The following is information from Chuck Bushey, President of the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF). It is published here with his permission.
Marc Castellnou is one of the Incident Commanders involved in the Horta de Sant Joan Fire in Catalonia, Spain that experienced the burnover resulting in four fatalities and two severely injured firefighters. He is also a former member of the IAWF Board of Directors. Marc has assigned one of his firefighters, Daniel Krauss, to periodically update us on their most current fire situation and the status of the injured firefighters. Following are Daniel’s reports. This first report arrived 10:13 MDT, the other just this morning and I have just added it to this email. Daniel reports that one of their injured firefighters has died. The Team is understandably asking for some time before providing more information on the fire.
Reportedly there are about 25 fires burning in Spain with “hundreds” of firefighters involved and about 8,000 hectares burned (nearly 20,000 acres) involving numerous communities. Additional fires are burning in the Mediterranean areas of France where one firefighter has been injured, two civilians have reportedly been killed in a wildland fire on the island of Sardinia while authorities were implementing evacuations, fires in Corsica has caused the evacuation of two villages, and wildland fires are also burning in Greece in the southern Peloponnese and the island of Evia.
Chuck Bushey, IAWF President and FireNet Moderator
(Received 10:13 PM MDT)
The fire in Horta Sant Joan remains active but the fire crews reached to prevent it from further spreading and growing although the gusty winds and low humidity’s complicate suppression efforts. The fire is reported almost contained by control lines where the terrain allows access and the perimeter is stabilized by continuous drops from the aircraft involved. The fire has consumed 1.140 hectares so far.
The firefighter who suffered burns on 75% of his body remains unchanged in serious condition. The state of the second injured firefighter who suffered 50% burns has deteriorated during the last hours and is critical.
(Received 7:56 AM MDT)
Things have gone worse in Catalonia and one of the injured firefighters, Pau Costa, has died today in the hospital.
We will provide you more information on the firefighter fatalities later on.
The GRAF team now needs some time among themselves and they asked me to shield them from contact mails and visits from outside until Tuesday or Wednesday next week as far as I can. Certainly everybody will understand and respect that.
The golden anniversary of deploying helicopters to Black Hills forest fires will be observed Saturday, July 25.
The public open house will be at the U.S. Forest Service hangar at the Custer Airport, 3 miles south of Custer on Highway 385. Signs will be posted on the route, including Aviation Way to the airport.
Events will be from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., including a 6 p.m. barbecue, photo slide show and stories, possibly from members of the original crew and the days of “heli-jumping” without parachutes.
Order forms for 50th anniversary T-shirts and historic photographs also will be available. Copies of the “50 Years of Service” helitack photo book can be bought at http://bit.ly/17UvKv.
The Black Hills Interagency Helitack Program was established in 1959. The program has operated continuously since, stationed in either Hill City or Custer.
The current eight-man crew serves a seasonal contract from mid-June to mid-September throughout the Black Hills National Forest, as well as regional property managed by National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Crook County, Wyo.
1977: Bass River fire in the Bass River State Forest in New Jersey. A 2,300 acre fire killed four firefighters from Eagleswood Volunteer fire Department.
1998: The Kareas fire near Athens, Greece. The fire was fanned by a strong “meltemi” wind (north direction) along the west to southwest facing slopes of Ymettus mountain. The fuel in the area was Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) forest.
Firefighters in a number of fire trucks that were on a road that ran parallel to the main fire about 200 m higher saw a new branch and drove back (northwards) trying to escape. The three firefighters in the last truck, probably due to the smoke or due to inexperience in forest firefighting, stopped their truck exactly at the turn of the road in the narrowest point of the canyon. They abandoned it, although they had plenty of water and some safety distance and fled uphill, towards another road that ran parallel to the one they were on until then about 100 m higher.
They were caught by the heat and the smoke in the canyon and perished. One young volunteer firefighter who was with them also died. Their bodies were found at a short distance (about 120 m) from the fire truck, which they had abandoned. The truck received little damage. It is quite probable that if they had stayed in the truck they would have survived. The results of the Fire Service investigation on the incident were never publicly announced.
2003, Cramer Fire, Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho. Two helitack crewmembers from the Indianola helitack crew rappelled into an area in order to build a helispot (H-2) above the fire so that a crew could be flown in to secure the west flank of the fire. The rappell spotter estimated it would take one hour to clear the helispot.
About 5 hours later the two helitack personnel requested to be picked up by helicopter and said “Send them in a hurry.” At that time, however, two helicopters were down, one for 30-hour maintenance and the other for refueling. Fifteen minutes later a helicopter attempted to pick up the crewmen but could not land because of the smoke. The fire burned over the area and the bodies of Jeff Allen and Shane Heath were found 75-100 yards from the helispot. Their fire shelters had not been deployed.
This was the first known wildland fire where a firefighter was under threat of criminal liability for his actions.
More infamous fires can be found in the Infamous World Fires document on our Documents page.
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.
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).