Death toll rises to 62 in Portugal wildfire

Above: Photo by Euronews.

(Updated at (9:55 a.m. MDT June 18, 2017)

The number of people killed in the wildfire southeast of Coimbra, Portugal has risen to at least 62, according to the BBC. That number will probably increase as many remain missing and not all affected areas have been reached by authorities. Six firefighters have been seriously injured and two that were reported missing have been found with injuries.

Hundreds of firefighters and 300 pieces of fire apparatus are battling the fire southeast of Coimbra, one of 60 that broke out Saturday. Approximately 1,700 firefighters have been mobilized across Portugal during the recent extremely hot weather which brought temperatures over 100F. Dry thunderstorms are one of the possible causes of the fires. The government reports that 360 soldiers are assisting firefighters.

wildfires southeast of Coimbra, Portugal
Map showing the location of the wildfires southeast of Coimbra, Portugal.

Most of the fatalities occurred while residents were attempting to flee in their cars from the Pedrógão Grande area about 30 miles southeast of Coimbra.

Wildfires southeast of Coimbra, Portugal
Wildfires southeast of Coimbra, Portugal.

The European Commission says it is working with EU member states to respond to the call for assistance issued overnight by Portuguese authorities. The Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, said “Greece will offer any help necessary to fight the fires.” Spain and France are both sending several firefighting aircraft.

Wildfires kill 25 in Portugal

(12:42 a.m. MDT June 18, 2017)

The BBC is reporting that 25 people have been killed in wildfires in central Portugal. Several firefighters are reported to be among about 20 people injured.

Most of the fatalities occurred while attempting to flee in their cars from the Pedrógão Grande area about 30 miles southeast of Coimbra.

From the BBC:

Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes earlier said that three people died from smoke inhalation and 16 died in their cars on the road linking Figueiró dos Vinhos to Castanheira de Pera.

About 60 forest fires broke out across the country overnight, with 1,700 firefighters working to put them out. The flames spread “with great violence” on four fronts, Mr Gomes said.

Spain has sent two water-bombing planes to help tackle the fires.

Portugal has been experiencing dry thunderstorms and temperatures well above 100F in recent days.

wildfires west of Pedrógão Grande in Portugal
Map showing the location of wildfires west of Pedrógão Grande in Portugal. Click to enlarge.

CAL FIRE and contractor cited by OSHA after 2016 dozer rollover fatality

dozer rollover fatality
The dozer that rolled over on the Soberanes Fire in 2016, killing Robert Reagan. CAL FIRE photo.

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. Not wearing a seat belt, he was thrown from the cab and was killed when the dozer rolled onto him.

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.

Below is an excerpt from an article at KQED in which they point out a number of problems related to contractors working on wildfires:

Cal/OSHA also issued two citations to Cal Fire, one for failing to report a serious injury within eight hours and another for failing to maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program.

“The employer failed to ensure a supervisor was in the immediate area during all bulldozer activities,” Cal/OSHA compliance officer Kelly Tatum wrote in the agency’s citation.

Cal Fire, which also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Reagan’s wife and two young daughters, has appealed the findings.

wildfire dozer
File photo of a dozer in South Dakota.

Reports of five fatalities in central plains wildfires

There are reports that five civilians, not firefighters, have been killed in wildfires in recent days in Texas and Kansas.

In Gray County, Texas, approximately 60 to 80 miles east of panhandle city of Amarillo, three ranch hands were killed as they were moving cattle out ahead of a fire, according to Judge Richard Peet. In Texas county judges are responsible for suppression of wildfires.

Another person was killed in Hemphill County, Texas near Oklahoma border.

The Kansas Highway Patrol says 39-year-old Corey Holt, of Oklahoma City, jackknifed Monday while trying to back up his tractor-trailer on highway 34 in Clark County due to poor visibility from the fires. He was killed after he got out of his vehicle.

Firefighter killed in dozer accident on Soberanes fire

(Updated 5:46 a.m. MDT, July 28, 2016)

The operator of a bulldozer was killed while working on the Soberanes fire, one of two major wildfires burning in California and one that has already destroyed 20 homes.

The operator was killed when the bulldozer rolled over, and another operator was injured in a similar incident, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Other reports say the dozer operator died of injuries on Tuesday night.

The bulldozer operator was working on a call-when-needed basis overnight when the fatal accident occurred, according to information posted on CAL FIRE’s website. The dozer was one of 60 assigned to the fire in Monterey County.

Officials have not yet released the name of the operator who was killed. California’s other major blaze, the Sand fire, killed a man this week outside of Los Angeles.

UPDATE April 17, 2017: KQED reports that the name of the dozer operator that was killed was Robert Reagan.

Check back with wildfiretoday.com for more on this story.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris and Daniel.

L.A. County wildfire destroys 18 homes, kills one

A fire raging in Los Angeles County destroyed at least 18 homes and killed one person, whose body was found outside of a home in Santa Clarita, according to local media reports. 

Thousands of homes remain threatened as the Sand fire doubled in size from Friday to Saturday. Officials had planned to lift evacuation orders for some threatened neighborhoods, but changed their minds after an unexpected wind event, according to updates on inciweb.com.

Drones have also caused problems for firefighting efforts on the Sand fire, according to a posting from the incident management team on inciweb.com.  Local media reported that a drone flying in the Bear Divide area of the Angeles National Forest suspended flight operations on Sunday for 30 minutes.

On Friday, a similar incident shutdown fire operations in Montana.

Some quick facts about the Sand fire:

  • Started: July 22, around 2:15 p.m. PST
  • Cause: Undetermined
  • Total personnel: 1,673
  • Size: 22,000 acres
  • Resources: 122 engines, 39 hand crews, 15 helicopters and 8 dozers.