Panther Fire fatality report released

Dan Packer
Dan Packer

The Wildfire Lessons Learned Center has posted the Accident Investigation Report, the Fire Behavior Analysis, and the Time Line for the Panther Fire on which Dan Packer was entrapped and died on July 26, 2009 in Northern California.

Briefly, Mr. Packer, a Division Supervisor (DIVS), was scouting the fire with another Division Supervisor DIVS the day before their incoming Type 1 Incident Management Team was scheduled to assume command of the fire. When the fire behavior increased as predicted, the other fireline personnel withdrew to safety zones, but the two DIVSs did not. As the fire overtook their position, one of them escaped downhill through very thick vegetation, but Mr. Packer deployed his new generation fire shelter. However, the intense heat of the fire and its residence time exceeded the capability of the fire shelter.

Here are the recommendations from the report:



1. Submit the task of evaluation of the Safety Management System (SMS) to the National Safety Council and to Research and Development with respect to the following:

a. Forest Service Wide implementation of SMS
b. Just Culture
c. Inclusion of standard HF analysis in all accident investigations
d. Establishment of Doctrine (Leader‟s Intent) in Forest Service Manual Systems
e. System Safety
f. Organizational Risk Management
(Findings 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9)

2. Solicit Forest Managers to develop a safety briefing procedure for newly arriving personnel that personalizes the safety briefings used in high risk operations. Establish a working group to assess the current forms of communication of safety information transmitted through briefings. This group should produce guidance to reflect actual conditions facing the firefighters on the line and prepare them for the hazards unique to the specific conditions that crews are likely to encounter. The briefings should address safety considerations and procedures unique to the assignment, based on thorough risk assessment.
(Findings 2, 7, 8, 9)

3. Develop a policy to fully evaluate and, if indicated, develop a system which standardizes communication of safety critical information and Crew or Team Resource Management for ground firefighters. If indicated, include this language and CRM training for personnel engaged in high risk operations.

High Reliability Organizations know that odd things can occur and want their people to be on the lookout for these odd or unusual things instead of assuming that they don’t matter or are not important. They train their people to look for anomalies and recognize decoys and most importantly to decouple systems when problems are discovered and then empower employees to act. This was absent as evidenced by the assumptive behavior observed on this fire and common to many fire and aviation accident investigations. Recent investigations have identified this as the “Need for upward voice”. An example of a successful briefing used the phrase, “Let me know if you see anything Dumb, Different or Dangerous.”
(Findings 3, 7, 9, 10)

Family volunteers at Arizona wildfire academy

The Brown family, left to right, Harold, Lindsay, and Cheryl. Photo: Joanna Dodder/The Daily Courier

All of the instructors and staff members at the Arizona Wildfire Academy in Prescott are volunteers, including the Brown family, Harold, Cheryl, and Lindsay, 8. Here is an excerpt from a story in the Daily Courier.

Harold Brown is a 23-year veteran of the Sun City Fire District, working as a paramedic and engineer (fire engine driver). He spent his first three years at the Wildfire Academy as a student, transitioning to the staff last year.

“I’m really glad I came. I felt like I would have missed out, because he comes home talking about it,” Cheryl said.

Harold has served as a base camp manager on wildfires across the country for as long as 21 days at a time, helping set up tent communities for hundreds of firefighters at a time. Now he is training at the Wildfire Academy as a facilities unit leader, another base camp job.

“It’s very rewarding to see all the young students coming in, and there is a lot of camaraderie,” Harold said.

Cheryl is working at the academy check-in desk, helping students find their class locations and selling academy banquet tickets.

“I like helping people,” Cheryl said. “You give in life, it all comes back. And I’m learning, too.”

Lindsay is helping her mom and dad, as well as running around delivering items to various parts of the campus. She’s had the opportunity to ride in her dad’s fire truck before and sometimes eat meals with him at the fire station, but this is the first time she’s worked with him.

While Lindsay was talking about her work Tuesday, she got an assignment to deliver an academy T-shirt to one of the instructors and quickly ran up the hill to another building on the sprawling Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus.

“She’s incredible,” Howard said. “Eight years old and she came in here and did not miss a beat.”

One of Lindsay’s favorite jobs has been reading quiz questions to students in the Interagency Incident Business Management class.

“They’ve worked really hard in that class,” she said.

Lindsay has been collecting firefighter pins and attaching them to the lanyard that holds her name card around her neck. Her pins feature everything from Smokey Bear to the Montecito (California) Fire Department logo. She also has a new T-shirt that reads, “Firefighter’s daughter – keep back 50 feet.”

She is proud to point out that she is the youngest employee at the Wildfire Academy, and even more proud of the Certificate of Appreciation she received Tuesday.

“It’s really hard to get one of these,” she beamed. “You’ve got to work really hard.”

With that, she ran off to deliver something else.

“She just runs and runs and runs,” observed Todd Rhines, a longtime Prescott-area firefighter who is the Wildfire Academy’s safety officer. “My granddaughters would be crashing by now.”

Attending the academy this year are 619 students from 20 states and Canada.

Australian prescribed fire exceeds expectations

Airey's Inlet fire
Photo: Geelong Advertiser

A prescribed fire in Victoria, Australia on Monday got a little larger than expected in Angahook Lorne State Park about 20 miles southeast of Geelong (map). Originally planned to be 1,074ha (2,654 acres), it jumped control lines within a few hours of ignition Monday evening and burned an additional 50ha (124 acres) before it was contained. “Erratic fire behaviour” was blamed for the bonus acres.

Photo: Geelong Advertiser

Firefighters worked through Monday night to corral the fire with the help of aircraft and 92 pieces of fire apparatus.

Climate change: beetles, fire, and aspen

There may be discussions about its cause, but there is overwhelming evidence that climate change is having a profound effect on the forests of the world. We don’t have the luxury of debate–it is here.

There may also be profound changes in how we fight fire, where the fires occur, the length of the fire seasons, and the number of personnel and dollars needed to suppress fires. Some of these changes in fire management are already occurring.

Here are some excerpts from an excellent article in the Guardian.

For many years, Diana Six, an entomologist at the University of Montana, planned her field season for the same two to three weeks in July. That’s when her quarry — tiny, black, mountain pine beetles — hatched from the tree they had just killed and swarmed to a new one to start their life cycle again.

Now, says Six, the field rules have changed. Instead of just two weeks, the beetles fly continually from May until October, attacking trees, burrowing in, and laying their eggs for half the year. And that’s not all. The beetles rarely attacked immature trees; now they do so all the time. What’s more, colder temperatures once kept the beetles away from high altitudes, yet now they swarm and kill trees on mountaintops. And in some high places where the beetles had a two-year life cycle because of cold temperatures, it’s decreased to one year.

Such shifts make it an exciting — and unsettling — time to be an entomologist. The growing swath of dead lodgepole and ponderosa pine forest is a grim omen, leaving Six — and many other scientists and residents in the West — concerned that as the climate continues to warm, these destructive changes will intensify.

Across western North America, from Mexico to Alaska, forest die-off is occurring on an extraordinary scale, unprecedented in at least the last century-and-a-half — and perhaps much longer. All told, the Rocky Mountains in Canada and the United States have seen nearly 70,000 square miles of forest — an area the size of Washington state — die since 2000. For the most part, this massive die-off is being caused by outbreaks of tree-killing insects, from the ips beetle in the Southwest that has killed pinyon pine, to the spruce beetle, fir beetle, and the major pest — the mountain pine beetle — that has hammered forests in the north.

These large-scale forest deaths from beetle infestations are likely a symptom of a bigger problem, according to scientists: warming temperatures and increased stress, due to a changing climate. Although western North America has been hardest hit by insect infestations, sizeable areas of forest in Australia, Russia, France, and other countries have experienced die-offs, most of which appears to have been caused by drought, high temperatures, or both.

One recent study collected reports of large-scale forest mortality from around the world. Often, forest death is patchy, and research is difficult because of the large areas involved. But the paper, recently published in Forest Ecology and Management, reported that in a 20,000-square-mile savanna in Australia, nearly a third of the trees were dead. In Russia, there was significant die-off within 9,400 square miles of forest. Much of Siberia has warmed by several degrees Fahrenheit in the past half-century, and hot, dry conditions have led to extreme wildfire seasons in eight of the last 10 years. Russian researchers also are concerned that warmer, dryer conditions will lead to increased outbreaks of the Siberian moth, which can destroy large swaths of Russia’s boreal forest.

While people in some places have the luxury to doubt whether climate change is real, it’s harder to be a doubter in the Rocky Mountains. Glaciers in Glacier National Park and elsewhere are shrinking, winters are warmer and shorter, and the intensity of forest fires is increasing. But the most obvious sign is the red and dead forests that carpet the hills and mountains. They have transformed life in many parts of the Rockies.

It is interesting that normal amounts of precipitation combined with warmer temperatures can translate into drought:

Continue reading “Climate change: beetles, fire, and aspen”

Woman killed on controlled burn in Kansas


The Morning Sun
Posted Mar 15, 2010 @ 12:02 PM

ALTAMONT —A Fredonia woman was found dead after a field fire trapped her in rural Labette County Saturday.

According to Labette County Sheriff William Blundell, sheriff’s deputies were called at 2:19 p.m. Saturday to 852 1000 Road near Edna.

When deputies arrived, they found that numerous people had been conducting a controlled burn on a grassy field and that a woman had become trapped by the fire and died.

The victim was identified as Celia K. Harris, 64 of Fredonia, and was pronounced dead at the scene by the Labette County Deputy Coroner.

Blundell said in a release that Harris was attempting to assist in controlling the fire and became trapped between the fire and a fence row where she could not escape from the “flames and intense smoke.”

Her body has been sent to Topeka for an autopsy.

Our condolences to the family of Ms. Harris.

Air Attack 330, and a Skymaster story

Air Attack 330
Air Attack 330, an OV-10A, at Ramona, California, operated by Cal Fire. Photo: Cal Fire

I like this photo that was provided by Cal Fire in San Diego. It shows Air Attack 330 flying very low and dispensing smoke as if it were designating a target for a following air tanker. Either that, or he has a serious engine problem.

Cal Fire began acquiring OV-10A’s, or Broncos, in 1993 to replace their Cessna OV-2  Skymasters. The OV-10A’s can serve double-duty as both a platform for the Air Tactical Group Supervisor and as a Lead Plane.

Cessna Skymaster
Cessna Skymaster, OV-2

I flew in a Skymaster once, as a passenger from Santa Barbara to San Diego. The aircraft has two engines–one in the front and one in the rear–in a push/pull configuration.

I was working on a fire and had been flown from San Diego to Santa Barbara and needed a ride home after being released. The pilot walked right out of the pilot’s lounge and got directly into the aircraft. He didn’t bother with any pre-flight checks. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he may have done that earlier in the day.

Flying from Santa Barbara to San Diego in a straight line takes you over the Pacific Ocean. Not long after we reached our cruising altitude over the ocean the sound from the engines decreased suddenly and I realized that the rear engine had stopped. I saw some of the gauges on the instrument panel go down to zero.

The pilot said not to worry, that the Skymaster can sustain level flight on just one engine. But the altimeter I had my eyes glued to was showing that we were descending. As the pilot kept saying not to worry, he began turning to the left toward land, he was trying to restart the engine, and was looking through a Jeppesen Flight Guide for the closest airport. He was a busy guy as I sat there wondering if we could make it to a runway somewhere, anywhere. I was checking the altimeter every 1.5 seconds. It kept going down.

Finally the pilot got the rear engine started again, and we continued our merry way to San Diego. This time over land. We arrived safely at Gillespe Field where I kissed the ground after I got out of that damn Skymaster.