The onerous task of archiving incident records

Above: A scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

One of the more laborious and least appreciated tasks at a large wildfire or other incident is assembling and storing the paper and electronic records. These official government documents from a fire provide a record of significant events and actions taken, provide information to address payments and claims and must be collected under the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. Some records have permanent value for developing lessons learned and long-term value for managing natural resources. Documentation Unit Leaders are assigned to incidents to be responsible to assemble the files.

As the 38,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire in Colorado and Wyoming was winding down after 97 days, the incident management team (IMT) realized they had filled 26 boxes. And they needed to make copies for all three of the primary agencies that were involved.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group has established very specific, detailed guidelines for maintaining incident records. They have even established a permanent Incident Records Subcommittee.

records archive
Example of archived documents, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.

The photo above is obviously what the NWCG wants to avoid.

The IMT at the Beaver Fire looked for alternatives to creating scores of boxes of paper that would most likely end up sitting in a dusty warehouse for decades.

Below is an excerpt from a Rapid Lesson Sharing document explaining how they dealt with the task.

…As this incident progressed, the documentation grew and grew. The Documentation Unit Leader (DOCL) was maintaining three sets of documents so that each of the agencies involved would have a set.

In August, the Incident Business Advisor (IBA) assigned to the Beaver Creek Fire recommended that the agencies order an Archivist to scan and catalog all the documents related to the fire. At first, the agencies were hesitant to agree to this request due to a concern that a complete set of these documents could not be provided.

But eventually the agencies did agree and the Archivist (a DOCL) started this work.

The documents are now scanned and named following the established document system. The original set of documents will be stored by the incident agency.

Each agency will now have a complete set of the indexed incident documents for the Beaver Creek Fire available electronically. If a hard copy is needed, it can be printed or obtained from the archived paper files stored at the Forest’s headquarters.

LESSON: Consider utilizing an Archivist to organize incident documents in an electronic format for easy access by multiple entities.

Congrats to the IMT for saving mountains of paper and telling others about their success story. However, a few more details would have fleshed out the lesson they learned. For example, how did they physically scan the documents — what hardware and software did they find useful. And what file formats are the documents in? Would the electronic record they made meet the national guidelines for the one official record that would serve everyone’s needs, including those required by the Freedom of Information Act?

The photos below are from an Incident Records Training PowerPoint presentation, and show how paper documents are stored.

records archive
Example of archived incident documents, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.
records archive
Example of archived documents, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.
records archive
Example of archived maps, from Incident Records Training PowerPoint.

Fun fact about the making of the warehouse scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (see photo at the top of our article). The warehouse is a painting, not a real warehouse or a computer generated graphic. A hole was cut in the painting through which the live action was filmed. From VashiVisuals:

Michael Pangrazio created some of the most famous matte paintings in Cinema history. His work in Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Temple of Doom (1984) and 65 other films is some of the most memorable ever. By the 1990’s almost all matte paintings were produced using computer software and the analog method slowly and sadly faded away.

The warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark took 3 months to paint onto a sheet of glass. The glass was positioned right in front of the camera and it extended the set deep into the background. This example is often called the most effective and beautiful matte painting ever.

The live action in the scene was shot through a hole in the matte painting.

Dynamic photos from fire in Lake View Terrace, CA

Jeff Zimmerman of Zimmerman Media took some excellent photos at a fire in Lake View Terrace north of Los Angeles last week. The fire spread quickly during Santa Ana wind conditions and burned about 60 acres before several hundred firefighters from Los Angeles County and the U.S. Forest Service contained it after a two-hour battle.

Thankfully for Jeff, California has a different, some would say more enlightened, way of handling the media at emergencies and disasters than some other areas. There are few restrictions as long as the reporters do not interfere with incident operations. Their rights are protected by California Penal Code 409.5d.

lake terrace wildfire

lake terrace wildfire

lake terrace wildfire

All photos are by Jeff Zimmerman.

Red Flag Warnings, October 22, 2016

The National Weather Service has posted Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches for areas in Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado.

The Red Flag map was current as of 8:35 a.m. MDT on Saturday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps.

Yarnell Hill Fire homeowners ask appellate court to allow them to sue the state

Above: Hearing in the Court of Appeals, September 21, 2016. Screen grab from video.

From the Insurance Journal:

Attorneys for Yarnell residents who lost their homes in the deadly 2013 Arizona wildfire are asking the Court of Appeals to allow their clients to sue the state.

KJZZ-FM reported that previously homeowners sued the state Forestry Division, but a trial judge dismissed the case concluding the state had no duty to protect the residents’ property.

At a hearing [September 21, 2016] an attorney for the state said Arizona is not responsible for protecting everyone who chooses to live adjacent to wilderness.

Plaintiffs’ attorney David Abney says that since the state fought the fire, it voluntarily agreed to try to protect Yarnell. Abney wants the appellate court to give his clients a chance to make their case to a jury.

The 2013 Yarnell wildfire killed 19 firefighters and burned more than 120 homes.

To our knowledge, the Court of Appeals has not yet handed down their decision.

Video from the hearing is available on YouTube.

Criminal investigators receive award for their work on the fatal Iron 44 Fire helicopter crash

Seven firefighters and two pilots were killed in the 2008 crash of a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter operated by Carson Helicopters on the Iron 44 Fire (or Iron Complex) on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weaverville, California.

The following information was released yesterday by the U.S. Attorney’s Oregon office.


“WASHINGTON – On October 20, 2016, Byron Chatfield, Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, received an Award of Excellence in Investigation from the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) for his work on the investigation and prosecution of two corporate executives linked to a fatal 2008 wildland fire helicopter crash in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Weatherville, Calif.

On August 5, 2008, in the midst of the Iron Complex Fire, deteriorating weather conditions made it necessary to evacuate backcountry firefighters to safety. A helicopter owned and operated by Carson Helicopters, Inc. of Medford, Ore. was dispatched to the location. On a third pick-up attempt, the aircraft, overweight with fuel and passengers, crashed, killing nine and injuring four others. The crash was the deadliest wildland fire aviation disaster in United States history.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chatfield, along with five other federal investigators, embarked on a seven-year investigation of the crash that led to the conviction and sentencing of two Carson Helicopter executives. The investigation proved that the executives had falsified documents detailing weight capacities and balance charts of their aircraft in order to win more $51 million in Forest Service contracts. All told, the investigation team conducted 246 witness interviews in five different countries, issued 84 trial subpoenas, executed 3 computer forensic exams, and amassed over 129,000 pages of evidentiary discovery.

“I applaud Byron and his colleagues’ extraordinary efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict those responsible for this unthinkable tragedy” said Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney for the District of Oregon. “The work of Byron and team” continued U.S. Attorney Williams, “demonstrates the tremendous lengths those in our law enforcement community will go to bring justice to individuals responsible for similar acts of fraud.” ”


One of the executives with Carson Helicopters was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and the other was ordered to serve 2 years.

More information about this tragedy and the aftermath can be found in articles at Wildfire Today tagged “Iron 44”.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Nina.

Nominations being accepted for Wildfire Mitigation Awards

wildfire mitigation awardDo you know of someone or an organization that has achieved success or set a good example for wildfire mitigation?

The October 30th deadline for nominations for a 2017 Wildfire Mitigation Award is approaching. If you know an individual or organization that is doing great work in wildfire preparedness and mitigation, please try to help them get the recognition they deserve by nominating them for an award.

Established in 2014 in response to an overwhelming number of great wildfire mitigation efforts across the nation, the Wildfire Mitigation Awards are the highest national honor one can receive for outstanding work and significant program impact in wildfire preparedness and mitigation.

The awards are jointly sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association, and the U.S. Forest Service. They are designed to recognize outstanding service in wildfire preparedness and safety across a broad spectrum of activities and among a variety of individuals and organizations. By honoring their achievements, the award sponsors also seek to increase public recognition and awareness of the value of wildfire mitigation efforts.

Nominations can be can be completed and submitted online. Additional information about the Wildfire Mitigation Awards is available online, as are the criteria and guidelines.

For additional information, contact Meghan Rhodes, Wildland Fire Programs Coordinator with the IAFC, at (703) 896 – 4839, MRhodes (at)