Update on Heartstrong fire in Colorado

Eckley CO satellite photo

File photo from Google Earth of Eckley, Colorado in 2006.

UPDATE at 3:28 MT, March 19, 2012: The Colorado Division of Emergency Management issued this update at 1:20 p.m. MT today. Scroll down to see our original post:

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Heartstrong Fire

Below is information received from GayLene Rossieter, Acting Fire Information Officer, Colorado State Forest Service.

(Updated 1:20 p.m., March 19)

Fire Jurisdiction: Yuma County

Location/County: South of Highway 34 between towns of Eckley and Yuma in Yuma County

Start Date: Sunday, March 18, approximately 1:15 p.m.

Cause: Under investigation, but potentially due to a downed power line from high winds

Acres/Land Ownership: Approximately 24,000 acres of half grass/crop fields on private lands

Containment: 100 percent

Evacuations: The evacuation order for the town of Eckley was lifted late last night; the approximate 200-square mile evacuated area around the fire was lifted today

Closures: Highway 34 reopened from the town of Eckley to County Road L

Injuries to Date: Three firefighters injured

Structures Lost/Damaged: Two homes destroyed; other structure damages still to be determined

Other Values at Risk: Number of livestock lost currently undetermined

Significant Events: High winds and thick smoke mixed with dirt decreased during the night, helping firefighter contain the fire. Today, fire crews and deputies drove through the burn area to manage hot spots and flare-ups. The Civil Air Patrol surveyed the extent of the fire’s damage earlier today.

Resources: Primarily local emergency response agencies, including nine volunteer fire departments and four other volunteer fire departments on standby. Regional agencies from northeast Colorado and western Kansas also assisted to control the fire.

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Original post at 8:00 a.m. MT, March 19, 2012:

One of the firefighters that was burned on the Heartstrong fire in northeastern Colorado’s Yuma County (map) that Wildfire Today told you about yesterday was injured more seriously than first reported. Here is an excerpt from The Denver Channel:

Two firefighters were injured fighting the fire. One was treated for minor injuries on Sunday and released, [Deanna] Herbert [spokeswoman for Yuma County] said.

Another firefighter, Jennifer Struckmeyer, has second- and third-degree burns on her fingers, arms, side, leg and more. Her mother-in-law told 7NEWS when the firefighters were running back to the truck, Struckmeyer tripped and boot came off. Struckmeyer told her mother-in-law she prayed while the fire swept over her.

The fire continues to burn Monday morning but is 90 percent contained. It has burned at least two homes and approximately 53,000 acres but will be mapped more accurately today. The 200-300 residents that evacuated from the small town of Eckley were allowed to return Sunday night.

The 35-40 mph south winds with gusts up to 59 that pushed the fire yesterday decreased gradually during the night and are presently at 9 mph out of the west.

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About Bill Gabbert

Wildland fire has been a major part of Bill Gabbert’s life for several decades. After growing up in the south, he migrated to southern California where he lived for 20 years, working as a wildland firefighter. Later he took his affinity for firefighting to Indiana and eventually the Black Hills of South Dakota where he was the Fire Management Officer for a group of seven national parks. Today he is the creator and owner of WildfireToday.com and Sagacity Wildfire Services and serves as an expert witness in wildland fire. If you are interested in wildland fire, welcome… grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. Google+

6 thoughts on “Update on Heartstrong fire in Colorado

  1. At the risk of sounding critical, how does a wildland firefighter get 2nd and 3rd degree burns on their arms and hands if they are wearing their Nomex shirt with the sleeves rolled down, and have their leather fire gloves on?

    • The fire burned through her bunker gear. The outer layer of her nomex hood was burned and melted to her helmet. Her coat and pants were burned through in several places and the heat and sweat caused steam burns in the areas the bunker was not burned through. She did not have on gloves but tucked her hands into her sleeves and had her arms tucked beneath her. When we took her bunker up to show the burn unit staff, they wondered how she was still alive. One firefighter showed someone else pictures and that someone else figured that the fire was close to 1000 degrees.

  2. From this morning’s Yuma Pioneer: “Three firefighters were injured yesterday when their truck was overcome by flames while battling the fire in the sandhills south of Highway 34, about eight miles east of Yuma.” The article reports two fire trucks were overrun and destroyed by the fire. One report today says two remain hospitalized in serious condition & were flown to the burn unit at NCMC in Greeley.

  3. At the risk of sounding non critical

    If two trucks ( and we have not seen the pix yet) were overrun and destroyed…safe to bet that 2nd and 3rd degree burns and flown to a burn unit would indicate to this over 40 yr old, that those burns WERE a distinct possibility…..and I have worn nomex both in the military and wildland fire…..

    Just because it’s nomex and leather gloves….does NOT mean its is going to stave off the hottest of flames.

    At the risk of sounding critical….even I know this fact!!!!

    • Several points regarding burn injuries that I have seen doing numerous burnover investigations: first, vehicles usually burn and are destroyed after the occupants (firefighters) leave them. One exception was the 1995 “Point Fire” outside of Boise where 2 Volunteer firefighters in bunker gear rode it out inside the cab of their engine and were killed. Our respiratory system would suffer fatal damage in the level of heat that damages/destroys the Nomex and kills someone or causes major burn injuries. Second, as we are in the 2012 Refresher Training mode, there are several real good videos/DVDs for folks to use that focus on fast moving grass fires and the use of PPE: MTDC did a video “Wenatchee Heights” in the early 1990s about Chief Rick West getting badly burned after his rig got stuck and he had no gloves or face shroud; CDF (now Cal Fire) did an excellent video with Kelly York about her burn injuries and non-use of PPE; and more recently, the Texas Forest Service has a great DVD on fighting grass fires called “Fight Fire from the Black”; some of that material is also used in a new dvd that Paul Keller produced for the Lessons Learned Center called “It’s Only a Grass Fire.” Both of these have a moving interview with a burn injury survivor about his non-use of PPE.
      Bottom line: PPE is not 100% guarenteed to prevent burn injuries, but the track record – spoken by the burn victims in the videos and DVDs I’ve referenced – shows that proper use will greatly increase your survivability and reduce the severity of the potential burn injuries.
      We don’t need to wait for the AAR on this event to pass the word to our firefighters for the 2012 season.

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