Friday, October 26, 2007

Who is responsible for the California Fires?

Are the fires in Southern California a result of terrorism as some on Fox News have suggested? Fox News quoted a 2003 FBI memo that alerted law enforcement agencies that an al-Qaeda terrorist being held in detention had talked of masterminding a plot to set a series of devastating forest fires around the western United States. Of course, "al Qaeda" is always the operative word when Fox refers to terrorism, but what if there is someone else behind these fires, someone who could clearly benefit from getting rid of problematic neighbors and getting big government contracts from disaster relief operations?

I recently got two emails that are pretty disturbing. The first one links to the National Terror Alert Response Center and is sourced from ChicoER (although ChicoER's link is now down). It describes suspicious activity by men with cameras visiting various Northern California Fire Stations and running off when detected. see

The second one is about the town of Potrero where the citizens were planning a major fight against Blackwater, the mercenary company that is planning to build a 824-acre facility in in their community. This article describes how the citizens of Potrero saw no firetrucks until long after their houses burned down, found all roads blocked, and heard no reverse 911 calls warning them to evacuate.

Obviously, we don't have enough information to come to any conclusions as to what this might mean, maybe we never will, but these are very suspicious stories that need some examination.

Here's the first story:

Posted on September 20th, 2007

During the last week of July, fire officials in the Bay Area city of Campbell reported that two men had been seen videotaping routine activities at a fire station.

The men were reportedly in their 20s or early 30s, and one was using a sophisticated news media-style camera.

When firefighters attempted to talk with the men, they reportedly jumped into a waiting car and sped off.

The incident prompted the Sacramento Regional Terrorism Threat Assessment Center to send out a request for Northern California fire stations to watch for similar incidents, and report them immediately.

The day the request went out, Sept. 6, a second, similar incident was reported at a fire station in Yuba City.

According to officials, a fire captain encountered two men parked outside the city’s main fire station. One of the men got out and allegedly began taking pictures of the fire station’s administration building. When the captain approached the men, to tell them they were in a no-parking zone, the photographer jumped in the vehicle and the men left.

The man who took the photos was described as being between 30 and 40 years of age.

On Sept. 12, Fresno Fire Department officials spotted two men in a vehicle allegedly observing activities at a fire training center. When questioned, the driver reportedly said they were just checking things out, then left immediately.

Two days later, on Sept. 14, personnel from the Sacramento Metro Fire Department noticed two men taking photos of a fire station. A third man sat in the back of a car, and appeared to be drawing or taking notes. When fire officials walked toward them, the two taking pictures jumped in the vehicle and sped away.

The men allegedly took pictures in front of the station, and in the rear. They ranged in age from late teens to about 60, officials recalled.

Tim Johnstone, a commander with the threat assessment center in Sacramento, said all of the incidents are being investigated, but there is no indication they might be related.

“We aren’t considering this a specific threat at this time; we’re just asking our public safety partners to be on the watch for suspicious activity,” he said.

He said the threat assessment center was formed to act as a collection point for homeland security intelligence, and disseminate it appropriately.

Jay Alan, deputy director of communication for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is concerned about security agencies sharing information, and has made it a top priority.

Local officials said no suspicious incidents involving videotaping or photos have been reported at fire stations.

Fire department personnel are being asked to take note of vehicle descriptions, descriptions of suspicious subjects, and complete license plate numbers. Citizens who witness suspicious activity, near fire stations or elsewhere, should do the same, and report it to their local law enforcement agency.

Citizens should not attempt to contact suspicious individuals."

The second story is from award-winning journalist Miriam Raftery:
Potrero, California, the town that has gained national attention for standing up against Blackwater Worldwide's plan to build a private military-style training camp in their pristine backcountry community east of San Diego, now faces an even more formidable force. The Harris wildfire which began outside Potrero early Sunday morning has ravaged the small rural community, where many residents remain trapped without supplies four days after the fire began.

"It's like the Kalahari Desert as you drive down Potrero Valley Road. There are sand dunes everywhere-dirt and ash," Jan Hedlun reported via cell phone on Tuesday. "We can't get in or out, and we are running out of supplies." This morning, however, Hedlun said food will be provided to beleaguered residents at the old Volunteer Fire Department Building. The County recently began initiating its fire consolidation plan, closing some rural volunteer firefighting departments. But here in Potrero, some residents complained that they never saw a single fire engine until long after their homes burned down.

Stretches where homes once stood along Highway 94 have been reduced to wasteland. Many homes have burned, although the town's store, library, and Post Office are still standing. "There is looting going on up here," said Hedlun. Another source described Potrero as a "moonscape with houses here and there."

Many Potrero residents never received reverse 911 calls warning them to evacuate. Some rely on cell phones, which were not included in the evacuation system.

"It's like Armageddon," said Jill Michaels, who had just four minutes to pack belongings before fleeing flames that singed her husband. She and her family tried to evacuate but found all roads blocked. She returned to witness her Potrero home burn to the ground.

Here you can read the rest of the story:

So, as the people of Potrero were preparing for an intense recall election on December 11 to kick out the planning group who approved Blackwater's base this fire breaks loose and devastates their community. And, then we have an alert regarding the men filming fire stations in Northern California?

Do these two events connect in anyway?

Time and investigation may tell.

(And this just in: FEMA says sorry for faked briefing:
Three days after staging a televised news briefing defending its response to the California wildfires, FEMA apologized and said it wouldn't happen again.