State cites employer of firefighter killed on Tubbs Fire

KQED reports that Tehama Transport, the owner of the truck that rolled over, failed to provide workers compensation insurance for their employees.

According to KQED the state of California has cited the company that employed the firefighter killed in Northern California October 16 while operating a water tender on the Tubbs Fire.

water tender accident in Napa County
Screen capture from KCRA video of water tender accident in Napa County October 16, 2017.

Garrett Paiz, 39, died when the water tender he was driving rolled over while descending Oakville Grade west of Highway 29. Mr. Paiz was the only firefighter killed on the numerous large fires that broke out during a wind event in Northern California October 8-9. About 40 civilians died in the fire storms which also destroyed thousands of homes.

Investigations by the California Department of Industrial Relations and the state Labor Commissioner’s Office found that the owner of the truck, Tehama Transport, failed to procure workers compensation insurance for their employees.

Below are excerpts from articles at KQED:

The company, like scores of other contractors, has provided water tenders and bulldozers to firefighting efforts. Firms that contract with Cal Fire for heavy equipment are required to provide copies of their current workers’ compensation insurance policies for their employees.

But Tehama Transport did not have to abide by that requirement because it registered as an “owner/operator.” Under that classification, the company was saying that Paiz either had ownership in the company or was a relative of someone who did.

Without that coverage, Paiz’s family, his wife and teenage daughter, might lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.

Cal Fire has hired the company 56 times and the U.S. Forest Service has hired the firm 47 times since 2006, according to documents obtained by KQED.

Tehama Transport appealed the penalty, leading to a hearing that took place Monday. A hearing officer’s decision on the dispute is pending.

In April both a private contractor and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) were issued citations by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) related to a fatality when a dozer rolled over. Robert Reagan, 35, of Friant, California, was killed while fighting the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California July 26, 2016.

Minutes after Mr. Reagan began operating the piece of equipment for Czirban Concrete Construction on contract to CAL FIRE, it rolled over.

According to KQED news, Cal/OSHA issued five citations to Czirban totaling $20,000. The largest was $13,500 for not wearing a seat belt.

Czirban had not secured workers’ compensation insurance for Mr. Reagan as required, and had been cited eight times in four years by the Contractors State License Board, several times because of worker’s compensation issues.

CAL FIRE was cited for failing to report a serious injury within eight hours and another for failing to maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program.

Tubbs Fire: garage door in a tree

Garage door in a tree. #wildfire #tubbsfire #santarosa #wind

A post shared by Josey Goggin (@joseygoggin) on

Joseygoggin posted this photo on Instagram taken in the Tubbs Fire, indicating that the object in the tree is a garage door.

The very strong, up to 90 mph, winds during the large wildfires in Northern California October 8-10 caused extreme fire behavior resulting in the destruction of thousands of homes and the deaths of at least 40 people.

Researcher looks at the effects of fuels management and previous fire on Rim Fire severity

Rim Fire, August 21, 2013.
Rim Fire, August 21, 2013. Photo by Robert Martinez.

In a November 13 webinar at 1 p.m. MST Jamie Lydersen will present her findings about how the effects of fuels management and previous fire affected the severity of the Rim Fire that started on the Stanislaus National Forest and burned into Yosemite National Park.

It seems intuitive to those who study wildland fire that a reduction in fuels will result in a decreased rate of spread and fire severity for the next wildfire, but it’s always good to have data that can confirm or refute long-held beliefs.

Here is a description of Ms. Lydersen’s research.

The 255,000 acre 2013 Rim Fire created an opportunity to study fuels treatment effects across a large forested landscape in the Sierra Nevada. We assessed the relative influence of previous fuels treatments (including wildfire), fire weather, vegetation and water balance on Rim Fire severity. Both fuels treatments and previous low to moderate severity wildfire reduced the prevalence of high severity fire. Areas without recent fuels treatments and areas that previously burned at high severity tended to have a greater proportion of high severity fire in the Rim Fire. Areas treated with prescribed fire, especially when combined with thinning, had the lowest proportions of high severity.

Jamie Lydersen is an associate specialist in the department of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley and a contractor for the Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service.

Registration is required to view the webinar.

We lost another firefighter

Pine Valley Creek Bridge
Bridge on Interstate 8 over Pine Creek near Pine Valley, California as seen from an airliner July 11, 2005. Uploaded to Wikipedia by NicksGarage.

On Sunday November 5 we lost another wildland firefighter to the suicide epidemic. After completing his shift that morning at CAL FIRE’s Station 20 in El Cajon, California Captain Ryan Mitchell took his own life at the Interstate 8 Pine Valley bridge in San Diego County near Pine Valley.

“This tragic and unexplainable incident has affected many personnel in the Unit, both those that knew Ryan and those that responded to the incident”, Unit and County Fire Chief Tony Mecham wrote Sunday in a message to the county firefighters. “I am proud of our personnel and the efforts undertaken today under very difficult conditions. I especially want to thank those personnel who spent the day at the scene and accompanied Ryan to the Medical Examiners Office this evening.”

“While we may never know exactly what lead to this tragic event”, Chief Mecham continued,  “what we do know is that mental health issues are real and no one should feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. Circumstances at work and in our personal lives affect our mental health and quality of life. There are many resources available to all of us through Employee Support Services, Employee Assistance Programs and our own personal network.”

On November 4 we wrote about the shocking  number of wildland firefighters who have taken their own lives. According to Nelda St. Clair of the Bureau of Land Management we lost 52 in a two-year period, 2015 to 2016.

Chief Mecham is right. Help is available.

The image below that we posted on Facebook is an abbreviated version of help sources that could be posted on bulletin boards or stuffed into employee mailboxes.

suicide sources for help

Canyon 2 Fire caused by ember from previous fire

The Canyon 2 Fire destroyed approximately 15 homes and damaged 45 others in Anaheim, California

Canyon Fire map
The red dots represent heat detected on the Canyon 2 Fire by a satellite at 2:54 a.m. October 10. The yellow dots were detected at 12:54 p.m. October 9. The Canyon Fire started September 25, and the spread was stopped a few days later. Click to enlarge.

The Canyon 2 Fire that burned 9,200 acres and destroyed or damaged 60 homes started from an ember that blew from the previous Canyon Fire that blackened 4,300 acres south of the 91 Freeway between Anaheim and Corona, California.

The cause of the Canyon 2 Fire was released Monday by Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman. According to the LA Times, Chief Bruegmann said the ember originated about 20 feet inside the fireline of the first fire, the Canyon Fire, and was blown about 50 feet into brush outside the line.

The Canyon fire damaged four homes and started July 25 when a Caltrans road flare was knocked off the 91 Freeway into grass by a passing vehicle. The Canyon 2 Fire began October 9.

Interim Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), Patrick McIntosh revealed October 25 that the first full dispatch of fire suppression equipment to the Canyon 2 Fire occurred 71 minutes after the first report of “smoke and flames”. By the time the first units arrived, the new fire was well established. The Chief said he would recommend to the County Board of Supervisors an independent review be conducted of how the fire was handled.

The OCFA has the responsibility under a contract for suppressing vegetation fires within Anaheim city limits. Monday the LA Times reported Anaheim Chief Bruegman said that arrangement is currently under review.

Our Opinion

Of course hindsight is always 20/20, and investigations could confirm this or not — but a person could argue that if the OCFA had done two things differently, there may have been a vastly different outcome for the Canyon 2 Fire.

  1. Thorough mopup of the first fire, the Canyon Fire. Most wildfires are completely extinguished hundreds of feet inside the fireline or perimeter. The ember that the wind blew from the fire 15 days after it started, was only 20 feet from the perimeter.
  2. A reasonably quick and aggressive attack of the new fire, the Canyon 2 Fire, rather than a 71 minute delay.

RIP Stan Stewart

Stan Stewart
Stan Stewart. Photo from YouCaring.

A long-time wildland firefighter well known by many passed away Saturday night, November 4, with his wife, Allison, and son, Shane by his side. Stan Stewart lost his nine-year battle with cancer after spending his last days in a hospice in Santa Barbara, California.

As the Superintendent of the Los Padres Hotshots he became a mentor and father figure for decades of firefighters. Stan dedicated his life to training personnel and striving to improve the safety of boots on the ground. Many have have crossed paths with Stan at some point in his thirty-five year tenure with the L.P. Hotshots.

A fundraiser has been posted on YouCaring to help pay for Stan’s hospice care and other costs that were not covered by his health insurance. The site explains that his wife and 14-year old son have accumulated an overwhelming amount of medical bills.

Our sincere condolences go out to Allison, Shane, other members of his family, his friends, and co-workers.