Month: July 2012

Maclean’s book on fatal fire set for publication

Maclean’s book on fatal fire set for publication

John Maclean, FN ’02, award-winning author of three previous books on wildfire disasters, has written another, a book on the deadly 2006 Esperanza Fire in California.

The book will be released next January by Counterpoint Press. Maclean first visited the site of the Esperanza Fire in 2007, the spring after it occurred, and he has returned many times since. He covered the lengthy Oyler trial in Riverside, California, and he details both the trial and the fire in his book.

The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder, and the Agony of Engine 57 will be featured as the lead non-fiction title for Counterpoint Press’ 2013 winter list, according to president and editorial director Jack Shoemaker.

When a jury returns to a packed courtroom to announce its verdict in a capital murder case every noise, even a scraped chair or an opening door, resonates like a high-tension cable snap. Spectators stop rustling in their seats; prosecution and defense lawyers and the accused stiffen into attitudes of wariness; the judge looks on owlishly; even the court bailiff, who experiences too much of humanity’s dark side, often stands to attention for this moment. In that atmosphere of heightened expectation the jury entered a Riverside County Superior Court room in Southern California to render a decision in the trial of Raymond Oyler, charged with setting the Esperanza Fire of 2006, which killed a five man Forest Service engine crew sent to fight the blaze.

The Esperanza Fire marked the first time that an entire engine crew was killed by fire, and the first time that an arsonist was successfully prosecuted for murder for setting a wildland fire. The swift capture and lengthy trial are detailed for the first time in Maclean’s book, which confronts the reader with a true villain who receives the maximum penalty for his crimes.

During the penalty phase of his trial, the judge and jury would decide whether Oyler’s conviction justified imposition of the death penalty. The older brother of one of the firefighters who was killed managed to express the rage of the survivors.

“The way he died pisses me off,” said Jason McLean. “If my brother would have died in a fire that was started by lightning, it would have been easier to deal with. My brother got murdered, and that’s something I don’t know how to deal with. He should not be dead. I have a rage that I can’t even explain to you. He knew the risks of his job. It will never be right.”

After six days of such testimony, the jury unanimously recommended the death penalty.

The Esperanza Fire started on Oct. 26, 2006, in the San Jacinto Mountains above the Banning Pass; it burned 41,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes. Forest Service Engine 57 rolled in to help defend the Twin Pines neighborhood, about 30 houses on a steep ridge face – typical wildland-urban interface, where development chews into previously wild and still unforgiving territory. The ground was bone-dry, crumbly and covered with tall chaparral.

When the fire blew up, flames and superheated gases erupted in what’s called an “area ignition,” and in just about five seconds, it raced three-quarters of a mile and swept over the house where the crew of Engine 57 had made their stand.

“It was a cauldron of fire,”recalls Chris Fogle, captain of another Forest Service fire engine. “There was a solid churning, as though someone had laid down a flamethrower in the canyon.”

Maclean’s book, The Esperanza Fire, has been more than five years in the making. He flew repeatedly to Southern California to interview firefighters who survived the fire, the families of those who were killed, and the law enforcement officers, jurors, and prosecutors who were key to the investigation and trial. Through countless interviews, stacks of reports, and repeated trips to the site of the fire, Maclean has researched and written a vivid account of the fire from the perspective of the firefighters who were on the ground when the fatal fire exploded.

In an effort to understand how someone could commit such a crime, Maclean has also maintained contact with Oyler, who is on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison.

Maclean has become well known to firefighters since the publication of his first book, Fire on the Mountain, the story of the 1994 South Canyon Fire that was featured in two documentaries by Dateline NBC and the History Channel.  The book was reissued in a modern classics edition in December, 2009, by Harper Collins Perennial.

He is also the author of two other books about wildland fires, Fire and Ashes and The Thirtymile Fire.

Counterpoint Press is a California publishing house that specializes in high-quality literary works and includes on its list such authors as Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, and M.F.K.

News briefs 2nd quarter 2012

News briefs 2nd quarter 2012

John Maclean, FN ’02, award-winning author of three previous books on wildfire disasters, has written another, a book on the deadly 2006 Esperanza Fire in California. The book will be released next January by Counterpoint Press.

Full story

Items below compiled by Michael J. Manyak, MD, MED 92

With the winter thaw, the ECWG spring was charged with events and diverse member activities.  The 15 member ECWG Board of Directors continued its monthly meetings at the National Geographic headquarters under the guidance of our very capable and efficient chairman, Jay Kaplan MN ’01, who has been innovative in his approach to diversifying our activities.

Another person who deserves recognition is our stalwart treasurer, Bruce Blanchard MN ’78, who has made certain that our books are balanced…..for at least 20 years and counting.  The treasurer position takes time and detailed attention and, though it attracts occasional good-natured grumbles, we all greatly appreciate Bruce’s efforts and are comforted by his diligence.

In other ECWG board news, archaeologist Sarah Yeomans FN ’07 was welcomed as a new member.  Sarah was a recipient of an ECWG exploration grant a few years ago and we are pleased to see our grant program still bearing fruit.

ECWG currently has at least 3 members on different exciting Explorers Club Flag expeditions so expect those reports next quarter.

Another Flag expedition just completed with the return of Jason Paterniti

Searching for a lost army from the time of Herodotus in the southern Egyptian desert are (L to R) Robert Atwater LF ’05, Jason Paterniti MN ’10, and expedition leader Albert Lin. Photo courtesy of J Paterniti.

MN ’10 from the Libyan Desert Expedition where he and Robert Atwater LF ’05 joined Lowell Thomas Medalist and National Geographic explorer Dr. Albert Lin and his team.  Following up on the work of others, this team used cutting edge surface image technology and searched in 1940s vintage jeeps for the 50,000 member lost army of Cambyses II which disappeared in 522 BC in southwest Egypt.  Although not successful in locating remnants of the army, the imaging did detect a prehistoric watchtower, a round settlement structure, and directional markers.

Gary Kopff MN ’91 was interviewed by CNN Headline News to discuss the recent multiple deaths on Everest.  Gary also hosted a special event with Lowell Thomas Medalist Dr. Laurie Marker FI ’06, the founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund where Gary serves on the US board of trustees.

Explorer Medalist Dr. Lee Talbot MED ’57 and Marty Talbot FN ’04 were featured in an article in Mason Research 2012: Discovery and Innovation at George Mason University regarding his outstanding contributions to environmental policy and exploration.

Dr. Stephen Seager FN ’95 was accompanied by Dr. Michael Manyak MED ’92 to the Belfast Zoo to evaluate the highly endangered Lowland Gorilla and Asian Golden Cat for fertility issues.  Surgical procedures were successful and the patients recovered quickly without incident.  Dr. Manyak also was anguest speaker at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business graduate program to lecture on aspects of expedition medicine.

The program committee headed by Don Gerson FE ’78 and Frank Power MN ’93 provided our well-attended monthly dinner events at the Cosmos Club with outstanding presentations.

  • In March, the ECWG was ably represented by a contingent to NY for ECAD and its events.  Because of ECAD, our group does not conduct a dinner meeting in March but has a member luncheon event with speaker.  This year above-mentioned Gary Kopff gave a presentation about his experiences in Antarctica which included climbing its highest mountain, the Vinson Massif, with now deceased mountaineering luminaries Rob Hall and Gary Bell.
  • The April event dinner presentation was given by Robert Hyman  LF’93 who showed his short documentary on the Río Platáno Biosphere Reserve in Honduras documenting ecological destruction.  This presentation included testimony compiled from the native peoples about the importance of this UNESCO World Heritage Site to their subsistence.
  • The subject of May’s dinner presentation was Lake Vostok and the search for extreme life in the largest subglacial lake in Antarctica.  Astrobiology encompasses the hunt for life beyond Earth and there is growing interest in studying such organisms, known as extremophiles, on earth as a possible model for extraterrestrial life.  Our speaker, Washington Post correspondent Marc Kaufman, specializes in matters relating to space.