“I’m stuck in my vehicle … and there’s fire all over”

Four Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff officers were trapped in the Lower North Fork wildfire on March 26, 2011, southwest of Denver, but they escaped eventually, unhurt. This is an audio recording of some of the radio traffic from that incident, courtesy of 9news who got it from a scanner feed.

Click on the green arrow to listen to the recording.

More information about the Lower North Fork fire.

Update on Lower North Fork fire in Colorado

Lower North Fork Fire
Lower North Fork Fire. Credit: Jefferson County Sheriff's Office

(We will update this throughout the day on March 28 as developments occur.)

UPDATE at 12:30 p.m. MT, March 28, 2012

The reported size of the fire has been changed from 4,500 to 3,790 acres. This latest size was calculated from an infrared mapping flight that occurred at 10:30 p.m. on March 27.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s office has reduced the number of damaged structures from 28 to 27. One of the recorded addresses was not accurate.

We have an audio recording of radio traffic from an incident that occurred on March 26 on the fire when four Jefferson County Sheriff officers were entrapped in the fire. They escaped unhurt, but the audio is gripping.

The Denver Post has some fascinating video that was shot by residents driving out of the fire. They said they did not receive a reverse 911 phone call warning.


UPDATE at 9:23 a.m. March 28, 2012

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has updated their map of the fire with data from 8:20 p.m., March 27. The fire perimeter in red. The blue line is the evacuation area as of 2:00 p.m. on March 27. We expect they will give us an updated acreage later.

Map Lower North Fork Fire 2030 3-27-2012
Map Lower North Fork Fire 8:30 p.m., 3-27-2012. Jefferson County Sheriff's Office


UPDATE at 8:45 a.m. March 28, 2012:

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office released some updated information at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday:

Overnight the fire was relatively stable. Fire crews made progress through the night in protecting structures. Today’s strategy is to gain containment around the fire while continuing to protect structures.

Today’s fire behavior is expected to be similar to yesterday but with slightly higher winds. The winds could result in more robust fire activity. The fire will also most likely become more intense as the temperature rises throughout the day. The fire has continued to exhibit a tendency to start spot fires in a wide area.


The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will continue to man road blocks around the fire perimeter. At this time we are not allowing anyone back into the evacuated regions.

The Sheriff’s Office said the estimated size is still 4,500 acres and that 28 structures have been damaged.


(Original  post at 7:30 a.m. MT, March 28.)

The Lower North Fork fire that is southwest of Denver and seven miles southeast of Conifer, Colorado, was relatively quiet during the night. The last official acreage that was released by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for the wildfire was 4,500, and they reported that 23 homes have been damaged. An elderly couple was found dead near their home and one resident within the burn area is missing.

The map of the fire shows the fire perimeter in red, as of 11:00 p.m. on March 26. The blue line is the evacuation area as of 2:00 p.m. on March 27. We will provide an updated map as more information is provided.

Map Lower North Fork Fire 732 am 3-28-2012
Map Lower North Fork Fire. Jefferson County Sheriff's Office

The firefighters’ strategy on Wednesday is to switch from point protection to constructing fireline to begin containment of the fire. They had hoped to do that on Tuesday, but the weather and fire behavior did not cooperate, pushing them back into a defensive and structure protection mode. Containment is still listed at zero percent, and 900 homes are still under a mandatory evacuation order. On Wednesday three air tankers (two P2Vs and one single engine air tanker) and four helicopters (including two National Guard Blackhawks) will be working on the fire. More aircraft are on order.

The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center reported Wednesday morning that Rich Harvey’s Type 1 Incident Management Team arrived and in-briefed at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday and will assume command at end of the shift today. The RMACC says 3,790 acres have burned. This reduction in size is probably due to more accurate mapping as a result of the aircraft that Tuesday night used infrared equipment to determine the fire perimeter.

On Tuesday the Colorado State Forest Service released a statement saying a prescribed fire they ignited on Wednesday, March 21, escaped control on Monday, and investigations are underway to determine the cause of the Lower North Fork fire. The Denver Post earlier on Tuesday quoted Jacki Kelley, a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, as saying the fire originated from a controlled burn conducted by the Colorado Forest Service.

This first video is from a 6:00 a.m. newscast on March 27.

The video below is from March 26.

9news.com occasionally has live video reports about the fire.

Read Wildfire Today’s March 27 coverage of the Lower North Fork fire. and the March 29 article.

Colorado fire update: 2 fatalities; 16 structures burn; fire map

Map Lower North Fork Fire 0900 3-27-2012
Map showing heat on the Lower North Fork Fire detected by satellites, March 27, 2012

(Read our March 28 update on the Lower North Fork fire and our March 29 update.)

UPDATE at 5:00 p.m. MT, 3-27-2012

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has provided additional information about the Lower North Fork Fire:

  • 23 homes have been damaged by the fire.
  • 4,500 acres have burned
  • Two air tankers are working the fire: a single engine air tanker and a large P2V. Two military helicopters are also assigned.
  • Increased fire activity today convinced the incident management team to issue a pre-evacuation notice to an additional 6,500 homes north and east of the fire.
  • 200 firefighters are on scene.
  • Containment is at 0%. Due to the fire behavior, firefighters had to back off from their aggressive strategy this morning, to more of a defensive strategy emphasizing structure protection.
  • The Type 1 Incident Management Team has arrived. There is no word yet on when they will assume command. Our best guess at Wildfire Today is sometime on Wednesday.


UPDATE at 3:25 p.m. MT, 3-27-2012:

The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office has identifed the two fatalities from the Lower North Fork Fire as a husband and wife, Samuel Lucas, 77, and Linda Lucas, 76.

Air Tanker 44 drop 312 pm 3-27-2012
Air Tanker 44 dropping at 3:12 pm 3-27-2012, on the Lower North Fork Fire. 9News

UPDATE AT 2:24 p.m., March 27, 2012

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department has updated the map of the Lower North Fork fire. The blue line is the evacuation Area as of 3/27/2012 at 2:00 p.m. This evacuation zone is the original area and does not include the pre-evacuation notice to 6,500 homes located in regions north of the existing evacuation area. The additional pre-evacuation notice was sent out because “current weather conditions have caused the fire to act in an erratic manner which may threaten those 6500 homes”.

Map Lower North Fork Fire 220 pm 3-27-2012
Map, Lower North Fork Fire, updated at 2:20 p.m. 3-27-2012. By Jefferson County Sheriffs Office


UPDATE at 12:33 p.m. MT, March 27, 2012

As the temperature rises and the humidity decreases, activity on the fire is picking up. At least two air tankers are actively dropping retardant on the fire, a Single Engine Air Tanker, and Tanker 44, the P2V which is the tanker than ran off the end of the runway at Rocky Mountain Metro Airport in 2010 after its brakes failed. The aircraft was repaired at the airport and has been stationed there for the last week or so. Two National Guard helicopters are enroute from Buckley Air Force Base to start dropping water.

Lower North Fork fire, 4:00 p.m, 3-26-2012
Lower North Fork fire, 4:00 p.m, 3-26-2012. Photo provided by Jefferson County Sheriffs Office
Tanker 44 drop 1231 pm 3-27-2012
Tanker 44 dropping on the Lower North Fork Fire at 12:31 p.m., 3-27-2012. Credit: 9News

Continue reading “Colorado fire update: 2 fatalities; 16 structures burn; fire map”

Monday wildfire one-liners, March 26, 2012

Screen grab from report about Colorado wildfire conditions
Screen grab from CBS Denver report about Colorado wildfire conditions

Excellent photos of a P2V and an Air Tractor 802A at Jeffco Air Tanker Base in Colorado.

Annual wildfire refresher available, online and by DVD. Warning: a lame, pointless video with audio will automatically play for about 15 seconds when you visit the NIFC web site.

Video report about wildfire conditions in Colorado.

U.S. Forest Service starts women’s firefighting boot camp.

Two boys ordered to pay $10,000 each for starting fire near Gardnerville, NV.

New Hampshire man uses gasoline to ignite brush pile, is treated at hospital for burns on hands and face.

Two Single Engine Air Tankers begin their 7-day journey from Australia to the United States.

Meteorologist gives early prediction of a normal fire season for the northern Rockies.

One home and two outbuildings burn in three-acre wildfire in Chimayo, NM.

During the past 10 years, the Alabama Forestry Commission’s staff has been reduced by more than 300 employees.

Top wildland fire stories of 2010 – with poll

Vote on the most significant wildland fire stories of 2010

As we documented earlier this month, the 2010 wildland fire season, when measured by the acres burned in the 49 states outside Alaska, was the slowest since 2004. But in spite of that, there has been significant news about wildland fire. In fact, we posted over 670 articles this year.

In 2009 we listed some of the top stories and invited you to vote on the ones that you considered to be the most significant.

Continuing that tradition, below we have listed the top stories of 2010. The line of duty fatalities are not listed unless there was an unusual spin-off story associated with the fatality. Below the list, there is a poll where YOU can let us know which stories you feel are the most significant of 2010.

Top wildfire stories of 2010

Jan. 8: The National Park Service released the report on the August, 2009 Big Meadow escaped prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park. The fire blackened 7,425 acres before being controlled by 1,300 firefighters at a cost over $15 million. It became the eighth largest fire in California in 2009.

Jan. 11: One of the five Type 1 Incident Management Teams in California was disbanded. Bill Molumby, who had been the team’s Incident Commander for several years, retired in November, 2009 and apparently they were not able to replace him.

Jan. 21: Federal wildland firefighter bill introduced in Congress. The “National Infrastructure Improvement and Cost Containment Act” would affect the pay, retirement age, and fireline liability of federal wildland firefighters.

Feb. 1: Fire contractor sentenced to 10 months in prison for forging wildfire training certificates and task books.

Apr. 23: NIOSH to study long-term health effects of working as structural firefighter, but not as a wildland firefighter. In a follow-up a few days later, Brian Sharkey of the USFS’ Missoula Technology and Development Center downplays lung cancer risks for firefighters. NWCG later responds to our article.

Apr. 30: The International Association of Fire Chiefs, an organization that concentrates on structural fire, received at least $13.2 million from the U.S. Forest Service and DHS-FEMA over a seven-year period, reportedly for wildfire-related purposes. The IAFC became furious at Wildfire Today for exposing the information.

Jul. 5: Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, sues the Billings Fire Department over the loss of “trees and ground cover” on his property during an 1,100-acre fire in 2008.

Aug. 2: Hundreds of wildfires in Russia claimed more than 50 lives, left more than 3,500 people homeless, and caused massive air quality issues in Moscow and other areas.

Aug. 2: A BAe-146 jet airliner was converted to an air tanker and was tested in Missoula. The Interagency Air Tanker Board failed to certify it due to inadequate ground coverage of retardant.

Aug. 24: The 100th anniversary of the fires of 1910 and Ranger Pulaski’s incident are commemorated at several events in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Aug. 26: In spite of weather forecasts that would have alarmed most fire managers, the Helena National Forest in Montana ignited the Davis prescribed fire during a near record heat wave. The fire escaped and burned 2,800 acres. The report was released in November. The Forest Supervisor said the report did not point out “something clearly that we did wrong, done incorrectly or that we’re going to make big changes on”.

Sep. 6: The Fourmile Canyon fire burned 6,200 acres and 169 homes a few miles west of Boulder, Colorado. The fire was devastating to local fire districts within the burned perimeter in several ways, including the facts that a firefighter’s burn pile escaped and started the fire, the homes of 12 firefighters burned, and one fire station and an engine inside it burned.

Sep. 21: The Commander of the Utah Army National Guard assumed responsibility and apologized for the Machine Gun fire that burned 4,346 acres and three homes near Herriman, Utah. The fire started during target practice with a machine gun at a National Guard base.

Sep. 24: The Australian state of Victoria tested the U.S.-built DC-10 very large air tanker and concluded that it did not perform adequately and would not be suitable for use in their wildland-urban interface areas.

Oct. 13: The US Forest Service’s response to the 2009 Station fire is criticized, and Congress holds hearing in Pasadena, CA about the management of the fire, which burned 160,000 acres near Los Angeles.

Oct. 26: “Dirty Jobs” TV show features prescribed burning in a Florida wildlife refuge. Video footage captures some activities that are criticized by some viewers.

Dec. 2: A fire in Israel kills 43 prison guards and firefighters. Air tankers from the United States respond.

Dec. 7: NTSB holds a meeting about the helicopter crash on the Iron Complex fire in northern California in which nine firefighters and crew members died. Much of the blame was attributed to falsified helicopter performance documents supplied by Carson Helicopters when they applied for a contract with the U.S. Forest Service. Carson and the surviving co-pilot dispute that conclusion.


Honorable mention stories (not exactly top stories, but interesting; they are not part of the poll).

Feb. 24: Wood piles were burned on frozen Lake Pactola in South Dakota.

Mar. 29: Washington D.C. Metro train drives through wildfire, and stops in the middle of it. And on July 25 we posted a very impressive video that was shot from a Greyhound bus that drove past a large bushfire during the night in Queensland, Australia.

May 11: NWCG outlaws the use of some terms, including “appropriate management response” and “wildland fire use”.

Jun. 20: It was not a wildland fire, but every firefighter can relate to some of the problems encountered when a kinked fire hose and improper procedures delayed the rescue of IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro from her burning race car which crashed at Texas Motor Speedway.



Choose three of the wildfire stories you consider the most significant of 2010.

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Feel free to leave a comment (or “response”) explaining your choices, or to discuss other news items that did not make the list.

South Canyon fire, 16 years ago today

South Canyon Fire
The blow-up at the South Canyon fire, between 1630 and 1700. Photo from the report.

On the afternoon of July 6, 1994 near Glenwood Springs, Colorado the South Canyon fire spotted across the drainage and beneath firefighters, moving onto steep slopes and into dense, highly flammable Gambel oak. Within seconds, a wall of flame raced up the hill toward the firefighters on the west flank fireline. Failing to outrun the flames, 12 firefighters perished. Two helitack crew members on top of the ridge also died when they tried to outrun the fire to the northwest. The remaining 35 firefighters survived by escaping out the east drainage or by seeking a safety area and deploying their fire shelters.

The firefighters who lost their lives that day:

Kathi Beck
Tami Bickett
Scott Blecha
Levi Brinkley
Robert Browning
Doug Dunbar
Terri Hagen
Bonnie Holtby
Rob Johnson
Jon Kelso
Don Mackey
Roger Roth
James Thrash
Richard Tyler

For more info.