Rock Creek fire, 70 years ago today

On July 28, 1939 near Orovada, Nevada the Rock Creek fire took the lives of five firefighters.

It started at 11:15 on July 28th, 1939 from lightning. The point of origin is located approximately five miles southeast of Orovada, Nevada and four miles due east of the Highway 95 monument. Between 15:30 to 16:00 the fire burned explosively downhill in a westerly direction, under the influence of a thunderstorm directly over the fire that produced 40 to 60 mile per hour downdraft winds. A crew was entrapped and 5 died.

More information about the Rock Creek fire can be found at the Fire Leadership site. Additional infamous fires are listed in the Infamous World Fires publication on our Documents page.

Thomas Marovich, service details

The Fremont Fire Department has set up a web page with the details about the funeral services for Thomas Marovich, who died in a rappelling accident on the Backbone fire on July 21.

More details are at the Fremont site, but here are the funeral arrangements:

Funeral services for Tom are planned on Thursday, July 30th at 10:30 a.m. at Saint Clements Church, 750 Calhoun Street, Hayward (corner of Calhoun and Mission Blvd.). Internment will follow the services at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery (just North of the church on Mission Blvd.) A reception following the services is planned and announcements will be made during the services.

HERE is a link to a map of the church location.

Prescribed fire at Bok Tower Gardens

Bok Tower Gardens is a national historic landmark in Florida and maintains the 100-acre Pine Ridge Nature Preserve. Today they posted a narrated video about a prescribed fire they conducted, and I have to say it is refreshing to see a firefighter in full personal protective equipment, with sleeves rolled down, and clean Nomex.


Witness: air tanker’s landing gear was down before crash into lake

A local resident who saw the single engine amphibious air tanker crash on a lake in British Columbia on Saturday said the Air Tractor 802F’s landing gear was down when it attempted to scoop water to refill its tanks.

Canwest news service

From the Canadian Press:

A father and his son defying an evacuation order to save their waterfront home from a raging forest fire instead ended up in a race to save a waterbomber pilot whose plane had crashed into the lake.

Ed Hall and his son Fraser chose not to leave when 2,200 of their neighbours were ordered to do so on Thursday and the Terrace Mountain fire spread in the hills across the lake from Vernon.

Fraser Hall said he was testing out some new video equipment Saturday, filming as the planes dipped into the lake to get water to dump on the fire.

“And this last guy came in and we looked at each other and said ‘Oh my gosh he’s got his landing gear down,’ and we knew this was a recipe for disaster,” Ed Hall said in an interview Sunday.

The pair watched in stunned amazement as the plane somersaulted along the water.

“But fortunately, the cockpit landed cockpit up. So the pilot was sitting in the cockpit, you know, kind of stunned or dazed or maybe he was unconscious, we’re not sure,” the father said.

Ed said he was already on his way to his boat before the plane hit the water.

An officer in a nearby RCMP zodiac boat arrived at the same time as the Halls and the pilot was pulled out within seconds.

While the officer took the slightly-injured pilot to receive care, the Halls attached a tow rope to the plane, attempting to salvage the plane.

“It went poorly,” Fraser Hall explained. “We were slowly pulling it along and we got about maybe 50 feet and the body slipped off the remainder of one of the pontoons and it headed for the bottom.”

Luckily, he said, the rope snapped, or their boat may have been dragged down with it.

Beetle-killed trees and fire

It has been a quiet fire season so far. Only two Type 1 incident management teams have had assignments, and there have been none since May 14. That is amazing for late July.

But in many places across the Rocky Mountain area, the number of beetle-killed trees are growing exponentially. Last week I was in Colorado and saw many tracts consisting of hundreds of acres of 95% pine mortality northwest of Denver. When drought, fire weather, and ignition sources line up in these areas in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and some areas in Canada, firefighters are going to have some stories to tell.

The Missoulian has an article about how the beetle-killed forests will affect firefighting. Read the whole article, but here is an excerpt:

….And that’s the new challenge with beetle-killed forests, according to Bielenberg incident commander Jess Secrest.

“It reduces the chances of catching the fire at the initial attack stage,” Secrest said. “We’ve got ladder fuels all over the ground, so it gets into the (treetop) crowns easier. And the heat released in a bug-kill fire is greater, so we have to cut wider lines, make more water drops, and so on.”

Fire in a healthy, green forest often creeps along the ground, burning grass and shrubs but not mature trees unless a windstorm gives it a boost into the forest canopy. The Bielenberg fire was somewhat unusual for the amount of still-green vegetation on the forest floor – usually inhospitable territory for flames.

But the beetle-killed lodgepole trees provide lots of crisp tinder for the flames and easy access into the tops. And there, they transform into the crowning runs that speed walls of flame across landscapes.


(Stan) Benes (the deputy incident commander at the Bielenberg fire) said earlier this year, incident commanders were briefed on what to expect from the coming fire season.

“One of the themes was we’ll be seeing larger fires with more difficulty,” he said. “And that could be the theme for the rest of our careers. This is going to be with us for a while.”



Thanks Dick

Alternatives to the use of helicopters

In the previous article some former firefighters question the use of helicopters and weigh the risks vs. benefits of using the machines on wildfires. There is no question that helicopter operations have an inherent risk, but so do some of the alternatives.

Rich Fairbanks, a former Forest Service firefighter and a current fire specialist with The Wilderness Society, said fires in wilderness could be allowed to burn to rocky ridges and rivers, where they’ll go out naturally so that “expensive and risky helicopters” would not have to be used. Sure, there are some places where “fire use” fires are appropriate, but limited or passive fire suppression allows fires to get larger, exposing firefighters to additional weeks or months of hazards from snags, steep terrain, vehicle accidents, and to one of the largest killers of firefighters, heart attacks.

Aggressive fire suppression, using overwhelming force with all of the available tools, reduces the overall risks to firefighters and the public, while also minimizing long term smoke exposure to communities.

The alternatives to helicopters have their own risks. I was on a fire in Colorado where the Incident Commander was very helicopter risk-adverse, and wanted to minimize their use. We needed to place a radio repeater on a mountain top and he vetoed using a helicopter, ordering that a pack train of horses be used to haul the equipment instead.

On the way up the mountain on a hiking trail, something spooked the horses and it turned into a rodeo. The horses bucked and ran, shedding their loads of expensive radios which tumbled down the steep slope. The equipment was destroyed.

If humans had been the cargo, it is likely that there would have been some serious injuries.

It took a couple of days to obtain a replacement repeater, which was then flown to the mountain. In the meantime, communications on the fire were not adequate, which compromised the safety of the firefighters.