May It Please The Court

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Quote of the Day - It was the closest time in our department where firemen risked their lives. It was the most impressive thing I've ever seen. - Unknown
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Will Charges Be Filed Against Fire Captain Who May Have Started 7,000-acre Sierra Fire?

The Sierra Fire north of Anaheim Hills in the Cleveland National Forest has surpassed burning 7,000 acres, a comparatively small fire.  It caused only five minor injuries, but no burned homes, although at one time, government officials evacuated nearly 1,200 homes.  The fire also caused a shut down of a major thoroughfare through the back of Orange County, tripling commute times for freeways near the fire, depositing a swath of ash like a snowstorm and fouling our air.  The fire is nowhere near containment - right now only at 22% - and supposedly won't be fully extinguished for another ten days, and contained sometime late this weekend.

Two possible sources exist for causing the fire:  (1) a Fire Captain; or, (2) some campers.  In some news reports, the Fire Captain has apologized for causing the fire.  According to this article in the Orange County Register, "Richard D. Hawkins, fire and aviation chief for Cleveland National Forest, said he believes the fire was the aftermath of a 10-acre controlled burn near Sierra Peak on [last] Thursday, one of three conducted by his crews last week."  The Orange County Fire Authority cryptically calls it an escaped prescribed burn.

In previous situations, people that start forest fires have been punished severely.  And with good reason.  One of our last major fires charred over 150,000 acres and burned over 1,000 homes. 

Under Federal law, 18 USC 1586, it is a misdemeanor to allow a fire to escape control.  Under California law, arson has to be either willfully and maliciously set or it can be someone who aids in the burning of forest land.

Under Federal and state law, it would appear the definition is broad enough to cover the Fire Captain.  Will he be charged?  Should he?

Add these several factors about the circumstances surrounding the Fire Captain's controlled burn (an oxymoron if there ever was one) into your thought process:  (1) temperatures have soared the 70's and 80's; (2) humidity has hovered between 10 and 20 percent; and, (3) Santa Ana winds have wreaked havoc on the Southland.

UPDATE:  Here's the Orange County Register's "day-after" interview with Fire Captain Hawkins.

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, February 08, 2006 at 19:30 Comments (0)


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