Report released for fatality on the Frog Fire

Frog Fire fatality site photoThe U.S. Forest Service has released a preliminary report for the fatality of Dave Ruhl on the Frog Fire. Mr. Ruhl went missing the evening of July 30, 2015 while scouting the fire on foot, serving as incident commander during the initial attack in a very remote area of the Modoc National Forest 46 air miles east of Mt. Shasta, California. His body was found about 14 hours later approximately one-quarter mile from where he was last seen.

(Click on the image below, the timeline of the fire, to see a larger version.)

Frog Fire timeline

On August 4 the USFS said the autopsy determined that Mr. Ruhl’s death was attributed to “carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation”.

Not much information is in the report that sheds light on what led to his being entrapped by the fire, or what decisions were made or not made that led Mr. Ruhl to be in that spot at the wrong time. The wind direction did shift, which drove the fire in different directions, possibly resulting in his location becoming compromised.

The report’s narrative ends with this:

Although much will remain unknown about Dave’s decision making and complete route of travel, the final 100 feet of his route were accurately established. It appears he was cut-off and overcome by fire during the period of time that the fire spread shifted dramatically toward the west-southwest. Dave’s fire shelter was not deployed.

This document, called by the USFS a “learning review, preliminary report — narrative”, was released a little over two months after the fatality, a remarkably short amount of time for the agency. ItiPhone texts comes after the USFS was extremely secretive during the first five days after the accident, refusing to divulge if a fire shelter was deployed, where the remains were found, or if the fatality was caused by a burnover, vehicle accident, lightning, or another type of accident.

The report confirms something that could be occurring at many fires — behind the scenes communications via cell phones. The Zone Duty Officer sent two text messages to Mr. Ruhl confirming that he was a TRAINEE Type 3 Incident Commander, and ordering him to clarify that over the radio to the others on the fire. The next text message sent to Mr. Ruhl was, “And I won’t text anymore. Sorry for that.” And finally, an hour and a half later after it became obvious he was missing, “I need you to call or text ASAP, we are very concerned on your status.” The screen shot of those four messages from the Zone Duty Officer’s iPhone did not include any replies from Mr. Ruhl.

Dave Ruhl

Dave Ruhl

The full report can be downloaded (2.1 mb).

All of the above images are from the report.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged Dave Ruhl.

Remains found of a fourth person killed in the Valley Fire

fatality valley fire

This NASA image shows in red the areas detected by a satellite has having burned in the 76,000-acre Valley Fire 62 miles north of San Francisco.

On Tuesday the Lake County Sheriff’s office announced that the body of a fourth person killed in the fire was discovered.

Search teams find the remains of two more people in the Valley Fire

Search teams using cadaver dogs found the remains of two more people in the Valley fire, which as burned over 73,000 acres 62 miles north of San Francisco. The Lake County Sheriff’s office announced that on September 16 the remains were discovered in the Hidden Valley and Anderson Springs areas.

Based on the locations, reports about missing persons, and evidence found, the Sheriff’s office has tentatively identified the remains, but has not yet obtained positive identification.

This brings the total number of people killed in the Valley Fire to three. Earlier, the body of 72-year-old Barbara McWilliams, a retired teacher, was found. She had multiple sclerosis and was apparently unable to escape her home as the fire approached. There was a report that a neighbor offered to help her evacuate, but she refused.

On September 16 Kevin Ragio, the Calaveras County Coroner, confirmed that two bodies were found in another fire in California, the Butte Fire, which has burned over 70,000 acres south of Jackson, California. Both of the people killed were in Mountain Ranch.

Our main article about the Butte Fire
Our main article about the Valley Fire

Coroner confirms two fatalities in the Butte Fire in California

Kevin Ragio, the Calaveras County Coroner, has confirmed that two bodies have been found in the Butte Fire, which has burned 71,000 acres south of Jackson, California. Both were in Mountain Ranch.

One was found near Baker Riley Road. Mark McCloud, 65, had refused to evacuate and was overcome by the fire. He was found outside his home.

Another body was discovered in the remains of a home in the M 24 community. The release of the name is pending notification of next of kin.

Map Butte Fire 9-15-2015

The red line represents the perimeter of the Butte Fire on September 15, 2015. The white line was the perimeter on September 13.

At last count the destroyed structures in the Butte Fire included 233 residences and 175 outbuildings. Many areas in Calaveras and Amador Counties are still under evacuation notices, but others are being repopulated.

Resources assigned to the fire include 4,865 personnel, 519 fire engines, 92 hand crews, 10 helicopters, and 94 dozers.

Our main article about the Butte Fire.

Three firefighters killed in Washington wildfire

(Originally published at 6:12 p.m. PT, August 19, 2015; updated at 8:12 a.m. PT, August 20, 2015)

Three U.S. Forest Service firefighters were killed Wednesday, August 19, while they were fighting the Twisp River fire west of Twisp, Washington. The agency confirmed that they were “engaged in initial attack operations and were involved in a vehicle accident when it is believed that the fire overtook the vehicle.”

According to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, the three Forest Service deaths occurred in a fire on Washington Department of Natural Resources land.

Four additional firefighters were injured: one USFS, two DNR, and one DNR contractor.

Evacuations of the 3,000 residents of two nearby towns were ordered, Twisp and Winthrop.

The names have not been released, pending notification of next of kin.

“We are devastated by the tragic loss of three of our Forest Service firefighters,” said Mike Williams, Forest Supervisor on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.  “We are working with County and State partners to notify the families of those lost.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and fellow crewmembers of these brave firefighters.”

The Forest Service said a national incident management team has been ordered.

Q13 Fox reported that the county “sheriff said the wind suddenly shifted and the firefighters became trapped as the fire was turned back on them”.

The rapidly spreading new fire that caused the evacuations is represented by the six red dots in the map below, 6 miles northwest of Twisp. Heat from the fire was detected by a satellite at 1:05 p.m. PT, August 19. Click on the map to see a larger version.

Map fires near Twisp

Fires near Twisp, Washington. The dots represent heat detected by a satellite, with the red ones being the most recent, recorded at 1:05 p.m. PT on August 19, 2015. (click to enlarge)

Evacuation information can be found at the Okanogan County Emergency Management Facebook page.

The first articles to report the fatalities were time-stamped shortly before 6 p.m. PT, August 19.  The reports say shifting winds may have contributed to the entrapment of the firefighters. The weather station between Twisp and Winthrop, NCSW1, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday recorded winds from all directions, starting from the north at 8 a.m., the wind direction changed going clockwise until they were from the north-northwest at 5 p.m. The wind speeds were light, at 1 to 6 mph until 5 p.m. when they increased to 10 with gusts to 20 mph. The relative humidity was in the mid-teens and the high temperature was 95 degrees.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families of the injured and deceased firefighters.

Firefighter killed by falling tree

(Originally posted at 7:30 a.m. PT, August 9, 2015; Updated at 9 p.m. PT, August 9, 2015 with the name of the firefighter.)

Another wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service has died in the line of duty. Early Sunday morning the agency announced that at approximately 5:30 p.m. on August 8 two firefighters were struck by a falling tree during the initial attack on a new fire, the Sierra Fire, in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) in California. One was killed and the other was treated and released from a hospital.

The firefighter has been identified as 21-year old Michael “Mike” Hallenbeck of Shingle Springs, California. Mr. Hallenbeck was a member of Organized Crew 36 on the LTBMU.

His family released a statement on Sunday:

Mikey was so excited to become a firefighter. When he first found out he had the position, he spent every day hiking with a pack to prepare. Mikey loved the outdoors and sports. He played football, basketball, soccer, ice hockey, tennis and golf. He also loved to snowboard and hike. He spent the last two ski seasons working for Sierra Ski Resort. Now he has had a greater calling. We are so very proud he stepped up to work hard and be brave to put others before himself. We cannot even begin to express the pain our family is going through and we ask for the respect of our privacy as we go through this devastating ordeal.

This is the second USFS firefighter to die on a wildfire in California in the last 10 days. On July 30 David Ruhl was entrapped by a fire and killed during the initial attack on the Frog Fire on the Modoc National Forest in northeast California.

Our sincere condolences go out to the friends and family of the firefighters that passed away in both of these fatalities.