(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.
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.