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No Tolerance for Firebugs


All these monstrous wild fires, all the death and destruction, seem to have ignited three Mendo firebugs recently caught starting fires in and around Ukiah.

Mr. James Allen “Whoosh” Norton hopes to get himself on Social Security as a certifiable nut-case because he’s too lazy to work. Whoosh first tried slashing tires in Willits where he said he enjoyed the whoosing sound slashed tires made as their air rushed out. Whoosh then moved on to starting fires at Lake Mendocino.


Then we had Mr. Randall Gensaw who claimed to be cleaning up trash. That was back during the fall of 2017 Redwood Complex Fires in Mendocino County. That case never went to prelim, so details on the location never came out. But the new Public Defender Jeff Aaron made a deal with DA Dave Eyster for 90 days in jail for piling up the trash, dumping oil on it, and lighting it, although Gensaw swore he never lit it. But witnesses were sitting in the courtroom ready to say he did light the pile of trash on fire (arson with an accelerant, oil) and two violations of probation, one for prowling, another for meth, 30 days each, for a total of 150 days in jail. Gensaw also had to register as an arsonist.


And the latest firebug is a woman, Belinda Schafer. Belinda says she didn’t do it even though two credible witnesses saw her light two fires along the old railroad tracks in Ukiah.

Fortunately, these fires were caught before they caused more death and destruction, and since the three culprits are more or less normal we may be inclined to go light (no pun intended) on them, and let leniency prevail.

Not everyone agrees.

“We have to take these matters very seriously,” Chief Prosecutor Dale Trigg told this reporter last week. Hard to argue, but there’s been a lot of discussion lately about local aborigines setting fires to the oak woodlands in Northern California from time immemorial and how the practice was environmentally sound, and never should have been abandoned. 

* * *

So: What good will it do to cite the case of this one thoroughly foolish woman lighting fires along the railroad tracks? As I suppose most readers think that’s all I’m suited for, I’ll indulge it, but under protest, because the only thing that will come of it is either marking her for attack by people who have lost a house or family members in these monstrous fires, or showing how futile a thing it is to prosecute such complete eejits.

Chief Prosecutor Dale Trigg called Deputy Christian Denton and we learned that Deputy Craig Walker, driving on Highway 101, had just seen someone light a fire in the brush and grass along the railroad tracks where they go under the freeway at Ford Road. Deputy Walker radioed Deputy Denton, who was down on State Street, and Denton went Code 3 to the scene. It was October 28th, almost six o’clock in the evening.

When Denton got there the alleged firebug was some ways off, but a man standing under a pillar, a Mr. Hoff, pointed to a woman and said he’d just watched her lean over and light the two fires that were burning. It was a fenced area, and as Deputy Walker unlocked the gate to let the fire truck in, Denton went down and asked the woman, Linda Schafer, why she had done it.

Ms. Schafer denied having lit the fires. Denton searched her and found a lighter. He placed her under arrest as the fires were extinguished.

Schafer’s public defender, Anthony Adams tried to make the case that the fires may not have been intentionally set, that maybe his client was just putting out a cigarette and the fires started that way. Judge Jeannine Nadel was not convinced. Schafer was held to answer, and arraignment was set for Nov. 28th at 9:00 am.

The widespread notion that we should adopt the alleged fire practices of Native Americans has come to us mostly from the 2005 best-seller “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann.” Anthropology books often catch fire, so to speak, with the popular culture and I have long been an avid reader of such books, from “The Savage Mind” by Claude Levi Strauss back in the 1960s to the more recent ones like “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond, “Thinking Animals” by Paul Shepard, “The Naked Ape” by Desmond Morris, “African Genesis” by Robert Ardrey, “The Teachings of Don Juan” by Carlos Castenada, and “A Short History of Almost Everything” by Bill Bryson. Most, if not all, of these best sellers, are not written by anthropologists, necessarily, and each and every one of them has a political point they wish to make by taking anthropological research out of context and adapting it to specific political agendas.

(For the sake of brevity, I’ve left out Colin Turnbull, Marvin Harris, Margaret Meade, Richard Leaky, and about a hundred others that spring to mind – having majored in Anthropology in college before I realized that to succeed I would have to spend at least a dozen years on the Upper Tedious River in Darndrearyland, studying the Boreyou Tribe, in order to come back to “civilization” with a worthy thesis for a best-seller like those named above.)

In the case of Mr. Mann’s “1491,” the speculation masquerading as established facts about the Ice Age, the Bearing Sea land bridge, the destruction of an entire fauna by spear-chucking immigrants, and the use of fire to manage forests — these are all concepts employed with the facile prose of a William F. Buckley essay on theistic evolution. And so we see authors and commentators who would find the idea of electing a Native American to any kind of political office absolutely hilarious, if not downright insane, going around spouting this fire-as-forest-management ideology as though they honestly believed it was a sound environmental practice when in fact, they merely hope to justify rapacious logging and grazing practices with it, and that’s why this Charles C. Mann wrote the book in the first place – although I should point out that this was only one chapter, and that each chapter uses a similar sophistry to justify current practices of rapine against the environment from Alaska to Argentina.

Should you ask my old Anthro Prof about the burning done by Native Americans, he would chuckle indulgently and give you a failing grade for leaving out some vital factors, such as the vast areas indigenous peoples migrated through on a seasonal basis; the fact they were far more often careless with fire than conscientious about forest management; and that they didn’t leave their summer houses behind when they followed the deer and elk to the coast in the winter.

Sure, I like noble savages and cute wolves as well as the next gringo, but until we are ready to go back to living in the highly itinerant housing styles they used — teepees and wikiups — to accommodate seasonal migrations, we have to acknowledge, that wildfire in the woodlands simply isn’t a practical form of management. And as long as we have lambs and calves dropping onto the hillsides every spring, we can’t have wolves in any appreciable numbers, no matter how much they improve the aesthetics of a rural landscape.

In short, it is altogether too simplistic to say “the Indians burnt the forest, so what’s new?” From there it’s easy to jump to the convenient conclusion “log it and graze it off or watch it burn.” And although the door is open, beckoning even, I’ll say nothing whatever of global warming.

PS. Carlos Casteñeda was probably the biggest fraud of my impressionable youth. But he was only following in the established traditions of Anthropology, stunts such as the Piltdown Forgery, and a series of charlatan Egyptologists (like Norman Mailer) who were enriching themselves with nonsense that is still widely believed to be archaeological fact to this day; and, in any case, he was much more captivating and witty than our current crop of Anthrophiles, presumptuous scribblers such as Bill Bryson. Other Anthropological hoaxes include The Giants of Patagonia, Margaret Mead and the Samoans, the Pictographs of Emmanuel Domenech, and The Third Eye of T. Lobsang Rampa, to name a few.


  1. Bruce McEwen Post author | November 22, 2018

    Oops! — I’ve been remiss: The dusty old joke about the Upper Tedious River and the Boreyou Tribe in Darndrearyland comes from Parkinson’s Law, by the somewhat racist anthropologist, C. Northcote Parkinson.

  2. John Fremont November 21, 2018

    Well done!

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