Washington DNR says powerline caused the fatal Twisp River Fire

An investigator’s report on the cause of the fatal Twisp River Fire revealed that a tree branch contacting a power line ignited, dropped to the ground, and started the fire west of Twisp, Washington.

Three firefighters for the U.S. Forest Service were killed inside their vehicle August 19, 2015 when they were attempting to escape from the rapidly spreading fire. A fourth firefighter exited the vehicle and ran to safety. He was severely burned, but survived, hospitalized for three months. The deceased were Tom Zbyszewki, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26, and Richard Wheeler, 31. The injured firefighter was Daniel Lyon, 25, of Puyallup, Washington.

The Seattle Times obtained a copy of the investigation report through a public records request. The entire 38-page document can be seen here.

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

Vermont firefighter dies following heart attack at brush fire

He had volunteered as a firefighter for 40 years and served as his town’s fire warden for two decades.

Volunteer firefighter Steven Lapierre, 58, died Thursday of complications after suffering a heart attack while helping to suppress a brush fire in Georgia, Vermont on April 27.

He was a career firefighter having retired from the St. Albans City Fire Department in 2010.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Lapierre’s family, friends, and the Georgia Volunteer Fire Department.

Trinidad firefighter dies of burns suffered on wildfire

Forest ranger Keith Campbell succumbed to burn injuries sustained while fighting a wildfire along Lady Chancellor Hill, Port-of-Spain, on Friday afternoon, March 25.

Keith Campbell was a forester III in the Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries in Trinidad (map). He became trapped in the fire after a change in wind direction caused the fire to spread rapidly around the firefighters. He died Friday night hours after sustaining third degree burns to 90 percent of his body.

Keith Campbell
Keith Campbell

Mr. Campbell and three other injured firefighters were rushed to the hospital where Mr. Campbell was admitted in critical condition. Of the other three, one has been released from the hospital, a second should be released soon, while the third remains hospitalized after suffering severe burns on his stomach and upper leg

Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat announced via social media that Mr. Campbell passed away around 11:45 on Friday night.

Mr. Rambharat said Mr. Campbell had received news of his mother’s death shortly before going to battle the blaze on Friday, but had decided to finish work with his team before going home.

Below are excerpts from an article at TriniBuzz:

…Co-worker Kishan Ramcharan, a Forester I, who worked with Campbell in the division since 2003, described the event as “a complete horror.”

He said Campbell remained in the raging fire for close to 30 minutes as he and other workers looked on in tears, unable to help.

Ramcharan said, “I never experienced anything so devastating and terrifying in my life.” He said Campbell was well-experienced in fighting fires and had a wealth of knowledge of fires habits and how fires operated in specific types of terrains.

He said, Keith was more or less on supervision duties but “everyone lends a helping hand in trying to suppress fires.” They arrived on the scene around 1 pm and conducted a fire assessment but decided it was best to wait on the Fire Service.

On realizing the fire had somewhat cooled down, they ventured in “since nothing was burning as much.” It was Campbell who went in first, equipped with full safety gear and a backpack water pump. Ramcharan said he then went in with his fire rake which Campbell advised him to use. Campbell was about 100 meters away and in his sight. Bain was also inside the forest. But as fate would have it, the winds intensified and it was suddenly “a furnace of fire blazing.”

Ramcharan said, “From a distance, the fire was raging from the valley and our drivers on the hills started screaming, get out! get out!”

He used the fire rake to pull himself out of the precipice and when he got to the top, he saw Bain badly burnt and screamed out for Campbell who was trapped. Satram then arrived on the scene and was joined by Carrington and Duprey who attempted to head down and await rescue from the Fire Service and ambulance who arrived ten minutes later.

Ramcharan said, “I was in a state of shock and disbelief. When they finally got to Campbell and I saw him, he was moving his head just a bit.”

He said Campbell was a dynamic human being with a range of skills and one of the best officers he had worked with.

Our sincere condolences go out to the friends, co-workers, and family of Mr. Campbell. And we hope for a speedy recovery for the three injured firefighters.

California inmate firefighter dies of injuries suffered on wildfire near Malibu

Shawna Lynn Jones suffered major head injuries after being struck by a rolling boulder.

Injured inmate hoist helicopter
The inmate firefighter was airlifted after being injured near Malibu on Feb. 25, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)
The California inmate firefighter that was injured February 25 on the Mulholland Fire near Malibu has died, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Friday.

In the early hours of Thursday morning while fighting a wildfire as part of a hand crew, Shawna Lynn Jones, 22, was struck by a boulder that rolled down a hill. She was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center where she was treated for major head injuries. Ms. Jones was removed from life support after her organs were donated, in keeping with her family’s wishes.

Ms. Jones was a Los Angeles County jail inmate who had joined CDCR’s firefighting program in August 2015 and was assigned to the Malibu Camp, which is operated jointly with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Malibu is one of three camps that house a total of 195 female firefighters.

According to the CDCR Ms. Jones is the third inmate firefighter to die on a wildfire since the camp program began in 1943. Female inmates were incorporated into the firefighting program in 1983.

The Mulholland Fire burned about 10 acres and was contained Thursday night.

Our sincere condolences go out to the friends and family of Ms. Jones.

Another view of our firefighter fatalities graphic

When we published our report on the number wildland firefighter fatalities on January 19, we didn’t include the percentages for each category because the numbers got cluttered among the smaller sections on the pie chart. But in order to discuss it, the percentages are helpful, so in spite of the clutter, we revised the graphic — above — as well as the one in the earlier article.

In text form, here are the percentages for general classifications of fatalities from 1990 through 2014:

  1. 23%, Medical
  2. 22%, Aircraft accident
  3. 22%, Vehicle accident
  4. 21%, Entrapment
  5. 4%, Hazardous tree
  6. 1%, Work Capacity Test
  7. 1%, Heat illness
  8. 1%, Electrocution
  9. Less than 1%: Dozer rollover and Smokejumper jump
  10. 4%, Other

Related:

How do we reduce the number of Fatalities?
Wildfire fatality trends.

Adding to the list of common denominators of tragedy fires

More common denominators of tragedy fires.

(Photo: Happy Camp Complex, 2014, by Kari Greer.)

About forty years ago Carl Wilson, one of the early wildland fire researchers, developed his list of four “Common Denominators of Fire Behavior on Tragedy Fires”, that is, fatal and near-fatal fires.Carl Wilson

  1. Relatively small fires or deceptively quiet areas of large fires.
  2. In relatively light fuels, such as grass, herbs, and light brush.
  3. When there is an unexpected shift in wind direction or wind speed.
  4. When fire responds to topographic conditions and runs uphill. Alignment of topography and wind during the burning period should always be considered a trigger point to re-evaluate strategy and tactics.

Our study of the 440 fatalities from 1990 through 2014 shows that entrapments are the fourth leading cause of deaths on wildland fires. The top four categories which account for 88 percent are, in descending order, medical issues, aircraft accidents, vehicle accidents, and entrapments. The numbers for those four are remarkably similar, ranging from 23 to 21 percent of the total. Entrapments were at 21 percent.

But as Matt Holmstrom, Superintendent of the Lewis and Clark Interagency Hotshot Crew recently wrote for an article in Wildfire Magazine, Mr. Wilson’s common denominators only address fire behavior.

Mr. Holmstrom explored eight human factors that he believes merit consideration. I’m generously paraphrasing, but here are the areas he mentioned:

  1. Number of years of experience.
  2. Time of day (especially between 2:48 p.m. and 4:42 p.m.)
  3. Poorly defined leadership or organization.
  4. Transition from Initial Attack to Extended Attack.
  5. Earlier close calls or near misses on the same fire.
  6. Personality conflicts.
  7. Using an escape route that is inadequate.
  8. Communication failures.

He goes into much detail for each item and cites numerous fires which he said were examples. It is a thought-provoking article. Check it out.

UPDATE January 29, 2016. Larry Sutton authored an article in a 2011 issue of Fire Management Today (pages 13-17) that also explored the Common Denominators of Human Behavior on Tragedy Fires. At the time Mr. Sutton was the fire operations risk management officer for the U.S. Forest Service at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.