Month: September 2012

Sept. 22 dinner speaker reviewed lessons of wildfires

Sept. 22 dinner speaker reviewed lessons of wildfires

John N. Maclean, FN ’02,  spoke on “A Season of Fire” at the ECWG’s September 22, 2012 dinner at the Cosmos Club.

His talk reviewed lessons learned from the ongoing explosive fire season including the reality of bigger, hotter fires and sometimes overwhelmed and inadequate firefighting resources”

John Maclean at Great Falls National Park, Va.

MacLean gave a detailed account of the Esperanza Fire of 2006, which killed a five-man Forest Service engine crew sent to defend homes in lightly inhabited desert highlands in southern California. Why did the crew set up where they did, in an exposed position guarding an uninhabited house? And why did they remain there when it was clear they would be hit by a major fire front? Never before has an entire engine crew been wiped out by a wildland fire.

Less than a week after the fire, Raymond Oyler was arrested for starting the fire, one of many he set that year. Within three years he was tried and found guilty of five counts of murder and sentenced to death. Never before has anyone been convicted of murder for setting a wildland fire, let alone sentenced to death.

The Oyler case marks a trend toward much stiffer punishments for anyone responsible for starting a fire in wild lands, either deliberately or negligently. In part, the trend is fueled by hotter, bigger, and more destructive fires: but the key element is the expansion of the wildland-urban interface, bringing more people into contact with previously wild lands—and almost inevitably with fire.

Maclean was a reporter, writer, and editor for The Chicago Tribune for 30 years, most of that time as a Washington correspondent, before he resigned from the newspaper in 1995 to write books.

As a Washington correspondent, he covered the State Department and was one of the “Kissinger 14” who accompanied Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during the era of shuttle diplomacy.

Maclean was a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University for the 1974-75 academic year.

Maclean’s first book, Fire on the Mountain, was a best-selling account of the South Canyon Fire of 1994 that took 14 firefighter lives in central Colorado. The book received the Mountains and Plains Booksellers award as the best non-fiction of 1999.

A two-hour documentary by the History Channel based on the book was an Emmy Award finalist and won the Cine Master’s Award for Excellence as the best documentary of 2003.

Maclean subsequently wrote Fire and Ashes and The Thirtymile Fire: A Chronicle of Bravery and Betrayal. His latest book, The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57, is available for pre-ordering from and will be published in February by Counterpoint Press.

He is a frequent speaker at fire academies and other gatherings. Maclean, an avid fly fisherman, and his wife Frances, a member of the Society of Women Geographers, divide their time between a family cabin on Seeley Lake, Montana, and their long-time home in Washington, D.C.’s Cleveland Park.  He is the son of Montana writer Norman Maclean, who wrote the well-known novella A River Runs Through It.

Dinners are $50 each. Reservations must be made before noon, Monday, Sept. 17 with Bill Runyon, 1812 19th St. NW, Washington DC 20009, (202) 234-7490

Bombash set for October 26-28

Bombash set for October 26-28

This  year’s annual ECWG Bombash will be a trip to Staunton in foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains on Oct. 26-28.

Staunton, which is known for its historic architecture packed into five historic districts, is approximately 160 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Magazine has named Staunton as one of the top 20 Small Towns in America

HIghlights of the Bombash will include:

  • A casual Friday evening dinner and the opportunity to walk the Staunton Historic District
  • A tour of the Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s legendary indoor theater
  • A visit to Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace, museum, and research library–the only presidential library in Virginia
  • A tour of the Frontier Culture Museum, a living-history museum that illustrates the daily lives of the Shenandoah Valley’s early settleres
  • Saturday cocktails and dinner with a speaker on a topic of local interest.

The Bombash’s base will be the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in the heart to downtown Staunton and a member of Historic Inns of America.

On the way home on Sunday participants will stop at Montpelier, the home of President James Madison and his wife Dolly.

Contact Frank Power, for details and reservations. 301 274 9377,

News briefs, 3rd quarter 2012

News briefs, 3rd quarter 2012

Lew Toulmin, Ph.D., MN ’04, F.R.G.S., was the co-leader with Jonathan Leader, Ph.D., FN ’05, F.R.G.S. of a recently completed Flag expedition to try to find the missing Revolutionary plantation, battlefield, POW camp, arms depot and slave quarters of his fifth great-grandfather, Brigadier Andrew Williamson of the South Carolina militia.

Full story

Bill Runyon MN ’01 led the Coastal Oregon Shark Habitat and Population Survey & Hubbard Underwater Radio expedition, which documented the decline of the great white shark population and captured much information about the underwater habitat and water quality in this location.  They also gathered sonographic data on coastal tectonic plate movement in this area of high geologic activity.

Dr. Craig Cook MN ’01 was medical director and diver in a multi-institutional research flag expedition to the Phoenix Islands in Kirabati, including Nikumarora, the purported site of Amelia Earhart’s demise.  These central equatorial pacific islands are sites of ongoing evaluation of coral reef health and marine ecosystems in a large collaborative effort including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Scripps Oceanographic Institute, The Nature Conservancy, the New England Aquarium, and other similar organizations.  Their efforts included placement and data retrieval from permanent benthic sensors, tracking and tagging of manta rays, DNA sampling of reef fishes and invertebrates, and coral sampling to document reef recovery after damage.  The absence of human impact in this remote area enables research on natural factors influencing reef health and recovery.

Lew Toulmin, Ph.D., MN ’04, F.R.G.S has signed a contract to work for a year in the Prime Minister’s office of the Republic of Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides), and has his eye on the actual island which inspired James Michener to write about Bali Hai in Tales of the South Pacific. He is planning an expedition there to study the island’s volcano (one of the ten most dangerous in the world, with a crater lake that just changed color from blue to red, but no-one knows why), to examine the emergency management and evacuation plan for the island’s 10,000 people, and to document a downed WW II fighter that he previously found on the island.

Toulmin and the Missing Aircraft Search Team (MAST), of which he is a co-founder, have been assisting two sheriff’s offices in northeast Minnesota try to locate a missing light Piper aircraft, which disappeared near northern Lake Superior in June 2012.  Previously the MAST dealt only with “cold” cases, but recently has been getting requests to assist with “hot,” active cases.  Toulmin and other MAST members have been analyzing radar and cell phone data, and interviewing eye- and ear-witnesses, campers in the area, and people familiar with the pilot and plane.  They have tentatively reduced the search area from about 500 square miles of lake and shoreline to 10 square miles of dense forest.

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.

Full story

Dr. Rick Potts FN ’95 was quoted in both the NY Times (with photo) and the Washington Post regarding a new 2 million year old human fossil skull he believes is likely to be a third early human species from that era.

Scott Wallace FN’06 spoke at the bookstore Politics and Prose, a Washington institution, and his book The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes was highlighted for the second time in the NY Times Book Review.