Ransdell Withdraws from Pioneer Fire Chief Consideration

As we previously reported, former Diamond Springs Fire Chief Bryan Ransdell was given a conditional offer to become the new Pioneer Fire Protection District chief, pending a background check. Last week sources familiar with Ransdell indicated he was planning on withdrawing his application.

In a brief exchange today with The Jericho Report, Ransdell confirmed he is no longer interested in the open position at Pioneer. “I withdrew from the Process at Pioneer Fire. My decision was based on other opportunities that have arisen.”

Previously, Ransdell has indicated a willingness to discuss his previous experience at Diamond Springs. The Jericho Report will follow up in the hopes of scheduling an interview.

Matthews Accuses Pioneer Board Member of Harassment, Creating Hostile Work Environment (Part One)

Pioneer Fire Protection District (PFPD) Chief Mark Matthews is accusing at least one member of the district board of directors of harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

Mathews, the current chief of the Pioneer Fire Protection District, was the first firefighter on scene to the Caldor Fire and was the first incident commander on August 14, 2021. He is currently on medical leave and is reported to now be living in Oregon. His contract at Pioneer is due to expire at the end of March if it is not renewed.

Matthews wrote a letter dated February 2, 2022 to Randy Rossi and Tony Marcaccio, the chair and vice chair of PFPD Board of Directors, respectively. The subject line of the letter reads “Hostile work environment, harassment, and violation of state statues.”

The letter, written on district letterhead, aims to inform Mr. Rossi and Mr. Marcaccio that, “Director Tina Holum has been and is currently in violation of the Brown Act, District Policy and Procedures along with state statues [sic].” Christina Holum has been the PFPD Board of Directors Secretary since early 2021. Holum has created a “hostile working environment for administration and district personnel,” Matthews writes.

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Sources: Bryan Ransdell to Reject Pioneer District’s Conditional Offer to Become Next Fire Chief

As previously reported, former Diamond Springs Fire Chief Bryan Ransdell has been given a conditional offer to become Pioneer Fire Protection District’s next fire chief, pending a background check. Multiple sources familiar with the candidate report that Ransdell now plans to withdraw from the application process.

This post will be updated as the story develops

Colleague Claims Matthews ‘Hopes’ to Sue Pioneer Fire District

According to multiple sources, Pioneer Fire Chief Mark Matthews “hopes to sue the district board of directors for creating a hostile work environment.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, a long-time friend and colleague claims Matthews told them he “got a lawyer because the board harassed him.” The source also said that Matthews took medical leave because the environment was “making him sick.”

Another source claims to have had a conversation with Matthews just before the chief pulled his 5th wheel out of Station 31. Recounting their conversation the source told me, “He (Matthews) said he got a lawyer. He was pretty pissed. He’s gonna go after them for harassment.”

Two days ago the Pioneer Fire Protection District announced a Board of Directors Special Meeting has been added to the calendar. The meeting is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. on Monday, February 21. There are two items listed on the agenda under closed session: Anticipated Litigation and Fire Chief.

This story will be updated as it develops.

Matthews’ Associates Recall Years of Deadly Cancer Diagnoses

On February 2nd, 2022 the Pioneer Fire District Board of Directors announced that Chief Mark Matthews is “out on medical leave and will not be returning.” This is the second time in his career Matthews left his position citing health issues, a topic he speaks of often.

In October 2017 Matthews resigned as the fire chief for the Palominas Fire District in Arizona due to a cancer diagnosis. District board of directors informed the public of the chief’s ill health in a Herald Review article. At the time, the district was “under investigation” and employees were being questioned about a series of suspicious fires that previous January.

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Listen: Travis Shane Smith’s 911 Call

EDIT: A portion of the 911 call has been edited to redact personal information.

At approximately 6:49 p.m. on August 14 2021, Travis Shane Smith calls 911 to report seeing a wildfire. He is connected to California Highway Patrol. As CHP connects Smith with fire service dispatch at Camino the recording begins. You can listen to the recording below in two parts:

Part One:

Part Two:

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The Caldor Fire and the Impact of Forest Management – Part Two: Models Predicted Extreme Fire Behavior for El Dorado County

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Trestle-Sign-Pic.jpg
This article is Part Two of my series examining how forest management in previous years impacted the earliest days of the Caldor Fire. Part Two explores forest services modeling which accurately predicted extreme fire behavior across the Grizzly Flats region. Consider supporting the author so this work may continue by subscribing now.

It’s December 2014 and the Eldorado National Forest (ENF) service is working to select a plan to thin and treat over 20,000 acres of woodland.

Two years earlier the ENF determined forest to the southeast of Grizzly Flats to be unhealthy, overgrown, and dangerous. As I previously reported, the ENF had proposed The Trestle Forest Health Project (TFHP), a multi-year project to reduce fuel loads and repair access roads across miles of unmanaged forest. After securing community support and government funding, the ENF is examining options to determine the most efficient and effective way to complete the project.

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Leoni Meadows Camp Staff Prepared for Caldor Fire with ‘Unhinged’ Chief Matthews, Absent Forest Service

It’s August 14, 2021. At Leoni Meadows Camp and Retreat Center visitors are well into their evening activities. Eric Henton, an employee of the camp, is supervising the children when his radio crackles to life. “We have E-Alert but we are out of service out there so we keep the radios on. When it came across it sounded like a little fire.” Unconcerned, Henton continues his camp duties while monitoring the radio.

Hours later after wrapping up the children’s activities, Henton and a coworker jump in an ATV. They head towards the Dogtown Creek drainage. Along the way they find a single Pioneer district firefighter and lead him down the steep, winding forest road. Crossing Dogtown Creek they find themselves above the Middle Fork of the Cosumnes. It’s 10:58 p.m.

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Matthews Out due to Health, Ransdell In?

Yesterday, the Pioneer Fire Protection District Board of Directors held a special meeting regarding the status of Chief Mark Matthews’ employment. After the closed-door session, which is standard protocol for personnel discussions, it was announced that Matthews is “out on medical leave and will not be returning.” The chief’s contract is due to expire at the end of March.

Matthews has been vocal about his health challenges. In October 2017 he informed the Board of Directors of the Palominas Fire District that he would be resigning as fire chief due to a cancer diagnosis. Soon after his departure from the district, several suspicious fire investigations into Matthews and his department were closed, at least one of which was mentioned in the same newspaper article announcing the fire chief’s retirement.

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My Interview with Mark Matthews on Palominas, Caldor Fire

Photo Credit: ABC10

In November, 2021 I began working on a big-picture look at the Caldor Fire. I wanted to understand how the fire started and how the forest service responded. I wanted an inside look at who was doing what, when, and where during those first crucial hours following ignition in the Dogtown Creek drainage.

I obtained CalFire dispatch logs. I interviewed firefighters and Sheriff’s deputies who were on the front lines. I scoured social media posts to find the witnesses that were truly there. While my research has led me to cover a wide variety of branching stories, I seemed to come across one name everywhere I looked: Mark Matthews.

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