An Irvine man was taken into federal custody Tuesday on charges alleging he set fire to a Santa Monica Police Department car during civil unrest amid widespread protests in late May.
Nathan Wilson, 27, is charged in a federal criminal complaint with malicious damage to property owned by an institution or organization receiving federal financial assistance. The charge carries a sentence of between five and 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Wilson was allegedly linked to the May 31 fire that destroyed the unmarked Santa Monica police car when a witness told law enforcement they had driven him to Santa Monica on that day and they believed he had set fire to a police car.
Publicly available social media posts show that the person who set fire to the patrol car parked at the loading dock of the Santa Monica Civic Center was wearing certain clothing and accessories, had an American flag bandana over his face, and had a distinctive tattoo of a rifle on his left arm, according to an affidavit filed with the complaint.
The witness directed authorities to one of Wilson’s social media accounts — an Instagram account under the handle “yup_i_eat_crayons” — where Wilson had posted a “selfie” taken in Santa Monica on May 31. In the photo, Wilson appeared exactly like the person seen in other social media posts who stoked the fire that destroyed the police car, the affidavit alleges.
In early June, the FBI and Santa Monica police issued a wanted poster for the person in the photo. After receiving tips and conducting investigations, law enforcement was not able to identify the perpetrator who caused the fire that destroyed the police car, but that changed when Wilson became a suspect in a Sept. 28 vehicle arson that occurred in Irvine, according to the affidavit.
Following a domestic dispute that culminated with a fire in a vehicle owned by Wilson’s live-in partner, authorities obtained information that allegedly linked Wilson to the May 31 fire in Santa Monica.
Firefighters battling a Boyle Heights blaze early Wednesday morning discovered a marijuana growing operation inside an industrial building.
The fire was reported at 2:40 a.m. at a single-story building on East Olympic Boulevard, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. Less than an hour later, officials reported the grow.
After a large air conditioning unit fell through the building’s roof, crews also discovered bottles and tanks of unknown chemicals inside the structure. The Fire Department’s hazardous materials squad was on the scene.
It took 93 firefighters to extinguish the blaze. Arson investigators were also called in. No injuries have been reported.
Fire Department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said it was unclear whether any arrests would be made, as the investigation had not yet determined whether the marijuana grow was illegal.
The latest public data from the Los Angeles Fire Department shows the number of fires that have burned so far this year has outpaced any other year in recent memory, with a staggering number of fires tied to the city’s homeless population and an ever-increasing portion blamed on arson.
As of Sept. 30, 2020 firefighters logged 8,283 fires of all types within city limits, a 45% increase over the 5,695 recorded during the same nine month period in 2019, according to data obtained by NBC4’s I-Team that was drawn from the National Fire Incident Reporting System.
Within that total the Fire Department said more than half of 2020’s fires had been flagged as related to homelessness, an increase in size and portion from the count last year. The indication of a link to homelessness in the records is not detailed or specific, and could refer to trash fires near an encampment, an encampment fire, or a fire ignited by the activities of those living on the streets, such as a cooking or warming fire.
The data showed 4,240, or 51.18% of fires were flagged as connected to homelessness, compared with 2,331, or 40.93% of fires in 2019.
Additionally the response records revealed a growing number of fires that were considered deliberately set, including arson fires. Some 2,293 fires in 2020 were categorized this way, or 28% of the total.
That represents a 77% increase in deliberately set fires over 2019, when records listed 1,292 such fires.
The arson records also indicated an increase in deliberately set fires within the incidents flagged as related to homelessness. There were 1,510 such fires in 2020, a 90% increase over the 791 recorded in 2019.
The LA City Fire Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on why the number of fires have increased. The LA Mayor’s Office also did not respond to a request Friday.
Two Labrador retrievers specially trained to support firefighters with post-traumatic stress or high-level anxiety are set to join the Los Angeles County Fire Department Tuesday as part of a new program.
Donated by Thor’s Hope Foundation in partnership with Performance K9 Training, Inc. and the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, “Milo” and “Echo” were specially selected and completed hundreds of hours of intense specialized training to support firefighters in a variety of situations and settings. Echo is a 3-year-old yellow Lab who began her career as a service dog helping a Marine who struggled with PTSD and severe night terrors. Milo, also 3, is a chocolate Lab trained by David Greene, who has represented the U.S. on four world competition teams.
Trainers say the dogs can assist by both identifying individuals experiencing increased stress and comforting them. The first two dogs to join the department’s new Peer Support K9 Program, both canines have already been deployed to assist firefighters and first responders on the recent Bobcat Fire.
Over the last five years, the number of firefighter suicides nationwide has surpassed the number of line-of-duty deaths. As Los Angeles County firefighters face an unprecedented wildfire season and increasing call loads as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, union leaders and management say mental and physical health concerns are paramount. The addition of peer support dogs is intended to help first responders manage stress and anxiety during large-scale incidents and extended deployments.
The department already has more than 130 human firefighters trained to support their colleagues. The Peer Support Team has been deployed locally and in mutual aid incidents, including the killing of Long Beach fire Capt. David Rosa, the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, the Route 91 Harvest mass shooting in Las Vegas and multiple line-of-duty deaths for first responders nationwide.
A robotic firefighting vehicle was used for the first time in the United States to battle a major emergency fire in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, officials said.
The fire broke out in a textile business and spread to an adjacent building, and more than 130 firefighters extinguished the flames and prevented them from spreading further.
It was reported at about 4:45 a.m. in the 800 block of South Crocker Street and was extinguished in about three and a half hours, said Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
One firefighter was taken to a hospital for treatment of “non-life threatening heat-related illness,” Stewart said in a statement.
“LAFD Arson Section is actively investigating the cause of the fire based on protocols due to the size of the incident,” Stewart said.
Arriving firefighters found a fire outside the building that appeared to spread into the structure, Stewart said.
Crews made their way into the building and found fire burning inside, fueled by stacks of rolled fabric, and the incident commander requested additional resources, Stewart said.
A “robotic firefighting vehicle” was used during the fire, according to Stewart.
The vehicle, call the RS3, is a remote-controlled, track-mounted robot made by Textron, and it was used in this fire to clear debris inside the structure “to facilitate a more effective attack on the fire while eliminating the need to put any firefighters at risk,” Stewart said.
“The RS3 was purchased and donated to the department by the LAFD Foundation, making it the first use of a robotic firefighting vehicle in the country.”
Firefighters appeared to have gained the upper hand on the flames within about 40 minutes, but the flames spread to an adjacent building. Each building is single story, and about 25-feet-by-75 feet, LAFD Capt. Erik Scott said.
The buildings house a number of businesses, including textile companies and flower marts. One business was RB Textiles Inc., a fabric wholesaler.
“Due to the heavy amount of fire load inside of these multiple occupancies, with rolls of fabric and flower stores, we’ve been forced into a defensive operation, meaning that we pulled our firefighters from the inside out, to ensure their safety,” Scott told reporters at the scene after daybreak.
The fire was extinguished by 8:20 a.m., the fire department said.
Fire crews were expected to remain on scene for hours conducting “an extensive overhaul operation,” the LAPD reported.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to reconsider how to ensure safety in county parks following Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s announcement that he will close the department’s Parks Bureau, provoking the sheriff to accuse the board of “defunding” the LASD.
However, according to county lawyers, Villanueva may have “defunded” his own department, because closing the bureau will free up the roughly $24 million allocated to that group that could now be used to hire a third-party contractor.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger — who said the sheriff left her with “no choice” but to vote for a review of park services — suggested that Villanueva consult with his captains, who are trained to understand how the county budget works.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn recommended considering a safety strategy “better aligned with the board’s vision for public safety and justice,” which could include a community policing model working alongside sheriff’s deputies and/or hiring unarmed staff trained in crisis response and violence prevention strategies to patrol parks.
Ridley-Thomas would also like to see more money for youth programs.
“Youth programming has not been the priority for this sheriff that it should be,” he said.
Barger said she hoped that the review by the county CEO and parks, mental health and public health departments would result in a recommendation to continue working in partnership with LASD.
“I do not believe it is wise to make long-term changes based on current personalities,” Barger said. “I believe the Parks Bureau is doing an incredible job and is quite frankly being used as a pawn by this sheriff.”
Barger noted that the county’s Office of Public Safety provided security at parks and hospitals until 2009, when a decision was made to merge OPS with LASD to professionalize the force.
Hahn remarked that county parks were not always as safe as they are now.
Military aerial firefighting units, including the “High Rollers” of the Nevada Air National Guard, have dropped more than 1 million gallons of fire retardant so far this fire season.
“It’s very rewarding knowing you are helping so many people,” said Tech. Sgt. Paul Teska, a MAFFS flight engineer with the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, and a former wildland firefighter. “I remember being on the ground, looking up, and seeing the planes dropping retardant. Being a part of the machine that is MAFFS, and just firefighting in general, is a great feeling.”
Aircrews and C-130 aircraft equipped with USDA Forest Service-provided Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems activated in late July to help combat fires in California. The devastating 2020 fire season has resulted in the High Rollers having their longest activation since beginning the MAFFS mission in 2016.
During this record-setting fire season, the 152nd MAFFS unit has flown more than 110 sorties and dropped more than 300,000 gallons of retardant on fires across California. These numbers will continue to grow as the unit is still helping to suppress wildland fires.
“We are grateful of the High Rollers’ dedication to our nation during a time of great need,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander, First Air Force, Air Forces Northern. “They are performing a highly complex mission having to fly very low to the ground in mountainous terrain while dealing with poor visibility from smoke and flames. Their specialized training prepares them for such challenges.”
Air Forces Northern, U.S. Northern Command’s Air Component Command, is the Department of Defense’s operational lead for the mission.
In addition to training, relationships are key to the total team effort.
“All the support partners keep the mission strong and moving forward to include the Forest Service, CAL Fire, and the MAFFS units,” said Lt. Col. Erik Brown, 152nd Maintenance Group deputy commander and evaluator pilot with the 152nd Operations Group. “The support from these entities, and all the groups in the Nevada Air Guard, is instrumental to making the mission happen.”
MAFFS-equipped C-130 aircraft are employed for firefighting when civilian firefighting assets are at capacity. When deployed, MAFFS units stand by for a call from dispatch centers based on requests from civilian incident commanders. The flight crew responds to the fire using the air tanker to build lines on containment with retardant to help reduce the intensity and slow the growth of the fire.
This fire season has seen the need for all four military MAFFS units to fly missions: the 152nd Airlift Wing, the 302nd Air Force Reserve Command from Colorado Springs, the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming National Guard, and the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard.
Firefighting assets across the country and internationally have come to aid in the fight against the unprecedented western wildfires.
According to CAL Fire, more acres have been burned in California in 2020 than any other year on record. The largest fire – the Creek Fire – has burned more than 300,000 acres.
“Our DOD team is extremely proud of their support to state and interagency wildfire operations,” said Pierce.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department debuted the first robotic firefighting vehicle in the United States, putting it to use on its first day in service.
The Thermite RS3 (manfactured by Textron: Howe & Howe Technologies) is a compact, low-center of gravity, wide chassis, industrial robotic firefighting vehicle. It is capable of flowing 2,500 gallons per minute and is remotely operated with a controller which provides high-definition video feedback for ultimate maneuverability in difficult conditions.
New challenges continue to emerge in the fire service and the LAFD is committed to leveraging technology to enhance firefighting operations while reducing risk to firefighters. While the RS3 is not the answer to all types of firefighting, it will assist with safe interior fire operations on large commercial fires, wood-framed structures under construction, structural defense at wildfires, large animal rescues, fuel tanker fires, auto storage fires and much more.
The LAFD Foundation received a generous donation to purchase the RS3 and donate it to the Department. Without this tremendous support, it would not be possible to add this advanced technology to the fleet.
The RS3 was formally introduced to the public at press conference on October 13, 2020. However, it had already gotten dirty at an early morning Major Emergency commercial structure fire that morning – proving it’s value from the start.
The RS3 will be housed at Fire Station 3 in Downtown LA as a part of the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. It will be deployed to incidents via a dedicated trailer towed by a pick up truck. The LAFD trained operators with the assistance of the developers from Textron. These operators are now LAFD trainers and will develop multiple operators throughout the Department.
8 mph top speed
8,000 lbs. winch
35% side slope
Front Plow blade to push debris, including vehicles
Compatible for Interchangeable accessories for future needs
36 HP Diesel engine
Run time of 20 hours without refueling
Hose stream reach of 300 ft. horizontal & 150 ft. Vertical
Morro Bay is a beach town in San Luis Obispo County, about 250 miles northwest of Long Beach. It’s best known for Morro Rock, a 576-foot volcanic plug situated in the middle of the bay, sometimes called “California’s Pet Rock.” Morro Rock is one of the Nine Sisters – all volcanic plugs formed after the cessation of volcanic activity in SLO County about a bajillion years ago. Home to 10,560 residents, Morro Bay thrives on tourism in a very temperate climate. The high temperature rarely exceeds 72 degrees F at the peak of summer.
There are several 2 meter and 70cm repeaters serving Morro Bay and other nearby communities. Start with 145.670, located on nearby Tassajera Peak (el. 2,750 ft). This one is designated as the primary repeater for SLO County, and many of the local hams gather here. Also try 146.860 in Los Osos (the next town over from Morro Bay), and the 444.100 multi-site simulcast system covering all of Slo County, All of these are easily reachable with a handheld radio anywhere in Morro Bay.
Tassajera Peak – Primary for SLO
CARLA lined system (statewide)
SLO COunty still uses analog FM VHF and UHF radio for most public safety applications. Here are a few frequencies to scan:
Morro Bay Police
Police Dispatch (Green)
Morro Bay Fire
Fire County Dispatch
Ch 2 (Yellow)
CHP White Rebroadcast (Copper)
Search and Rescue
SLO Emergency Medical Services
Rangers and Lifeguards
Morro Bay is home port to numerous pleasure craft, a fleet of commercial fishing vessels, and a small Coast Guard station. Maritime-related radio traffic can be heard on VHF marine channels 9, 12, 16, 22A, 68, and 72.
Marine Ch 9
Marine Ch 12
Marine Ch 16
Calling and Distress
Marine Ch 22A
Coast Guard Public
Marine Ch 68
Marine Ch 72
Two AM broadcast stations provide primary service to Morro Bay:
KVEC 920kHz News and Talk
KKJL 1400 kHZ Adult Standards
Several other AM stations can be tuned-in from the San Luis Obispo area.
At least a dozen FM broadcast stations can be heard in Morro Bay, representing all types of programming. Tune the band to find your favorites.
Visit Morro Bay for the relaxed easy feel of a coastal tourist town. Walk the marina district, dine at any of dozens of places, gaze at Morro Rock, and make an e-a-s-y few days of your stay. And, of course, bring your radio!