“A universal peace, it is to be feared, is in the catalogue of events, which will never exist but in the imaginations of visionary philosophers, or in the breasts of benevolent enthusiasts.” — James Madison, essay in the National Gazette — 1792
On May 5, 1945, Bly minister Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife Elsie, and five children from Mitchell's Sunday school class were on a Saturday morning picnic. Thirteen miles northeast of Bly, Oregon or about sixty miles northeast of Klamath Falls, Mitchell parked the car, and Elsie and the children headed to Leonard Creek. Mitchell later remembered: "As I got out of the car to bring the lunch, the others were not far away and called to me they had found something that looked like a balloon. I heard of Japanese balloons so I shouted a warning not to touch it. But just then there was a big explosion. I ran up there — and they were all dead."
The explosion created a foot deep, 3-foot-wide hole. Bomb fragments were found 400 feet from the explosion site. Six people died: Elsie Mitchell, 26; Dick Patzke, 14; Jay Gifford, 13; Edward Engen, 13; Joan Patzke, 13; and Sherman Shoemaker, 11.
A front-page story in the May 7, 1945, Klamath Falls Herald and News provided no details and reported only that the six were killed "by an explosion of unannounced cause." The U.S. government did not warn of balloon bomb dangers until a week later. Officials released limited information about balloon bombs on May 22 and on June 1 lifted the blackout on the explosion's cause.
Between November 1944 and April 1945, Japan launched more than nine thousand balloon bombs — experimental weapons intended to kill and cause fires. The balloons, each carrying an anti-personnel bomb and two incendiary bombs, took about seventy hours to cross the Pacific Ocean. Three hundred sixty-one of the balloons have been found in twenty-six states, Canada and Mexico.
The balloon bombs were 70 feet tall with a 33-foot diameter paper canopy connected to the main device by shroud lines. Balloons inflated with hydrogen followed the jet stream at an altitude of 30,000 feet. The high-explosive anti-personnel and incendiary devices were rigged to self-destruct and leave no evidence. The Japanese hoped the bombs would start forest fires and create panic, according to documents found after the war.
The first bomb was spotted southwest of San Pedro, California, on November 4, 1944. On January 4, 1945, two men working near Medford, Oregon, heard a blast, saw flames, and found a twelve-inch-deep hole in the ground where the bomb had exploded. The U.S. Office of Censorship asked the news media not to publish reports for fear it might cause panic.
The bombs caused little damage, but their potential for destruction and fires was large. The bombs also had a potential psychological effect on the American people. The U.S. strategy was to keep the Japanese from knowing of the balloon bombs' effectiveness.
In 1945 Newsweek ran an article titled "Balloon Mystery" in their January 1 issue, and a similar story appeared in a newspaper the next day.
The Office of Censorship then sent a message to newspapers and radio stations to ask them to make no mention of balloons and balloon-bomb incidents; lest the enemy get the idea that the balloons might be effective weapons. Cooperating with the desires of the government, the press did not publish any balloon bomb incidents. Perhaps as a result, the Japanese only learned of one bomb's reaching Wyoming, landing and failing to explode, so they stopped the launches after less than six months.
The press blackout in the U.S. was lifted after the first deaths to ensure that the public was warned, though public knowledge of the threat could have possibly prevented it.
The Japanese government withdrew funding for the program around the same time that Allied forces blew up Japanese hydrogen plants, making the commodity needed to fill the balloons scarcer than ever. Plus it was unclear whether the weapons were working; security was so good on the U.S. side that news of the balloon bombs' arrival never got back to Japan.
One of the things the U.S. Government did to counter the effects of the balloon Bombs was to deploy the newly created, all black, 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion to the Northwest for the purpose of fighting forest fires. The 555t (Triple Nickels)
The battalion did not serve overseas during World War II. One of the reasons for this decision was segregation. European theater commanders "simply had no use" for the Black jumpers. The Asian theater was a different matter. Members of the 555 hoped to get into the war against the Japanese. According to Sgt. Walter Morris "It was a secret mission called Operation Firefly. We thought we were going overseas to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's theater". It wasn't until they arrived in Oregon in May 1945 that they learned they'd be fighting the Japanese on the fire line in the Western United States. They would become America’s first smoke jumpers.
In order to conceal the efficacy of these balloon bomb attacks, the missions of the 555th was kept clandestine in nature. In addition to fires started by the enemy incendiary devices, the 555th fought numerous other forest fires. Stationed at Pendleton Field (site of initial training for the Doolittle's raid on Japan) Oregon, with a detachment in Chico, California, unit members courageously participated in dangerous fire-fighting missions throughout the Pacific Northwest during the summer and fall of 1945. The group engaged in over 1200 missions, earning the nickname "Smoke Jumpers" in addition to "Triple Nickels."
Several states have had to cope with pyro-terrorism aimed at their forest systems. This method of attack — the ignition of forest fires—harms a valuable natural resource and threatens human population and infrastructure.
Terrorists who want to strike fear in the hearts of Americans would do well to set wildfires in Montana, al-Qaida advises in the most recent issue of its English-language magazine, Inspire.
“It is difficult to choose a better place other than in the valleys of Montana where the population increases rapidly,” Inspire’s “AQ Chef” columnist writes.
The magazine disappeared for a while after its founders, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, were killed last year in a U.S. missile strike.
By Gwen Florio of the Missoulian wrote in her article “Al-Qaida magazine urges terrorists to set wildfires in Montana:”
“News of the Inspire article spread among federal agencies Thursday.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the U.S Forest Service, works closely with its partners within the intelligence community, including both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice on any terrorist threats, including threats of this nature,” said Forest Service spokesman Brandan Schulze.
“We are asking Forest Service employees, law enforcement and the general public to continue to be vigilant for any signs of wildfires, and to report unusual circumstances or situations that seem out of the ordinary for outdoor recreation on all public lands,” he said.
The Inspire article states that America has more houses in the “country sides” than cities, and tells readers that on Aug. 6, 2000, “wildfires extended on the sides of a valley, south of Darby town. Six separated fires started and then met to form a massive fire that burnt down tens of houses.”
The 2000 wildfires were the Northern Rockies’ worst in 50 years. In Montana alone, nearly 1 million acres burned, more than one-third of that in the Bitterroot National Forest
The article also mentions destructive wildfires in Australia in 2002 and in 1983, and asks, “Is it possible for us to cause a similar destructive impact using a similar weapon?”
That’s where the ember bomb comes in. The instructions include using a clock, washing machine timer or acid to set the bomb afire.
After the list of complicated instructions, Inspire also suggests simply using a lit cigarette or a magnifying glass placed atop tinder in the sunlight.
The magazine says wildfires can cause “significant losses to the factories and companies of wooden products and everything that is linked to this trade.” Its research apparently did not uncover the disastrous effects of the recession upon the wood products industry.”
July 5, 2013 Daniel Greenfield wrote in Front Page Magazine that Al Qaeda linked Gaza terrorist group claims credit for Arizona wildfires:
“A Palestinian jihadist group, Masada al Mujahideen, recently claimed credit for ongoing wildfires in Arizona in a statement posted to jihadist forums today. The statement, titled “Masada al-Mujahideen Fulfilled its Promise and Attacked America Again After the Expiration of the Period with Fires that Achieved Historic Results,” was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“We had previously announced an unconventional war against the occupation state of Israel, and then we escalated this war to reach its main supporter, America, so that it receives a major share of it, which will destroy their flora and fauna, with permission from Allah and then with our hands,” the group said.
The statement further said that the group targeted the United States “in order to make it clear and to make it know we can reach it when we warn it, and to make it certain that our hands don’t just reach it but also strike it.”
The group warned that the attacks “will not be the last if America does not respond to our demands.” The statement boasted that 19 firefighters had been killed in the fires.
Contrary to the claims of Masada al Mujahideen, authorities have said that they believe the fires were started as a result of lighting.
The authorities do have every reason to cover up Al Qaeda attacks in the United States considering Obama’s current policies, but I would still say that the lightning is more likely. And that Masada al Mujahideen are clowns who take responsibility for any fire that appears in the news.”
An expert on Islamic terrorism believes the wildfire that ravaged the outskirts of Colorado Springs, killing two people and destroying more than 500 homes, should be examined by terror investigators.
That’s because of the history of threats from al-Qaida and others to burn America’s forests.
Bob Unruh writes in his June 23rd column in World Net Daily that the striking rise in Western U.S. wildfires may be caused by elements other than nature:
“Authorities in El Paso County said they are focusing on a very tiny spot in their hunt for the reason the flames erupted in the mature stand of Ponderosa pines. The fire moved quickly out of control and incinerated homes and people alike with temperatures up to 2,500 degrees.
“One thing that my investigators have given me the authority to state is that they have all but ruled out natural causes as the cause of this fire,” said Sheriff Terry Maketa. “I can’t really go any further on that, but I can say we are pretty confident it was not, for instance, a lightning strike.”
The causes for most forest fires are limited to electrical problems, campfires or grills that get out of control, accidents such as a car fire and sparks from chain saws or other back-country tools.
Those causes, to an expert investigator, are readily identifiable.
But authorities said they were focusing on a 28-foot square patch where they believe the fire started, examining some portions with a magnifying glass.
At the American Center for Democracy, noted terror funding expert Rachel Ehrenfeld suggested circumstances are a little suspicious.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and fusion centers around the country are warning that terrorists are interested in using fire as a weapon, particularly in the form of large-scale wildfires near densely populated areas. A newly released DHS report states that for more than a decade “international terrorist groups and associated individuals have expressed interest in using fire as a tactic against the Homeland to cause economic loss, fear, resource depletion, and humanitarian hardship.” The report notes that the tactical use of fire as a weapon is “inexpensive and requires limited technical expertise” and “materials needed to use fire as a weapon are common and easily obtainable, making preoperational activities difficult to detect and plot disruption and apprehension challenging for law enforcement.”
Though law enforcement has been warning of the use of fire as a weapon for years, the recent fervor over wildfires as a potential terrorist tactic is largely due to Inspire Magazine. The most recent issue of Inspire featured multiple articles on the use of wildfire as a weapon in jihad, including a complete guide on creating an “ember bomb” that would likely have a “high failure rate when manufactured and utilized by untrained or inexperienced personnel” according to the DHS report. The FBI has also separately warned about the latest issue of Inspire, which “instructs the audience to look for two necessary factors for a successful wildfire, which are dryness and high winds to help spread the fire. Specific fire conditions that are likely to spread fire quickly are Pinewood, crownfires (where the trees and branches are close together), and steep slope fires (fire spreads faster going up a slope).” California and Montana are specifically listed in Inspire as potential targets.
How do you stop a person that wants to carry out a wildfire attack? The DHS report includes a list of potentially suspicious activities associated with the terrorist wildfire threat. Are you conducting “unusual research” related to weather, dry seasons, winds, or types of forests and vegetation? Have you done online research related to historical cases of arson? Or maybe you “conduct reconnaissance” in “remote, wooded areas, especially at night”? According to DHS, you might be a part of a terrorist plot to start wildfires all around the country. Of course, you could just be interested in nature, studying for a criminology exam or lost in a rural area at night. The report makes it clear that many of the suspicious activities listed are “constitutionally protected” and should not be considered alone as sufficient cause for investigation. However, the list ends with an ominous warning: “Preoperational activities of violent extremists in the Homeland might be difficult to detect. Agencies with local or state oversight should monitor events that might be linked to a larger terrorist operation. Suspicious activities should be reported and shared immediately.”
This threat of pyro-terrorism has gone pretty much ignored by the main stream media. This form of terrorism could be devastating to the nation. It is not only easy to carry out but it is very cost-effective for the terrorist. All that is needed is a match or cheap fireplace butane lighter and a can of gasoline to cause millions of dollars in property damage and human misery. It would also cause long-term negative effects to our natural resources. Not only would the damage come from the fires but also from the mud slides that would be caused when the rains come and here is nothing to hold the soil in place. It you doubt this just watch the news reporting on the numerous wildfires each year. Right now near my home there are two wildfires burning in Riverside and San Bernardino counties — one at Lake Elsinore and the other in Banning. While the cause of these fires is yet to be determined pyro-terrorism cannot be ruled out.
While Mr. Greenfield considers the claims of Masada al Mujahideen dubious and refers to them as “clowns” I doubt that many would have considered the act of Arab terrorists hijacking large commercial airliners and crashing them into buildings 13 years ago. It seems as though every time a new terrorist tactic arises the media seems surprised.
By adopting specific risk management practices authorities will be better prepared to address this asymmetric, yet rational, threat should it materialize. Prevention and deterrence based on vulnerability assessments would assist officials mitigate risks associated with forest-targeted pyro-terrorism. Given the unique nature and rarity of the threat, responses should be based on separate policies rather than drawn from a modern counterterrorism strategy and may call for engagement at a local level.