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.

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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.

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Fallen firefighter returns to Rapid City

David Ruhl

The aircraft carrying the Ruhl family passes under crossed water streams at the Air Tanker Base at the Rapid City Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Thursday a fallen firefighter returned home. The remains of David (Dave) Ruhl, killed July 30 while fighting a wildfire in northern California, were brought back to Rapid City. His wife and two children were flown Wednesday morning from Rapid City to Redding, California to receive the remains that had been transported in a procession from Mt. Shasta to the Northern California Service Center, a firefighting hub in that part of the state. Then the family got back on the King Air operated by the State of South Dakota and flew back to Rapid City.

Many firefighters were present at the Air Tanker Base to honor David Ruhl. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Many firefighters were present at the Air Tanker Base to honor David Ruhl. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

After it landed, the aircraft taxied to the Air Tanker Base and passed under crossed water streams provided by two of the airport’s crash rescue fire engines. The plane was met by dozens of firefighters standing at attention. A member of the Honor Guard first exited the aircraft carrying the cremated remains of Mr. Ruhl and transferred them to one of the firefighters. Then Mrs. Ruhl and the two children came down the aircraft stairs and passed through two rows of saluting firefighters as they made their way to the green Forest Service engine in which Mr. Ruhl served as Captain.

David Ruhl

The remains of David Ruhl are transferred at the Rapid City Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Dave Ruhl family

The Ruhl family walks through a corridor formed by saluting firefighters. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The engine then became part of a procession that began with about a dozen engines and other emergency vehicles that had been parked at the Air Tanker Base. As it made its way out of the airport it picked up at least another two dozen other vehicles, mostly engines, that were waiting in the “cell phone” parking area. Making their way down to Highway 44 one of the Tatanka Hotshots’ crew carriers tagged on, and when the procession passed the Rapid Valley Fire Department even more joined.  Eventually the family was escorted to their home in Rapid City.

Other events that are scheduled:

Sunday, August 9, 2015 – Procession and Memorial Service In Rapid City, South Dakota: A procession will begin at 1 p.m. from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 520 Cathedral Drive in Rapid City (map) to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center (map). The route will go north along 5th Street and conclude in the west parking lot of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Visitation will be at 2 p.m. at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, 444 Mt. Rushmore Rd., Rapid City, SD 57701, followed by a memorial service which will begin at 3 p.m.

The memorial service will be streamed live on the internet on South Dakota Public Broadcasting at www.sdpb.org/live.

Monday, August 10, Funeral: Mr. Ruhl’s funeral will be held at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

More information about the fatality.

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Cause of death and plans for final arrangements released for firefighter killed in California

Dave Ruhl

Dave Ruhl. USFS photo.

The cause of death of the firefighter that was killed July 30 while fighting the Frog Fire in northern California was released today. The U.S. Forest Service said the autopsy that began August 4 determined that David (Dave) Ruhl’s death was attributed to “carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation”.

Mr. Ruhl went missing the evening of July 30 while engaged in initial attack on the Frog Fire which was reported at approximately 5:45 p.m. on July 30 in a very remote area of the Modoc National Forest 46 air miles east of Mt. Shasta, California.

The Modoc County Sheriff’s Office was called for assistance. Search and rescue personnel started the initial search at approximately 8 p.m. It continued until about midnight when it was halted because of hazardous fire conditions. Efforts began again at 6 a.m., July 31 and Mr. Ruhl’s body was discovered at 9:17 a.m.

A National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team, with Incident Commander Bob Housman, is managing the aftermath of the fatality, while Norcal Team #1 with Incident Commander Jay Kurth is running the Frog Fire which has now grown to 4,745 acres and has 523 personnel assigned.

Before Tuesday afternoon, the USFS released very little information about the fatality, and would not divulge if it was caused by a burnover, vehicle accident, lightning, or something else. A 72-hour preliminary report about the accident that was also released today further explained that while Mr. Ruhl was scouting the fire on foot during initial attack, he “was entrapped and killed”.

The fatality is currently being investigated by OSHA, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Agriculture, the County Sheriff, and a Coordinated Response Protocol (CRP) team. According to Safety Matters the CRP team is being led by Mike Dudley, who also served as secondary team leader for the Serious Accident Investigation Team for the Yarnell Hill Fire and the deaths of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2013.

He had been on a temporary detail since June 14 as an Assistant Fire Management Officer on the Modoc NF. His regular job was Engine Captain on the Black Hills National Forest in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Mr. Ruhl, 38 years old, began his Forest Service career in 2001 as a seasonal forestry technician. Previously, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard and as a correctional officer with the state of South Dakota. He lived in Rapid City with his wife and two children.

Dave Ruhl family

Dave Ruhl, his children Tyler and Ava, and wife Erin. Photo by Erin Ruhl. Used with permission.

Shalista Anderson, who has been a friend of Mr Ruhl’s wife, Erin, for over 20 years, set up a GoFundMe account to support Erin and their two children, Tyler and Ava. Ms. Anderson told us that “Erin will have control over all funds and they will be deposited directly into her account”.

The goal of the effort is to raise $20,000, but I hope we can do a lot better than that.

Some of the final arrangements have been made.

Procession in California: In a procession from Mt. Shasta to Redding, California on Thursday, August 6, Mr. Ruhl will be accompanied by engines from the Modoc National Forest and will be joined by other fire departments during portions of the journey. The procession will depart from Mt. Shasta Memorial Chapel at 8 a.m. and will proceed along Interstate 5 and Hwy. 44 to the northern California Geographic Area Coordination Center in Redding. Mr. Ruhl will rejoin his family in a private setting at the center.

Procession In Rapid City, South Dakota: On  Sunday, August 9, 2015, a procession will begin at 1 p.m. from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 520 Cathedral Drive in Rapid City (map) to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center (map). The route will go north along 5th Street and conclude in the west parking lot of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Memorial Service: Visitation will be at 2 p.m. at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, 444 Mt. Rushmore Rd., Rapid City, SD 57701, followed by a memorial service which will begin at 3 p.m.

Funeral: Mr. Ruhl’s funeral will be held Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

 

Dave Ruhl services

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South Dakota firefighter killed while responding to a fire in California

By Ken Sandusky, U.S. Forest Service,
released at 7:45 p.m PT, July 31, 2015

****

“Alturas, Calif. – It is with great sadness we must confirm a Forest Service firefighter lost his life yesterday while responding to the Frog Fire northwest of Adin, California (map). The deceased is David “Dave” Ruhl of Rapid City, South Dakota.

Search and rescue was conducted throughout the night until the firefighter was found this morning.

Dave was on temporary assignment to the Big Valley Ranger District of the Modoc National Forest as an Assistant Fire Management Officer since June 14. Dave’s permanent position is Engine Captain on the Mystic Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest in Rapid City.

The Forest Service is investigating this line-of-duty death.

“This loss of life is tragic and heartbreaking,” said Forest Supervisor, Amanda McAdams. “Please keep the family and all of our Forest Service employees in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

The Frog Fire southeast of Lava Camp on the Big Valley Ranger District started yesterday afternoon, exhibiting active fire behavior and growing to more than 800 acres by this evening with active spotting ahead of the fire front.

Northern California Team 1 is expected to take over management of the fire Saturday morning.

Additional detailed information on the Frog Fire will be available on Inciweb at http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4427/.”

****

California Governor Brown also issued a statement about the fatality and mentioned that Mr. Ruhl is survived by his wife, Erin, and their two children. He worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 14 years and previously served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

In honor of Firefighter Ruhl, California Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

At Wildfire Today our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Ruhl’s friends, co-workers, and family.

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Contract faller killed on British Columbia fire

The British Columbia Wildfire Service released this information late Sunday night, July 5, 2015:

We sign off with heavy hearts tonight. We were saddened to learn that a contract tree faller working with us on the Old Sechelt Mine fire suffered a fatal injury while felling a danger tree earlier today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends, family and co-workers.

This is a tragic reminder of the dangerous work being done by personnel across the province to respond to wildfires.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers.

The Old Sechelt Mine Fire has burned 80 hectares (198 acres) since it was discovered July 2 two km northwest of Sechelt.

UPDATE at 7:30 p.m. MT, July 6, 2015: Kelowna Now reports that the coroner has identified the faller as John Joe Phare, age 60, from Roberts Creek.

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

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