Information released about entrapment on 2016 Canyon Fire

Dozens of firefighters were entrapped and endured a harrowing escape through very thick smoke and flying embers.

Above: an image from the official report, showing the conditions as firefighters were making their way to the safety zone.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has released a review of the entrapment of dozens of firefighters that occurred six months ago on the Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

On September 19, 2016, two days after the fire started, approximately 50+ firefighters were assigned to Division Zulu on the north side of Honda Canyon, about a mile east of the site where four Air Force firefighters were entrapped and killed on the Honda Fire in 1977.

Assigned to the division that day were 8 engines, 4 dozers, 1 water tender, and a 20-person hand crew comprised of 3 helitack crews. All were ordered by the Division Supervisor to take refuge in a safety zone.

Canyon Fire entrapment
3-D map of the Canyon Fire looking east. The red line was the perimeter of the Canyon Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 20, 2016. The white line was the perimeter at approximately 11 p.m. September 19.

After observing conditions that morning last September the tactic decided on was to fire out the ridge on the north side of Honda Canyon, which runs east and west. The main fire was to the south on the other side of the canyon. The operation was going well until the intensity in the burnout increased dramatically; fire whirls developed and the fire began spreading to the west more quickly than the igniters and holders could keep up with it.

The Division Supervisor ordered, “All Division Zulu resources pull back to the safety zone”. Even though some of the personnel were about 600 to 700 yards from the safety zone, the smoke-obscured visibility occasionally made movement difficult or impossible. At times the engines had to stop when they could not see the ground in front of them. Burning embers, some of them fist-sized, pelted the vehicles and the 20 people in the hand crew that were walking to the safety zone.

In the video below, it appears to have taken about 10 minutes to travel the 600 to 700 yards. The recording shows how harrowing it must have been as day turned to night. At least two firefighters were later transported to a hospital suffering from smoke inhalation injuries.

The video is incredible and at times has on the screen views from three different cameras, apparently time-synced. Pretty impressive editing (by Mark Pieper and Tony Petrilli) for a government-produced video. The maps and annotated still images are also very useful.

Canyon Fire entrapment
A screenshot from the video, at minute 7:39.

Some firefighters, approximately two, removed their fire shelters from their gear. One was fully deployed and another was partially unfolded.

From the report:

When asked: “How scared were you on a scale of 1 to 10?” multiple crew members replied “9” and “10.”

We covered the Canyon Fire as it was burning and thought we were aware of the major developments at the incident, but we did not hear about this entrapment until today, March 27, 2017. Maybe we missed it, but it is possible that the fact that it occurred on a military base influenced an apparent desire to keep it low key, even though a California Type 2 Incident Management Team had assumed command of the fire the morning of the incident and, according to the report, “did start Regional notification regarding the shelter deployment”.

The Incident Commander and the Deputy IC were first notified more than three hours after the entrapment.

In spite of the late release of the information, firefighters can benefit from this lessons learned opportunity and the fact that the preparers of the report conducted it in such a way that there were apparently few if any efforts among those involved to “lawyer up” and shut up fearing litigation or prosecution. Many still and video images were made available and at least enough of the firefighters were willing to talk about what happened to allow a useful report to be completed.

Maybe the way this review was conducted can be a template to reverse the recent trend of investigations that are not as useful as they could be.

Honda Fire Fatalities 1977

On September 21, 2016 a Ventura County Fire Department firefighter was killed in a vehicle accident while responding to the Canyon Fire. Fire Engineer Ryan Osler, a passenger in a water tender, lost his life. The driver of the truck self-extracted and was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Canyon Fire”.

Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base slows; new fire burns 200+ acres on the base

(UPDATED at 9:50 a.m. PDT September 23, 2016)

Canyon Washington fire
Map of the Canyon Fire and a new fire (Washington Fire) at 1 a.m. PDT September 23, 2016.

The 12,518-acre Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base has not spread over the last 24 hours.

However a new fire, named Washington, broke out on Thursday east of the 15,000-foot runway on the base and burned vigorously until it was knocked down by firefighters. As of 1 a.m. Friday it had blackened about 204 acres and is being described by the Air Force as controlled. The preliminary cause is a powerline downed by strong winds. It generated a 0.6-acre spot fire over a mile south of the main blaze.

****

(Originally published at 1:56 p.m. PDT September 21, 2016)

3-D map Canyon Fire
3-D map of the Canyon Fire looking east. The red line was the perimeter of the Canyon Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 20, 2016. The white line was the perimeter approximately 24 hours before. Click to enlarge.

According to overnight mapping the Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base on the southern California coast has burned 12,353 acres, an increase of over 2,000 acres from the previous day’s report. Approximately 1,056 firefighters from Vandenberg AFB, U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and Santa Barbara County Fire are combating the blaze.

Crews saw very little growth in the fire overnight, due in part to the heavy marine layer and calm winds. This allowed ground teams to further construct and improve containment lines along base boundaries and key rocket launch support facilities. Firefighting aircraft are being used today to assist firefighters ahead of anticipated increases in wind speed, which could gust as high as 30 mph later in the week.

Ventura County Fire Department reported that Fire Engineer Ryan Osler lost his life this morning in a line of duty vehicle accident while assigned to the fire.

Water tender rollover kills Ventura County fighter

The vehicle was en route to the Canyon Fire.

Above: Fatal water render rollover, September 21, 2016. Screenshot from KEYT video.

This morning the rollover of a water tender enroute to the Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base resulted in the death of a firefighter. Ventura County Fire Department reported that Fire Engineer Ryan Osler, a passenger in the truck, lost his life in a line of duty vehicle accident while assigned to the fire. The driver of the truck self-extracted and was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries.

The water tender had designations indicating that it was a California Office of Emergency Services apparatus. OES vehicles are often farmed out to local fire departments, such as Ventura County FD.

KYET reported the accident occurred at about 6:20 a.m. on state Route 246 at Purisima Road in Lompoc which is near the fire burning on the military base on the southern California coast.

Unfortunately rollovers of fire vehicles, especially water tenders, happen far too often.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, coworkers, and friends of Engineer Osler.

ryan osler

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “rollover”.

Canyon Fire grows to 10K acres, delays launch of satellite

Above: Canyon Fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the southern California coast, September 18, 2016. Photo by Michael Peterson.

(UPDATED at 12:11 p.m. PDT September 20, 2016)

The Canyon wildfire on Vandenberg Air Force Base on the southern California coast grew by over 5,000 acres on Monday and has now burned 10,542 acres according to officials on the base Monday morning.

map Canyon Fire
Map of the perimeter of the Canyon Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 19, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Launch complexes for rockets and liquid oxygen facilities are currently threatened. Evacuations have occurred for some areas on the south side of the base.

The fire has spread to within less than a mile of Space Launch Complex 3 north of the perimeter where the launch of a Saturn V rocket scheduled for September 18 had to be postponed. The fire has also burned very close to Space Launch Complex 8 on the southwest side of the blaze.

map Canyon Fire
The red line was the perimeter of the Canyon Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 19, 2016. The white line was the perimeter approximately 24 hours before. Click to enlarge.

The weather on the fire varies greatly due to the proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Where the fire is burning adjacent to Space Launch Complex 8 it is only a few thousand feet from the coast at 400 feet above sea level. The ridge in the interior of the fire is at 1,500 feet. The relative humidity, wind direction, wind speed, and temperature have been very different along the coast, the interior of the fire, and at Lompoc. The minimum humidity ranged from 12 to 30 percent in these areas on Monday. On the west side of the fire, which was the most active area, the wind was variable but mostly from the south during the day, but switched to come out of the north after 9 p.m.

The photo below illustrates the variable weather in the area. While there is fog and high humidity in a low-lying area, the fire hauls ass just beyond.

The weather is difficult to forecast because of the above issues, but on Tuesday firefighters should expect more favorable conditions, with temperatures around 70, RH of 30 to 60 percent, and west winds at 9 mph.

****

(Originally published at 2:20 p.m. PDT September 19, 2016)

A wildfire burning on Vandenberg Air Force Base on the southern California coast delayed the launch of a satellite. As of very early Monday morning the Canyon Fire was approximately a mile from Launch Complex 3, where an Atlas V rocket was scheduled on Sunday to send a WorldView-4 payload into orbit. The satellite will capture high-resolution images of Earth from space.

“Our procedures require stand-by firefighting crews for every launch to ensure safety of our personnel and facility protection,” said Col. Paul Nosek, Emergency Operations Center commander. “We’ve delayed the launch in order to concentrate our resources on the situation at hand.”

No facilities have been damaged by the fire in the remote canyon between Arguello and Santa Ynez Roads.

According to Col. Paul Nosek, no space launch complexes or critical range assets are in immediate danger.

Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base
The Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base burns about a mile from Launch Complex 3. Inside is the Atlas V rocket. Santa Barbara County Fire photo.

The fire has been burning since September 17. The cause has not been released. Monday morning it was mapped at 4,528 acres.  It has caused power outages in several facilities on the south part of the base. Those buildings are currently operating on generator power. The base’s Civil Engineers will sustain the generators until downed electrical lines can be repaired and commercial power is restored to the facilities.

Firefighters are fighting the fire with air tankers, helicopters, dozers from Santa Barbara County Fire, and personnel from federal, state, and local fire agencies. The aircraft are flying out of Santa Maria and Paso Robles airports.

The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite over the Canyon Fire at 1:50 a.m. PDT September 19, 2016. The yellow dots were from 5:50 a.m. on Sept. 18.
The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite flying over the Canyon Fire at 1:50 a.m. PDT September 19, 2016. The yellow dots were from 5:50 a.m. on Sept. 18. Wildfire Today, MODIS, Google.

The photos below are courtesy of Santa Barbara County Fire.

canyon fire
A firefighter on the Canyon Fire shields his face from the heat.
Tanker 06 P2V
Tanker 06, a P2V, drops on the Canyon Fire.
S2T canyon fire
An S2T drops on the Canyon Fire.

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