USA Today writes about the fatal Iron Complex fire helicopter crash

The USA Today newspaper has written an article about the crash of the helicopter on the Iron Complex fire in northern California in 2008 that killed nine firefighters. The headline calls it a “smokejumper crash”, but there were no smokejumpers on the helicopter operated by Carson Helicopters. The article contains little additional information that was not in our September 19, 2009 update about this crash.

LA Times: USFS cost concerns delayed response to Station Fire

Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Pringle has written another article about the Station fire — the fire that in 2009 burned 160,000 acres near Los Angeles and killed two LA County Fire Department firefighters. The newspaper obtained a copy of a “Large Cost Fire Review” that was commissioned by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the department that includes the U. S. Forest Service.

Here is an excerpt:

The review states that because the Forest Service had instructed managers to hold down costs, “the decision on the Station fire to initially order only federal personnel delayed arrival of critical resources.”

Tom Harbour, head of fire and aviation for the Forest Service, said he did “not know the specifics” of the findings but suggested that the conclusion about cost worries could be “an error.” He said that all orders for crews, equipment and aircraft were filled during the first two days of the fire, which broke out Aug. 26, 2009, and burned for six weeks.

Harbour added that, given the terrain, the decision to take an indirect approach to the flames in the backcountry was sound. “That’s some really, really rugged country,” he said.

But Don Feser, former fire chief for Angeles National Forest, said the inquiry indicates that the officials who led the attack “allowed the fire to run. No action was taken in terms of aggressive perimeter control.”

The findings in the “Large Cost Fire Review,” a copy of which The Times has obtained, will be addressed by Los Angeles-area House members during a public panel Tuesday morning in Pasadena.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D- Burbank), who organized the session, said in a statement that the review “raises serious questions about whether a Forest Service policy intended to limit costs prevented the timely use of resources…. This will certainly be one of the important issues I intend to raise.”

The panel plans to interview former and current Forest Service officials and L.A. County Fire Department administrators, among others.

Loyola University Prof uses Thirtymile fire as evidence women should not be firefighters

A professor at Loyola University New Orleans has written a ridiculous article published by Psychology Today that uses the tragic Thirtymile fire that killed four wildland firefighters in 2001 as evidence that women should not be firefighters and that the concept of national forests is evil and an example of “socialized land ownership”.

The Thirtymile fire, even before this idiot from Loyola spewed forth this garbage, can provoke a very emotional response from wildland firefigters. Not only did we lose four firefighters (see the names below which include two women), but for the first time a wildland firefighter was charged with felonies for the deaths of people on his crew.

The Cantwell-Hastings law that passed in 2002 was a knee-jerk reaction to these deaths. It requires that every fatality of a U.S. Forest Service employee on a fire be investigated by the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General’s office, a group of people more comfortable investigating fraud of subsidies at chicken ranches than analyzing wildland fire behavior, tactics, and strategy. Their mission is to determine if anyone should be charged with a crime, not to help identify lessons learned or prevent future fatalities.

Ellreese Daniels, the crew boss of those four firefighters, had been initially charged with 11 felonies, including four counts of manslaughter. The charges were reduced to two counts of making false statements to which Mr. Daniels pleaded guilty on August 20, 2008. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 90 days of work release.

So the idiot Loyola prof digs into these wounds which still seem fresh to firefighters and says women have no place on the fireline:

Nowadays, with our modern dispensations, we place females in the front lines. This is no less than an abomination. Females are far more precious than males. It is not for nothing that farmers keep a few bulls and hundreds of cows. It is due to patriarchy that we owe our very existence as a species. Imagine if our cave men ancestors had sent their women out to hunt and face the lions and tigers when they came a-calling, instead of throwing themselves at these enemies, sacrificing themselves so that mankind could persist.

Spoken like a cave man.

He goes on to say that fewer firefighters would die if we had no public ownership of lands:

When a forest fire consumes private timber, there are individuals who feel it in their bank accounts; this is not the case with socialized land holdings. This means that the incentives are greater, by how much is an empirical matter, for profit making individuals to take greater precautions regarding their property than is true for their public counterparts. If we have learned anything from the fall of the Soviet economic system – and this is a highly debatable point – it is that things work better under private ownership. These four young people will have not died totally in vain if we use their deaths as a rallying cry for privatization of the forest. Perhaps if we succeed in this effort, other lives will be saved.

Thirtymile fire memorial
Thirtymile fire memorial

The four firefighters killed on the Thirtymile fire were:

Tom L. Craven, 30, Ellensburg, WA;
Karen L. Fitzpatrick, 18, Yakima, WA;
Devin A. Weaver, 21, Yakima, WA;
Jessica L. Johnson, 19, Yakima, WA.

A memorial page for the firefighters can be found here. May they rest in peace.

Two NPS rangers die in plane crash in Utah

Two National Park Service law enforcement rangers from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah died on Friday when a small private plane, a Cessna 172, crashed in the Dixie National Forest in southern Utah. The aircraft was owned and piloted by Dangling Rope Subdistrict Ranger Laurie Axelson. Her passenger was Chief Ranger Brent McGinn.

They had taken off from the Bryce Canyon airport and were bound for the airport in Page, Arizona, near the headquarters for Glen Canyon NRA, but failed to arrive as expected Friday night. A search began for the missing aircraft early Saturday morning and two to three hours later the plane was found in a rugged area of Mount Dutton near Deep Creek.

Here are more details from the Deseret News:

plane crash, nps employees
Photo: Garfield County Sheriff's Office

…They set out on Friday to scout the area for an upcoming elk hunt when they crashed in a fairly remote part of Dixie National Forest.

[National Park Service spokesman Shannan] Marcak said it is believed they left Friday night. Sometime Saturday morning, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area dispatchers were notified that the private plane was missing, prompting a search of the area. Three hours later, the wreckage of the Cessna was found and McGinn and Axelson were confirmed dead.

Searchers are still working to recover the bodies. Macark said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

She said the investigation into the crash is in its “fledgling” stages, but officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and Garfield County and National Park Service staff from Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon National Park are all expected to participate.

Marcak said she did not have any information on Axelson’s background or experience as a pilot.

Dixie National Forest covers about two million acres of southern Utah near Cedar City.

The official NPS press release.

Our sincere condolences to the families and co-workers.

Two days on a fire with the Zion Wildland Fire Module

Cow Creek Fire Aspen saplings
Aspens that have sprouted on the still-burning Cow Creek fire. NPS photo by Leah H. Mitchell

Leah H. Mitchell has written one of the best articles I have ever seen about what firefighters actually do out on the fireline. It was published on October 6 at the Estes Park Trail Gazette web site. Ms. Mitchell, a Fire Program Clerk for the Northern Great Plains Fire Management Office at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, wrote the article while she was assigned to the Cow Creek fire in Rocky Mountain National Park as an Information Officer Trainee.

She spent two days with Zion National Park’s Wildland Fire Module hiking up and down steep slopes at the 10,000-foot level. The Module was assigned to monitor and burn out a portion of the fire which has been burning in a remote area of the park since lightning ignited it on June 24 — burning so long that the article included a picture of Aspens that have sprouted and grown one to two feet high after the fire burned through.

Here is the article:


Ed Waldron holds the Kestrel, or weather meter, up to the wind. In the next five minutes, he will note wind speeds at least a dozen times to make sure he is sending accurate readings to the handful of firefighters widening the blackened line in the drainage below him.

Cow Creek Fire Ed Waldron monitor
Wildland firefighter, Ed Waldron, from the Zion Wildland Fire Module uses his compass to measure the slope while taking weather readings on the Cow Creek Fire. NPS photo by Leah Mitchell.

“When you make smoke observations, use a lot of adjectives,” he instructs Jeff Harrison, who is apprenticing to learn Waldron`s fire-monitor job. “Words like: ‘dispersing,` `rising,` `white to light gray,` `occasionally dark.'”

We watch the smoke produced by the firefighters push up the slope of Mt. Dickinson. Once the smoke hits the ridgeline, it rises straight up, creating a vertical column.

More than three months after lightning ignited the Cow Creek Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park, firefighters on the west side of the fire are attempting to create a buffer to keep the fire below them from spotting or running uphill to the north.

Continue reading “Two days on a fire with the Zion Wildland Fire Module”

Colorado highway named after former wildland firefighter killed in Iraq

On October 7 a five-mile section of Colorado State Highway 56 between I-25 and US 287 was named the “Staff Sergeant Justin Bauer Memorial Highway”.  Sergeant Bauer was killed January 10, 2009 by an improvised explosive device near Baghdad, Iraq. He was a former firefighter with the Berthoud Fire Protection District northwest of Denver (map) and was certified as a wildland firefighter.

His wife, Kari Campbell, is shown in this video.

More information and photos.