Four firefighters killed in Spain


Four firefighters have died and two others rushed to hospital with life-threatening burns on July 21 after tackling a blaze in the north of Spain. The firefighters were caught off-guard by a sudden change in wind direction.

The men were involved in efforts to extinguish a huge wildfire which has so far burned over 800 hectares of forest in a national park near Tarragona, in Catalonia. Local officials say the firefighters appear to have been caught off-guard by a sudden change in wind direction, which stoked the blaze.

“They were prepared, capable, qualified firefighters,” head of the Catalan regional government Jose Montilla said. “A change in meteorological conditions caused them to lose their lives.”

One of the two men who survived suffered burns to 75% of his body, while the other suffered burns to 50% of his body, a local government official told news radio Cadena Ser.

A water-dropping aircraft was called in to help fight the blaze as the municipality of Horta de Sant Joan came under threat.

But Spanish fire crews were stretched across the country battling a number of blazes. A fire burning near the town of Collado Mediano, northeast of Madrid, forced the evacuation of some 2,000 people before it was brought under control.

Wildfires in the regions of Cuenca and Ciudad Real also prompted local authorities to close stretches of roads. Forecasters said the strong winds which have fanned flames were expected to ease, but scorching temperatures – as high as 41 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country – would remain for several days.

Euronews has a good 51-second video report about the incident.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families and co-workers of the firefighters.

Followup on fatal rapelling accident

The U. S. Forest Service has issued a Safety Alert as a result of the accident on July 21 in which Thomas Marovich fell 200 feet to his death during rapelling training.

No. FS 09-01

July 21, 2009

Subject: Rappel Operations Equipment and Procedural Check

Area of Concern: Rappel Operations

Distribution: Rappel Bases

Discussion: This morning at approximately 1015 PDT a rappel accident occurred resulting in a fatal fall of a Forest Service rappeller. The facts we have on hand are that the helicopter and crew were assigned to the Backbone incident on the Six Rivers, NF west of Redding, CA. The crew was conducting a routine rappel proficiency mission involving in a Bell 212 HP.

A Chief’s level accident investigation is being conducted. The Forest Service is a party to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

Recommendation: We are advising all rappel units to review the Interagency Helicopter Rappel Guide (IHRG) Chapter 3, Rappel Equipment to assure that all rappel equipment meets the current standard. Also review Lesson Plan 7, Helicopter Mock-up on pages D-12 through D-16 of the IHRG.

Your review of equipment and procedures must be accomplished prior to the next operating period. The National Office is not calling for a stand-down of the rappel program at this time, until we can determine the specifics of what occurred and corrective actions to be taken. However, Region 5 has suspended all rappel activities until further notice.

The Safety Alert was signed by William C. Waterbury (AD Risk Management and Human Performance) and Ron Hanks (Chief, Aviation Risk Management and Training Systems).

The International Association of Wildland Fire reports that there have been 10 other wildland firefighter fatalities in the United States this year:

  • John C. Meyer, firefighter/mechanic, 01/03/09
  • John W. Adams, firefighter, Oklahoma,02/02/2009
  • William Roger Vorwark, firefighter, Missouri, 03/14/2009
  • Roger Hershner, pilot, Kansas, 03/08/2009
  • Gregory Carroll Cooke, firefighter, North Carolina, 03/21/2009
  • Heath Van Handel, pilot, Wisconsin, 04/08/2009
  • Dennis M. Simmons, firefighter, Kansas, 04/21/2009
  • Tom Risk, pilot, 04/25/09
  • Brian Buss, airtanker crew member, 04/25/09
  • Mike Flynn, airtanker crew member, 04/25/09


Fatal accident during training at Backbone fire

The Backbone fire on the Klamath National Forest in northern California issued this news release about 45 minutes ago:

Fatal Accident During Routine Training At the Backbone Helibase

WILLOW CREEK, Calif.– During a routine training exercise an individual was involved in an accident Tuesday morning. A Helicopter and its crew, who are assigned to the Backbone Fire, was conducting weekly skill proficiency acceptance training and was involved in an accident that took an individuals life.

At 10:10 this morning while performing a proficiency skill acceptance training, at the Backbone Helibase in Willow Creek, an individual fell and incurred fatal injuries. The training is required to be conducted weekly to insure the crew’s safety and proficiency.

Information is limited at this time and all names of individuals involved are being with held until notifications to families have been made. We will be happy to provide information as soon as it is available.

The individual was provided medical attention immediately at the scene. The Base medical staff, the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office, and the Humboldt County Sherriff’s Office were dispatched and involved in the initial response.

Our sincere condolences to the family and co-workers.

More information about the Backbone fire, which is being managed by a National Incident Management Team (NIMO), can be found at Inciweb.

UPDATE @ 6:43 p.m. PT, July 21

The Backbone fire issued a second news release at about 5:45 p.m. PT today:

WILLOW CREEK, Calif.– Thomas Marovich, 20, of Hayward California incurred fatal injuries when falling while performing routine rappel proficiency skill training, at the Backbone Helibase in Willow Creek.

Marovich was a second year apprentice with the Forest Service at the Modoc National Forest, and was working with the Chester Helitack Crew from the Lassen National Forest which was assigned to the Backbone Fire at the time of the accident.

At 10:10 this morning Marovich fell and incurred fatal injuries while performing the required training which is conducted at a minimum every 14 days to insure the crew’s safety and skill proficiency.

The individual was provided advance life support treatment immediately at the scene. The Base medical staff, the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office, and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office were involved in the response.

The Forest Service has mobilized an accident investigation team and is working with the National Transportation Safety Board.



Martin Mars approved by USFS to fight fire

On Saturday the U.S. Forest Service finally certified the 7,200-gallon Martin Mars air tanker to work on fires for the agency. After a seven-hour flight from Canada on July 12, it flew several check rides on Friday and Saturday. It will be based at Lake Elsinore in southern California.

Here is an excerpt from an article at Fire Department Network News:

A Canadian-registered Martin Mars water bomber and its sophisticated spotter helicopter were officially certified Saturday as “Mission Ready” by the U.S. Forest Service for battling potential wildland fires in the Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino National Forests.

Owner Wayne Coulson, of Coulson Flying Tankers, told FDNNTV his crew flew several “check rides,” or test missions, late Friday and then again Saturday morning with USFS observers on board.

The vintage aircraft made practice, thirty-second long, water scoops on nearby Diamond Valley Lake then, as Coulson described the maneuvers, “roared around” a mountainous section of the San Bernardino National Forest for monitored 7,200 gallon target drops.

At the same time Coulson’s new Sikorsky S-76 electronics-filled chopper successfully demonstrated its ability to lead the Martin Mars into fire zone target areas while video taping and relaying aerial observations of water drops back to Forest Service incident commanders on the ground.

Coulson said, “It was a 100-percent successful familiarity performance for Forest Service personnel who now know how best to deploy the two aerial firefighting aircraft when needed.”


“Prepare, stay and defend, or leave early”: dead or alive in Australia?

Debate continues in Australia following the tragic Black Saturday fires of February 7. Some want to scrap the “prepare, stay and defend, or leave early” policy, but the program still has its defenders as evidenced inan excellent article by John Schauble, a fire researcher, Country Fire Authority captain, and author of The Australian Bushfire Safety Guide.


Thanks Dick

Helicopter crash in northern California

Siskorsky S-61, photo: Croman Corporation

A Sikorsky S-61 Type 1 helicopter crashed on the Backbone fire on the Klamath National Forest on Friday. Thankfully there were no serious injuries to the only people on board, the two pilots.

From the Mail Tribune:

A pilot was injured when a helicopter owned by Croman Corporation, of White City, crashed Friday afternoon while fighting the Backbone Fire on the Klamath National Forest in Northern California. A U.S. Forest Service spokesman said both the pilots on the aircraft walked away from the crash, and one was flown to Mercy Hospital in Redding, Calif., where he was treated and released. The pilots’ names were not available.

The aircraft was an S-61 military-style helicopter, the same kind that went down Aug. 5, 2008, near Junction City in California’s Trinity County, killing nine firefighters, six of whom were from Jackson and Josephine counties, from Merlin-based Grayback Forestry.

“They’re calling it a hard landing,” Forest Service spokesman Jim Mackensen said. “I’m calling it a crash.”

Mackensen said the aircraft came down hard and flipped on its side at 3:16 p.m. Friday while working at a heliwell, a plastic container that holds thousands of gallons of water for use in fighting forest fires far from good dipping sites in streams or lakes. Water had been hauled to the heliwell by trucks for the aircraft to pick up to attack the fire.

“He had just finished loading up,” Mackensen said. “It did roll over and beat itself up pretty bad. It’s not going to fly off the mountain.”

The site of the crash was a wooded part of Siskiyou County about six miles north of the community of Forks of the Salmon and about 12 miles northeast of Willow Creek. The fire had spread over about 6,300 acres as of Saturday morning. Mackensen it was 50 percent controlled.

Mackensen said an investigation team was on its way to the accident and would begin at once trying to determine what went wrong. He said he believed the pilots were Croman employees. Phone calls to Croman’s White City headquarters Saturday were not answered.

The Sikorsky helicopter in last year’s tragedy was owned by Carson Helicopters of Grants Pass. That 30-year-old aircraft was made in Connecticut and upgraded in 2003 and had been used in firefighting for 10 years. A Carson spokesman said it was the first fatal crash for his company in 50 years.