Learning Review released for smokejumper fatality

A report called a “Learning Review” has been released for the Luke Sheehy fatality, the smokejumper who was killed by a falling limb while suppressing a wildfire on the Modoc National Forest in northeast California on June 10. In addition to the primary report an additional document with supporting information, including some mind-numbing charts, was released.

The objective as stated in the document was to “understand the rationale for the actions/decisions involved in the incident and then, if possible, to learn from them”.

Frequently at Wildfire Today we will write a summary and then our analysis of serious accident reports, but this particular document is very different from the traditional report. It adopts the new paradigm of leaving out conclusions and recommendations, a process that began to be etched into stone in August when the Serious Accident Investigation Guide was revised. This Learning Review claims that “conclusions can sometimes close the door on learning”. I would say on the other hand that they can more frequently open the door to an enhanced safety environment for firefighters. People can sometimes be hit by meteorites, but not often.

And like virtually every research paper, most of the recommendations are for additional studies, ensuring continued employment for academics and researchers.

Call me old school, but this document appears to be more useful for human behavior researchers than firefighters. How did we get to the point where language such as this is used repeatedly in a U.S. Forest Service funded official report about a wildland fire?

  • “Typical mission flow”
  • “Synthesis, analysis and sensemaking”
  • “Margin of maneuver”
  • “Sensemaking team”
  • “Single Loop vs. Double Loop Learning”
  • “Hoberman Sphere”
  • “Pressures and filters”
  • “Mind maps”
  • “Auditory signal”
  • “Signal detection”

The Learning Review does suggest that two additional products be prepared, one for “the field” and another for “the organization”. Maybe the field document, if produced, will be more useful for firefighters. And presumably the organization version will have conclusions and recommendations that will remain secret if the guidelines revised in August are followed.

I am not sure why the U.S. Forest Service paid the 22 people, plus multiple focus groups, to produce this study if they did not receive for their investment products usable by the field or the organization.

But I am old school when it comes to opportunities for learning lessons.


Firefighter killed in New Caledonia

Radio New Zealand is reporting that a firefighter from New Caledonia was killed in a vehicle accident while she was responding to a vegetation fire:

The woman reportedly tried to evade an oncoming car and lost control of her vehicle and crashed.

The 22-year-old woman, who was pregnant, wasn’t wearing a seat belt and thrown from the vehicle and killed.

According to the New Caledonian government, she was the territory’s first firefighter to die in the line of duty.

New Caledonia is a group of islands 750 miles east of Australia.

Our sincere condolences go out to her family and co-workers.


Report of fatal air tanker crash in Australia

Several media sources in Australia are reporting that an air tanker crashed west of Ulladulla in New South Wales and the pilot, the only person on board, has been confirmed dead. The Australian network ABC reported that a wing snapped off the aircraft before it went down.

The aircraft was fighting a fire in very rugged and steep terrain near Wirritin Mountain about 15 nautical miles west of Ulladulla when it went down at about 10:10 a.m. AEDT on Thursday.

The crash started another bushfire which, along with high winds, was hampering efforts to reach the pilot. Other firefighting aircraft were called to the area and were attempting to slow the spread of the fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and coworkers of the pilot.


UPDATE AT 12:51 p.m. MDT, October 24, 2013: A second aircraft has crashed in Australia. In this case it was a light plane supporting the firefighting effort. More information is at Fire Aviation.


Thanks go out to Ken


Smokejumper killed in training accident

Originally published at 8:46 p.m. MDT, September 27; updated at 8:30 a.m. MDT, September 28.

A Boise Bureau of Land Management smokejumper died Friday afternoon, September 27, in a parachuting accident. Mark T. Urban, 40, was killed after his canopy failed to properly deploy. The accident occurred about 45 miles east of Boise, near Smith’s Prairie at about 12:30 p.m. MDT.

Preliminary information from the BLM indicated that he was conducting a research and development jump using a new device to designed to assist in deploying the canopy.

He had been a jumper for 10 years.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Urban’s family and co-workers.


72-hour report for the Token Adams fatality

Token Adams

Token Adams, USFS photo

The 72-hour Preliminary Information Report for the fatality of Engine Captain Token Adams has been released. If you followed the search for Mr. Adams, who was missing for a week before his body was found on September 6, there is not much new in the report except for the mechanism of injury.

Preliminary analysis indicates Captain Adams was thrown from his ATV as he negotiated over a slight rise and then the ATV flipped onto Captain Adams resulting in fatal injuries.

When the search began, he was last seen on an all terrain vehicle attempting to find a reported fire.

The report below was issued by the Washington office of the U.S. Forest Service.


Date: September 13, 2013

Subject: 72 Hour Preliminary Information Report, Schoolhouse Mesa Fire Accident

Number and Type of Injuries: One fatality              Name: Token Adams

On the afternoon of August 30th, 41 year old US Forest Service Engine Captain Token Adams was killed in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident while searching for a lightning caused fire. A Learning Review Team has been assigned to the incident and the review is underway.


Late in the afternoon of August 29th a crew member aboard a military aircraft reported a possible wildland fire. The location of the reported fire was estimated to be in Cebolitta Canyon on the Jemez Ranger district, Santa Fe National Forest, in the vicinity of an older fire that crews had believed to be no longer active.

At approximately 0900 on August 30th, three firefighters (Token Adams among them) responded to the general location of the reported smoke. Each of the firefighters brought an ATV. After a briefing concerning the search strategy they each separately began scouting the area. Their first mission was to confirm that the older fire was no longer active and a possible source of the smoke report. This mission was completed and the three met back at their trucks around 1030. Their second mission was to broaden their search area to locate the new fire. They discussed the broader search area and each left separately on their ATVs. Each communicated with each other periodically by two way radio to coordinate the search. Communications were also made with a lookout who was working on a nearby lookout tower and the Santa Fe Interagency Dispatch office.

At 1344, Captain Adams communicated by radio with other firefighters concerning the status of the search. After this time, calls to Captain Adams went unanswered. At about 1500 the new fire was located by one of the firefighters and he called, via radio, to Captain Adams and the third firefighter to respond to the new fire. With no response from Captain Adams, suppression on the new fire was halted and all efforts were then directed towards contacting and locating Captain Adams. Within three hours a formal Search and Rescue operation was ordered which involved numerous, volunteers, state, federal and local government personnel. His body and the ATV were found on September 6th.

Preliminary analysis indicates Captain Adams was thrown from his ATV as he negotiated over a slight rise and then the ATV flipped onto Captain Adams resulting in fatal injuries. Captain Adams was known to be a skilled ATV rider, he was properly trained and certified as an ATV operator, and he was wearing all appropriate personal protective equipment.

/s/ Liz Agpaoa,
Learning Review Team Leader”


California: Clover Fire southwest of Redding

(UPDATE at 2:39 p.m. PDT, September 12, 2013)

There has not been much change on the Clover fire southwest of Redding, California. The satellite has not detected any large areas of heat for a couple of days, but the reported size, at 7,993 acres Wednesday night, increased by about 900 acres. This may be a result of firefighters burning out vegetation to construct control lines. The Incident Commander claims 50 65 percent containment.

Fire and law enforcement officials have developed a repopulation plan, with expectations of allowing residents back into the area between September 12 and 14.

This will be our last update of the Clover Fire unless there is a major change in the status of the incident.


(UPDATE at 4:43 PDT, September 11, 2013)

On September 10, 2013 during the late evening hours, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office located a deceased person inside the Clover Fire perimeter on Coal Pit Road in the community of Igo, California while conducting a welfare check. Next of kin was notified and the person has been identified as Brian Stanley Henry, 56. We send out our sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Henry.

Firefighters continued to work throughout Tuesday night and into Wednesday strengthening controls lines and mopping up hot spots around the fire perimeter. A Damage Inspection Team will continue to assess the properties today in the affected communities. Evacuations are still in effect.

CAL FIRE reports that the fire has burned 7,012 acres, is being fought by 1,346 personnel, and is 40 percent contained. The fire destroyed 30 residences and 50 outbuildings, and damaged an additional 30 residences.


(UPDATED at 8:02 a.m. PDT, September 10, 2013)

CAL FIRE reports that the Clover fire 6 miles southwest of the outskirts of Redding, California has destroyed 80 structures and damaged an additional 30. It continues to move toward the southwest. In less than 24 hours it has blackened 7,400 acres and has required the evacuation of the Happy Valley, Igo, and Cottonwood areas. The incident commander is calling it 40 percent contained.

A map of the fire is below shows heat detected by a satellite. If the fire is burning in light vegetation in some areas, such as grass, the fire may cool in those areas before the next pass of the satellite, resulting in no large areas of heat being detected at that time. This may account for the gaps shown in the heat map. Or, the firefighters may be burning out vegetation ahead of the fire.

Map of the Clover Fire  3:55 a.m. PDT September 10, 2013

Map of the Clover Fire. The red squares indicate heat detected by a satellite at 3:55 a.m. PDT September 10, 2013. The yellow squares were from 2:14 p.m. September 9. (click to enlarge)

CAL FIRE’s Team 5, a Type 1 Incident Management Team, is scheduled to assume command of the fire at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Resources assigned to the fire include 1,129 personnel, 107 engines, 36 hand crews, 6 air tankers, and 18 water tenders.


Overnight the wind slowed considerably and the relative humidity increased, allowing firefighters to make some progress. The forecast for the fire area for Tuesday calls for 101 degrees, a relative humidity of 13 percent, clear skies, and north winds of 6 mph changing to come out of the south after noon at about the same speed.


Residents have been advised to evacuate from the following areas:

  • Clear Creek Road and Cloverdale Road
  • Everything southwest to Gas Point Road and Small Farms and Marsha Way
  • Gas Point Road and Happy Valley Road
  • Small Farms track south to Black Pine Road
  • Cloverdale from Clear Creek to Oak
  • Oak to Palm

(UPDATED at 5:05 p.m. MDT, September 9, 2013)

Map of Clover Fire

Map of Clover Fire. The red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:14 p.m. PDT, September 9, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The fire placed a large order for additional resources, including over a dozen strike teams of engines (five engines per strike team) and five strike teams of hand crews (two crews per strike team).

You can listen to some of the radio traffic here.


(Originally published at 4 p.m. PDT, September 9, 2013)

A fire that has only been burning for about three hours has already blackened approximately 1,500 2,200 acres in northern California and is causing evacuations. The Clover Fire was reported at 12:32 p.m. PDT today, Monday, and has spread to about 2 miles south of Igo, 6 miles southwest of the outskirts of Redding, and 10 miles west of Anderson (see the above map).

The fire started south of Clear Creek Road and east of Gas Point Road, but by 3:30 p.m. Monday had crossed Gas Point Road.

Evacuations are occurring in the following areas: Small Farms Rd., Clear Creek Rd., Cloverdale Rd. southwest to Gas Point Rd., Cloverdale Rd. from Clear Creek Rd. to Oak, Oak to Palm, Small Farm Track south to Black Pine Rd.

The two DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers had been ordered for the Morgan Fire east of San Francisco, but shortly after they arrived at that fire they were diverted to this new Clover Fire.


Strong winds and low relative humidities are challenging firefighters. The weather station at the Redding Airport 11 miles east of the fire Monday afternoon recorded 17 mph north and northwest winds gusting at 27 to 30 mph along with a relative humidity of 7 percent. The temperature at the airport reached 15 degrees. The forecast for the fire area for the next two days is slightly more favorable, calling for temperatures in the mid to high 90s, winds at 3 to 6 mph (north on Tuesday and south on Wednesday), humidities of 14 to 22 percent, virtually no chance of rain, and little if any cloud cover.