Pyro-terrorism alive and well in recent years of  destructive wildfires?

According to the 2016 National Wildfire Coordinating Groups’ publication “Guide to Wildland Fire Origin and Cause Determination” that ignition sources are characterized by how they start fires; Electrical reaction, Chemical reaction, and Mechanical reaction. The guide lists Lightening and twenty other causes of forest fires. This article will deal with arson and incendiary devices as the potential reason.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) classifies arson into six categories;

  • Retaliation or Revenge,
  • Excitement,
  • Profit,
  • Vandalism,
  • Crime Concealment,
  • Extremism or Terrorism.

We will confine our discussion to the Extremism/Terrorism group. The guide describes this group as follows:

Extremism or Terrorism includes fires motivated by political or social agendas. In the U.S., radical environmentalists have been associated with this activity. The potential for non-domestic terrorism exists but is rare.

There is a long and colorful history of various Eco-terrorist groups mainly associated with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and other Anti-groups, who have a history of being prosecuted for arson. We would consider these to be “Domestic” terrorists.

We disagree with the statement in the Guide that “The potential for non-domestic terrorism exists but is rare”. The first question is on definitions:

If “Non-domestic” means foreign nationals who come into the United States with the intent to engage in pyro-jihad, we agree that it is probably rare. Almost all our terrorist attacks have come from Domestic sources, who may originally be foreign nationals, who have legal status but are radicalized by a foreign ideology and engage in terrorism on US soil.

We know that there have been significant numbers of Middle Eastern and African terrorists who remain undocumented. Are these undocumented populations considered “Domestic”? We would argue that they are Non-Domestic and pose a very substantial threat and that pyro-terrorism is a very cost-efficient way to cause maximum economic damage using minimum resources and at relatively minimal risk levels.

The intense media coverage of California’s disastrous wildfires, as far as I have observed, is silent on the possibility that some may be initiated by Domestic or Non-domestic terrorists. During the month of November 2016 Israeli firefighters fought 1,773 fire events (Forest and Urban). The final investigative report indicated that up to ninety percent (90%) of these fire events were associated with pyro-terrorist acts. Arson is a popular tool in the terrorist bucket and recent innovative methods of seeding these events have facilitated clandestine actions and greatly frustrated traditional approaches used by the forensic community, who look for evidence on the ground to determine the source of ignition.

In many cases, they can identify the origin of a fire by a very small improvised device such as a cigarette fuse to a pack of matches, even after the fire has done its’ damage. In WWII Japanese submarines surfaced and launched incendiary-device balloons off the West Coast with the intent of starting forest fires, but with little success. Today’s technologies, including mini-drones that can drop embers without leaving any trace, are a real concern that goes beyond pyro-terror to be a potential delivery platform for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosive Devices.

For those who are interested in further study, we recommend this thesis paper, written by Robert Arthur Baird, who currently serves in the USFS.

Stay Safe,