Entries in Fires (11)


Gas Fires Still Burning in New Jersey, Where Threat Remains of Possible Explosion

Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- On the long and slender stretch of New Jersey barrier beaches that includes Brick Township, the hiss of gas seems to be heard everywhere. And between gas fires and the ocean surge, dozens of homes have been destroyed – 60 in Brick Township alone.

The threat from gas is widespread and the risk of further fire and explosion continues along this devastated coastline where many homes were lifted from foundations and their gas lines ruptured. And officials say it will continue until flames are brought under control and utilities are able to turn off the main gas line serving the two barrier islands on this stretch.

Along a stretch of barrier island in Brick Township where the gas lines continue to burn, they create a painful image that puts a lens onto a broader issue facing communities along this sandy coast that include Seaside Heights, Ortley, Ortley Beach and Lavalette.

In Brick Township, fire companies were standing by as officials awaited utility workers who would burn off and turn off the gas.  While some officials downplayed the risk from fire, others offered a different estimate of the gas risk.

“We have one main gas line that goes over to the island. We are trying to cut the main line to cut it for the [barrier] islands,” said Rich Peterson of the county’s Office of Emergency Management. “The utility is doing that. [There is a] possibility of more explosions.  We are working closely with New Jersey Natural Gas to cut those lines. But the gas is just one hazard.  Lots of dangerous material, debris.”

In Brick Township, the area where the homes were destroyed had finally become accessible and so far 70 people have been rescued and there are no reports of fatalities as of yet.

Overall, says Peterson, more than 500 have been rescued from the barrier islands.

“Our biggest concern is, we want to get everyone out of the barrier islands.  People are still there.  We’ve gotten 500 people from two barrier islands. We have crews out there, zodiac boats, National Guard Blackhawk helicopters.”

In addition to turning off the gas, which will be done by workers from N.J. Natural Gas, the plan now is to secure the area with police and the National Guard and start to clean up as soon as it is safe.

Wednesday afternoon, only 12 gas trucks have been spotted. There are no fleets, just a team here and there.

And as residents and rescue workers wait, the question is: Does the risk of more explosions and more fires grow?

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Amid Colo. Blazes, Man Arrested for Impersonating Firefighter

Marc Piscotty/Getty Images(LARIMER COUNTY, Colo.) -- With so many homes and neighborhoods deserted because of mandatory evacuations during Colorado's week-old High Park Fire, the local sheriff has a new worry: potential looters.

Police arrested a 30-year-old Denver man on Saturday for allegedly using phony firefighter credentials to enter the fire's restricted area. His truck displayed stolen government license plates, police said.

Michael Stillman Maher at first evaded authorities but was found later that night at a local bar. He was arrested for impersonating a firefighter, theft and attempting to influence a public servant. Police say they found stolen property and a firearm in Maher's car, although they did not say if it came from a home evacuated because of the fire.

A Larimer County Sheriff's Department statement said there were no confirmed cases of looting.

"Residents worried about looting in the fire area should be reassured there is a very strong law enforcement and National Guard presence to deter any such activity," according to the statement.

Officials said they are beefing up roving patrols and deploying mobile surveillance equipment to catch looters in the act.

"We have extra roving patrols to watch for looters," Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said at a briefing. "If someone's sneaking around back there, we'll find them."

Maher is currently in a Larimer County Jail, pending setting of bond, according to the local sheriff's office.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Forest Service Adds More Air Tankers to Fight Fires

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Facing a season of potentially dangerous wildfires and a dwindling number of large air tankers to help fight them, the U.S. Forest Service Wednesday took steps to add four more planes to its fleet.

The additions will bring the federal fleet of large air tankers up to 13, still far below the number that critics -- and the forest service itself -- say are needed to fight fires adequately from above.

A series of high-profile crashes in 2002 and 2004 led to stricter safety standards that gradually eliminated dozens of older air tankers from the fleet, dropping the number of available air tankers from 44 in 2006 to only 11 this season.

That number fell to nine Sunday, after two pilots were killed when their tanker crashed while dropping fire retardant in Utah.   Another tanker was damaged when its landing gear failed and the crew was forced to make a belly landing in Nevada.  Nobody was injured in that incident.

The causes are under investigation, but the incidents highlight concerns over the age and safety of the firefighting tanker fleet. Both planes were the same model Lockheed P-2V -- airplanes originally designed for the U.S. Navy in the 1940s.

“The average age of the fleet is over fifty years,” Tom Harbour, director of aviation and firefighting management for the Forest Service, told ABC News. “They’re old.”

Critics say the U.S. Forest Service -- which contracts with private aviation companies to fly the tankers -- has moved too slowly to modernize the fleet. The agency has taken bids for the next generation of tankers it says will be faster, safer, and more efficient. Those contracts will be awarded on June 25.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat whose home state of Oregon has had its share of fires, is urging his colleagues to waive the waiting period so the contracts can be awarded earlier. “The sooner the Forest Service can award these contracts, the sooner the companies that receive the awards can begin to prepare to deliver those next-generation air tankers and get them out fighting fires,” Wyden said Tuesday during a speech on the Senate floor.

One of the newly-available tankers announced Wednesday will come from Canada, and another from the state of Alaska. Two more tankers will come from California’s state firefighting agency, CalFire. The forest service is also calling up five large helicopters capable of dropping 700 gallons of water or fire retardant.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Colorado Wildfire Kills One, Forces Hundreds to Evacuate

Hemera Technologies/ThinkstockUPDATE: A second fatality was reported early Tuesday afternoon.

(DENVER) -- One person was killed and hundreds more evacuated from their homes in Colorado on Monday as a fast-moving wildfire burned through more than four-and-a-half square miles, authorities said.

The death was confirmed overnight by the sheriff's office in Jefferson County, a largely rural area 25 miles southwest of Denver where the wildfire was first reported midday Monday.

Authorities said the fire, which officials suspect flared up from a controlled burn in the area last week, spread quickly because of dry and windy conditions in the area.

More than 900 homes were evacuated Monday, and authorities overnight told homeowners in surrounding neighborhoods to be ready to leave immediately should the direction of the flame shift.

Authorities said the fire was spread by winds gusting as high as 70 miles per hour and that made it grow more than 100 times in size in just a matter of hours.

Jefferson County officials were asking for help from fire departments as far away as Arizona to assist the nearly 100 firefighters on the ground now.  Authorities also hoped to have air tankers available to drop fire retardant on the flames Tuesday.

“We’ve asked for air support and we’re hoping, crossing our fingers, that we get that tomorrow,” Jefferson County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacki Kelly said Monday.  “We asked for it today and they simply couldn’t fly because it’s too dangerous.”

Evacuees were moved to temporary shelters in two high schools and the Red Cross was activating its resources to help as well.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


LA Arson Suspect Charged with 37 Counts; Bail Set at $2.85 Million

Hemera/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- The man accused of igniting dozens of fires across Los Angeles during a four-day rampage over New Year's weekend now faces 37 counts of arson and is being held on nearly $3 million bail.

Harry Burkhart was charged with 28 counts of arson of property and nine counts of arson of an inhabited structure Wednesday night when he appeared at a Los Angeles courthouse to be arraigned, according to District Attorney Steve Cooley.  The 24-year-old German national had bail set at $2.85 million.

The charges also allege that an incendiary device designed to accelerate the fire was placed under the engine area of cars.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra ultimately decided to postpone Burkhart's arraignment until Jan. 24, after a delay was requested by the suspect's public defender.  More charges could be filed at that date.

Prosecutors alleged that Burkhart was "motivated by his rage against Americans" when he set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area, primarily in Hollywood and the Sherman Oaks neighborhoods.  

Sources told ABC News Burkhart may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago.

At the hearing, Burkhart broke into a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements before being escorted from the courtroom by U.S. Marshalls, officials told ABC News.  Officials said he shouted "F... the United States" during the Dec. 29 hearing, one day before he disappeared and the fires in Hollywood began.

According to a redacted criminal complaint that was unsealed Wednesday, Burkhart's mother was facing extradition because she pilfered rent security deposits and had skipped out on paying for a breast augmentation surgery.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Federal Agent Recognized Accused Los Angeles Arsonist

An apartment complex that was burned in a spree of arson fires lies in ruins on Jan. 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif. David McNew/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The German man who authorities have called "the most dangerous arsonist in L.A. history" was recognized on surveillance tape by a sharp-eyed State Department agent, officials said Tuesday.

An agent in the department's Diplomatic Security field office recognized accused arsonist Harry Burkhart in the surveillance footage circulated by the Los Angeles Police Department as the son of a woman who was being extradited.

The agent, who was not being identified, contacted the LAPD, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told ABC News.

"Over the New Year's Eve weekend, that task force put out a video showing a person of interest exiting a parking lot and asked for the public's help," Nuland said.

The agent was familiar with Burkhart because of a "separate ongoing investigation about a German national that we've been having with the LAPD," she said.  The tip led to Burkhart's arrest, Nuland said.

Burkhart, 24, will appear in court Wednesday to face charges that he allegedly set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area over a period of four days.

Authorities said they were "very confident" in the arrest of Burkhart, who told police officers, "I hate America" as they placed him under arrest.

Burkhart, a German national, may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago, sources told ABC News.

Burkhart broke into a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements, during the hearing for his mother, before being escorted from the courtroom by U.S. Marshalls, officials told ABC News.

Officials said he shouted "F... the United States" during the Dec. 29 hearing, one day before he disappeared and the fires in Hollywood began.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New York Firebombing Suspect Arrested

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A man suspected of five New York City firebomb attacks was arrested Tuesday by cops who staked out a vehicle overnight awaiting the return of its owner.

The attacks, which took place Sunday evening, targeted an Islamic center, a Hindu temple, a bodega, and two private homes.

According to law enforcement officials, the suspect, who was not immediately identified, made statements that appear to implicate him in at least some of the bombings, but stopped short of a confession in the first rounds of interrogation.

Detectives, relying on statements from witnesses and grainy surveillance video, determined the suspected bomber drove a late model car with Virginia license plates. Based on the wheels and basic wheel covers, Auto Crime unit detectives who viewed the video were able to conclude it was probably a rental car.

When a gray four-door Buick Regal with cheap wheel covers and Virginia plates was discovered in Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. around midnight, police patiently waited for its driver to appear.

When he did early Tuesday morning, he was taken into custody. Officials said that the suspect matches the description of the suspected bomber.

According to police, the motives in the five bombings -- which are currently categorized as possible hate crimes because of the religious nature of at least two of the locations bombed -- remain unclear.

None of the attacks caused any injuries, but flames that erupted at one of the homes took more than 60 firefighters about 40 minutes to control. The other home attacked, which also serves as a Hindu temple, was hit by two Molotov cocktails thrown from a van which sped away. Those bottles fizzled out. Officials said they are investigating whether all of the bombing locations had links to the Guyanese community and/or were known to the suspect.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Los Angeles Arson Suspect to Appear in Court

David McNew/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The German man who authorities have called "the most dangerous arsonist in L.A. history" will appear in court Wednesday to face charges that he allegedly set a series of 52 blazes in the Los Angeles area over the past four days.

Harry Burkhart, of Hollywood, was arrested early Monday after a rookie reserve sheriff's deputy spotted the 24-year-old in a vehicle that matched the description of the suspect's.

Authorities said they were "very confident" in the arrest of Burkhart, who told police officers, "I hate America" as they placed him under arrest.

"For four days, someone has been terrorizing our community. Our four day nightmare is over," Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck said at a press conference Monday night where he announced Burkhart's arrest.

Burkhart, a German national, may have been motivated by his anger at U.S. immigration authorities that stemmed from a deportation hearing involving his mother, Dorothee, that took place in Los Angeles County about a week and a half ago, sources told ABC News exclusively.

Burkhart reportedly broke into in a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements, during the hearing for his mother, said the subject of a provisional arrest request by Germany.

It was this incident that eventually led police to zero in on Burkhart as a suspect after a tip came from an official at the State Department.

ABC News has learned from sources that a possible reason for his mother's deportation may be that her address and phone number -- and that of her son -– were linked to a business, specifically a massage website,

Burkhart was traced on the ground by his identifying ponytail and the Canadian license plates on his van.

Los Angeles Police Deputy Shervin Lalezary spotted a minivan Monday with British Columbia plates that matched the description of a vehicle seen at several of the vehicle and carport fires which were ignited around Hollywood and West Hollywood, beginning Dec. 30.

When Lalezary initiated a traffic stop, he discovered the van's driver, Burkhart, also resembled the person of interest seen in a videotape released by the multi-agency arson task force assigned to the case. Grainy security footage from a parking garage that was set on fire showed a man in a ponytail, too.

Police seized flammable materials that matched the materials used in the blazes during the search of the minivan, according to sources.

Initially identified by police as a person of interest, Burkhart soon became a prime suspect. He was detained and questioned and, after subsequent interviews with police, was arrested.

On Monday afternoon he was charged with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling, with more charges expected as the investigation proceeds, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

Burkhart is currently being held on $250,000 bail.

The fires were mostly ignited around vehicles, and then spread to structures, eventually causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Since Burkhart's arrest on Monday, there have been no new fires set in the Los Angeles area -- a promising clue that the right man is in custody.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Police Question 'Person of Interest' in Los Angeles Arson Fires

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Shortly after the last of at least 11 fires set in the Los Angeles area Sunday night was extinguished, police took into custody a person of interest who was detained close to the scene of at least one blaze.

ABC News has learned from two sources that there may have been an incendiary device in a mini-van parked near the scene of the blaze, and then cordoned off by police.

Arson investigators and sheriff deputies swarmed the scene where the man—said to resemble the person in a surveillance video released Sunday by Los Angeles police—was stopped and detained.

He is the fourth person detained in connection with the tidal wave of arson fires that has engulfed the city since Dec. 30.

"We currently have a person of interest that they [detectives] are interviewing," Capt. Jaime Moore, Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman said Monday on Good Morning America.

Authorities Sunday distributed DVDs of a 20- to 30-year-old white male caught on surveillance video Saturday leaving an underground parking structure on Hollywood Boulevard where a car fire was reported.

Officials asked for the public's help in identifying the man, now wanted for questioning in connection with the 55 fires that have been set since Thursday.

Detectives estimated the man, who has a receding hairline and is seen in the video wearing a bulky jacket, is between 5-foot-6 and 6-foot-1.

Police Sunday also acknowledged they know of at least two other people who might be involved in the fires. Capt. Moore declined to say whether the person detectives are interviewing is the same man seen on the surveillance video.

"It's still too early to speculate whether or not this is the same person," he told GMA. "It's always a possibility that it could be just one individual, but we also have to look at the possibility of this being the work of more than one."

The fires have remained clustered in the areas of Hollywood and North Hollywood but, overnight, the arsons expanded to the San Fernando Valley. Capt. Moore confirmed Monday that 10 of the fires set overnight Sunday were in Los Angeles, while two were in West Hollywood.

Police have not yet released details on how the car fires were sparked or what information they have collected at the scenes as they continue to search for suspects.

In nearly every case, the fires were set overnight. So far, there have been no injuries as a result of the fires.

Officials are offering a $60,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Anyone with information is urged to call 911.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Strong Winds Fuel Reno Fire

File photo. Hemera/Thinkstock(RENO, Nev.) -- High winds are fanning a Nevada wildfire that is threatening the city of Reno and has chased 10,000 people from their homes.

About 400 firefighters are battling the blaze, which is being fed by wind gusts up to 70 mph. Those gusts are sending embers off to ignite fresh fires. The heavy smoke and the winds have grounded rescue helicopters.

The winds are expected to remain strong Friday and Fire Chief Mike Hernandez said he expects the fires to persist through Saturday.

Fire crews from local departments as well as state and federal crews or working in tandem to contain the blaze.

The blaze, which erupted about 12:30 a.m. local time, has scorched over 2,000 acres, destroyed 30 homes and sent hundreds of families through the eerie glow and smoky haze to shelters. Several people have been injured, and at least one death has been reported, that of a man who suffered a heart attack as he fled the flames during the police-led evacuation.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have declared the fire a major disaster.

"The people are in a state of shock and are hanging in there," said Sandoval.

The weather has even made the safety of the emergency responders a concern.  "We have all this wild wind," said Rita Vollmer of the Sierra Front Inter-Agency Dispatch Center. "The safety of our emergency crews is very important. They're fighting the fire directly as they can, but the crews are making those decisions on the ground."

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio