Above: Sage Fire, December 20, 2016. Photo by Ventura County Fire Department.
After studying 16 wildfires that killed firefighters between 1937 and 1956 a task force commissioned by USDA Forest Service Chief Richard E. McArdle developed a list of 10 Standard Firefighting Orders. It was hoped that if followed, it would reduce the the number of fatalities.
I was reminded of two of those orders when I saw the information Ventura County Fire Department was providing, not only to their firefighters, but to the public during a wildfire that eventually burned 61 acres in a southern California community. A map distributed on Twitter and Facebook showed the approximate location of a fire that was threatening dozens of homes. It also had icons marking the location of firefighting resources.
The near-real time information about the location of both the fire AND firefighters, which I call the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety, relates to numbers 2 and 9:
2. Know what your fire is doing at all times.
9. Maintain control of your forces at all times.
We have written about this before, starting in October, 2013. Not knowing the location of the fire and firefighters has led to dozens of fatalities. Two fires that come to mind in the last decade or so are the Esperanza and Yarnell Hill Fires, in which 24 firefighters were killed.
Technology has changed in extraordinary ways since the 10 orders were written in the 1950s, but many of the agencies responsible for fighting wildland fires are far to slow to adopt new procedures that could save lives.
As a politician recently in the news would say, this is “sad”.
The current U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell needs to reconvene a task force. Since the 1950s methods have been developed that can reduce the number of fatalities — to work toward the Holy Grail. It is time to implement them.
— Ventura County Fire (@VCFD) December 20, 2016