson-as-public-works is tantalizing: The
    government spends more than $1 million a day supporting fire crews,
    contracting locally for everything from sandwiches to bulldozers.
    And when the flames are extinguished, salvage logging of charred
    timber takes years, generating hundreds of jobs and payrolls
    topping $40 million.
    But for investigators and homeowners alike, the most perverse
    category of wildfire arsonist are the firefighters themselves.
    The most celebrated case was John Orr, an arson sleuth for the
    Glendale, California, fire department serving a life sentence for
    setting a 1984 hardware store blaze that killed four people.
    He also was convicted of conducting a remarkable arson campaign
    that damaged 67 homes along with open land. He was arrested after
    penning a novel, "Points of Origin," depicting a firefighter who
    torched a hardware store and other businesses for sexual pleasure.
    In 2002, firefighters were responsible for two of the nation's
    largest wildfires.
    In Arizona, Leonard Gregg, a contract firefighter, was sent to a
    prison hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after being charged
    with setting the Rodeo fire in the state's rugged eastern
    mountains. At its worst, the inferno spread 50 miles (80
    kilometers) wide; one local fire chief described it as "walking
    down the aisles of hell." Containing it cost public agencies $43
    million.
    Prosecutors said Gregg confessed to setting fire to dry grass in
    hopes of earning $8 an hour to extinguish the flames for the Bureau
    of Indian Affairs.
    In Colorado, former Forest Service seasonal worker Terry Barton
    pleaded guilty to starting the Hayman Fire, which consumed 137,000
    acres (54,800 hectares) southwest of Denver and destroyed 133
    homes.
    She claimed to be distraught over her crumbling marriage and
    said she burned letters from her estranged husband in a campground
    fire ring. Investigators still don't buy her story.
    "I never found paper ash," Steensland said. "I did find three
    matches stuck head-first into the ground, spaced a half-inch (a
    centimeter) apart."


    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com

  • #2
    Utah

    SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A homeless Salt Lake City man accused of
    starting a wildfire in Farmington Canyon has been found unfit to
    stand trial.
    According to court documents, doctors at a California medical
    facility determined that Josef Heinz Bruhl, 33, suffers from a
    mental disorder that renders him incompetent to understand the
    charges against him and to assist in his own defense.
    Relatives have said that Bruhl suffers from paranoid
    schizophrenia
    Bruhl is charged with one count of malicious destruction of U.S.
    property by fire and one count of timber set afire.
    He was accused of starting the July 10 blaze that burned over
    1,936 acres and cost $1.5 million.
    U.S. District Judge David Winder signed an order Wednesday
    requiring Bruhl to be housed in a medical facility and receive
    treatment for up to four months.
    At that time, he will again be evaluated to see if his mental
    competency has reached a point that will allow the prosecution to
    go forward.
    A police deposition said Bruhl told officers that he "started
    the fire because he wanted to go to prison so that he would have a
    place to live. Bruhl indicated to law enforcement that he was mad
    at society because he was unemployed, homeless and had been kicked
    out of the Army."

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com

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