After action report completed for last year’s wildfires near Hutchinson, Kansas

Above: Wildfires detected by a satellite March 7, 2017 in the Hutchinson, KS and Enid, OK area. NASA.

Reno County in Kansas has completed an after action report (AAR) regarding the wildfires that occurred in March, 2017. One of the largest blazes was north of Hutchinson, which is about 40 air miles northwest of Wichita. While those fires were active, hundreds of thousands of acres were also burning around the Texas/Oklahoma panhandle/Kansas border area.

Before we get into the AAR, one thing to keep in mind about Kansas, which we covered April 2, 2017, is that according to the Wichita Eagle:

The state’s forest service is the smallest and lowest funded of any in the country – which puts people and property in danger. Consider the difference in resources and responses between Kansas and Oklahoma:
–The Kansas Forest Service budget in 2016 was about $3 million, with $1 million dedicated to fire service; Oklahoma’s budget was $15 million, with $8 million for fire service.
–The Kansas Forest Service has three trucks and four employees dedicated to firefighting and fire prevention; Oklahoma has 47 fire engines, 47 bulldozers and 84 firefighters.

The AAR was compiled by Deputy Fire Chief Doug Hanen, with the assistance of Emergency Management Director Adam Weishaar and Sheriff Randy Henderson. The 30-page report concluded that generally the work performed on the fires by numerous agencies was positive and commendable, but there was room for improvement.

Here are some of the highlights of the review:

  • There is a need for smaller fire apparatus that can get into areas not accessible by 6-by-6 military surplus engines.
  • A Polaris side-by-side UTV  holding 75 gallons was very useful for mop up, especially in wet areas. They hope to obtain at least one more.
  • On days with a Red Flag Warning, they will now immediately dispatch at least three brush engines.
  • In order to help manage the span of control, the Hutchinson Fire Department will organize resources into Task Forces comprised of three brush engines, one water tender, and a Task Force Leader.
  • The firefighters in Reno County for the last two years have increasingly used backfire and burnout tactics, and more engines are carrying drip torches.
  • The Hutchinson Fire Department became the first fully-paid department in Kansas to have all of their firefighters red carded. This will enable them to send resources out of the state, for example, to Colorado or California.
  • The Kansas State Incident Management Team provided assistance for a day, but they “seemed overwhelmed by a moving event,” were “inexperienced…in essential positions”, and lacked accountability. At the end of the day the Team left. The state has since reorganized the program, placing teams under the Kansas Department of Emergency Management enabling them to respond nationwide instead of just in Kansas.
  • Toward the end of the fire siege a Type 2 Incident Management Team was called in. The difference between that team and the previous State Team was “night and day”. Local officials learned a lot from the Type 2 Team, especially how to re-populate areas following an evacuation and in dealing with victims following an incident.
  • There are opportunities for better and more timely communication and coordination with the public and the media.
  • The report suggests better guidelines for managing length of first responders’ shifts on wildfires and their rehabilitation in order to reduce exhaustion.

After Action Review of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire

Chimney Tops 2 fire AAR report

An After Action Review has been released for the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that spread from Great Smoky Mountains National Park into the city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee a little over a year ago killing 14 people, forcing 14,000 to evacuate, destroying or damaging 2,500 structures, and burning 17,000 acres. The AAR, completed by ABS Group, was commissioned by Gatlinburg and Sevier County.

You can download the large pdf file (2.8 MB) HERE.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Erik.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Engine rollover on Hauser Road

There were two minor injuries among the three-person crew

Above: photo from the report.

(Originally published at 4:40 p.m. November 27, 2017)

An engine carrying three wildland firefighters slid off a muddy road September 12, 2017 and rolled over two-and-a-half times when they were returning from a smoke check. Considering the violent accident, the injuries were minor — a laceration on one person and a broken rib on another.

The report released by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center does not specify where the the rollover occurred, except that the crew was returning to Montrose, Colorado, an investigator came from Grand Junction, and it also mentioned a couple of landmarks, if true, that are known only to locals, such as Hauser Road.

The truck was a U.S. Forest Service Ford F-550 configured as a Type 6 engine which sustained major damage. The roof partially collapsed, crushing some of the side windows:

…the crew barely had enough room to crawl out the opening with metal scraping against their backs and stomachs.

The damage to the truck and the injuries to the firefighters might have been worse if the truck had not had the “Rear Cab Protection Rack (headache rack)”, a structure behind the cab. But apparently it did not have a full cab roll bar. (UPDATE November 30, 2017: the report lists the headache rack under “What went well”, but does not elaborate. These structures are designed to hold lights and to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window, but should not be expected to provide serious protection during a rollover. We added the next photo that was included in the report, which offered no caption or explanation. It is unknown if it shows the engine involved in the rollover.)

Headache Rack
Headache rack, intended to provide a location to install lights, and to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window.
fire engine accident rollover colorado
Photo from the report.

Below is an excerpt from the report; it begins as the truck was sliding on the muddy road:

Engine 36’s passenger-side front wheel slid toward the edge. Everyone braced for the expected bump into the lip of the road. However nothing was there to slow the engine’s slide to the right and the front wheel went off the road, followed by the rest of Engine 36.

The engine violently rolled two-and-a-half times down the embankment, gaining speed with each rotation. “When will this end!” the Engine Captain thought to himself as glass shattered, metal crumpled and screeched, and the world spun end over end.

Engine 36 came to rest on its roof, braced against large trunks of oak brush. Everything in the cab came to a stop. A muffled and intermittently eerie buzzing came from the horn. Water hissed. As the crew steadied themselves, calling out to check the status of each other, a loud “pop” from the roof was heard.

As they felt the vehicle’s cab start to give a little bit, the decision was made to exit as quickly as possible. The curtain airbags were still partially inflated. Captain 36 had to deflate them with his personal knife. Exiting out the passenger side window, the crew barely had enough room to crawl out the opening with metal scraping against their backs and stomachs.

There has been an epidemic of wildland fire engine rollovers. This is the 48th article on Wildfire Today tagged “rollover”.

We still stand behind what we wrote in a 2015 article about the many firefighter fatalities from rollovers:

The wildland fire agencies should fund research conducted by engineers to determine how to prevent the passenger compartments in their fire engines from collapsing in accidents.

Report released — tree falls on engine

The incident occurred October 18 on the Nuns Fire in Northern California

Above: photo from the report.

(Originally published at 10:28 a.m. MST November 22, 2017)

A report has been released about a near miss that occurred October 18 on the Nuns Fire between Santa Rosa and Napa, California. According to the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center’s summary of the incident there were no injuries on the five-person crew but the truck sustained major damage from a falling tree.

Data from the National Interagency Fire Center shows that between 1990 and 2014 18 firefighters were killed by hazardous trees.

Below is an excerpt from the report about the incident on the Nuns Fire:


On the Nuns Fire on the morning of October 18 at approximately 1145, during mop up operations, a large (60-inch DBH) fire-weakened, green Douglas fir tree fell from upslope, at a 90 degree angle, and landed across the hood of an engine that was parked on the road below with two people inside.

The five-person engine crew had been assigned to evaluate and identify hazards for the MM Division Supervisor.

In addition to patrolling, as the engine crew moved through the burned area, they were also mopping up hotspots along the roadside.

The crew had scouted the road to the end and were working their way back, suppressing hotspots.

The Engine Boss stopped the engine directly below a large green tree with fire and smoke coming from its base—which was obscured by unburned brush. One crewmember dragged hose from the live reel toward the base of the tree while another crewmember helped with hose deployment from the back of the engine. Another crewmember stood on the road as a lookout behind the engine.

The Engine Boss and Engine Boss Trainee remained in the engine’s front seats writing intel information for the Division Supervisor that had been gathered from their scouting mission.

The Engine Boss would later explain:

Intel for the Division Supervisor had not been passed forward and he (the Division Supervisor) had not sent anyone into the area for three days. We knew there were hazard trees in there and had received a good briefing. You just don’t look at a green tree with smoke at the base with green stuff all around it and think to yourself that this thing’s coming down any second. That’s just another smoke for the rest of the crew to knock out. We had knocked out half a dozen smokes before going down that road.

Approximately 90 seconds after assessing the base of the tree and spraying it with water, crewmembers outside of the engine began yelling that the tree was starting to fall. Crewmembers on the road moved quickly down the road. The Engine Boss didn’t put the engine into reverse because he couldn’t see if any of the crew was behind the engine. He attempted to move forward, but the tree had already fallen and hit a large oak tree across the road from the engine.

Oak Tree Reduces Impact onto Engine

The full impact of the falling tree split the large oak in half. The oak tree was located approximately 40 feet in front of the engine. The oak reduced the impact and possibly the location of impact to the engine. Ultimately, the 60-inch wide and 120-foot tall fir landed across the hood of the engine.

The impact caused major damage to the engine, impaling a branch in the hood and shattering the windshield. While all crewmembers were stunned, everyone was physically OK.

Afterwards, one of the crewmembers said: “We were making the area safe for someone, we were doing our job.”

The engine crew was on their eighth day on this fire and had been assigned to four different Divisions. The crew was frustrated by lack of assignment continuity. The area that the crew was working in appeared to have had chainsaw work prior to their assignment.

A brief defusing was conducted at ICP [Incident Command post] by PEER staff assigned to the incident.

Another fire truck rollover — this time, into a creek

The driver was pinned underneath the engine and partially submerged in the creek.

(Above: photo from the report shows the contracted engine after rolling off the road into a creek.)

(Originally published at 5:36 p.m. MDT October 19, 2017)

Below is the summary from the report of the rollover of an engine that was working on the Miller Complex in southwest Oregon.


On 27 August 2017, a Type 6 contract engine was conducting structure triage assessments while assigned to the Miller Complex in southwestern Oregon, managed by a Type 1 Incident Management Team (IMT). The crew had just resumed their trip after a short break when the driver came too close to the edge of the roadway and rolled down a steep embankment into a shallow creek.

The engine driver was not wearing his seatbelt and was seriously injured. Although not ejected, the driver was partially pinned underneath the engine, and partially submersed in the creek. The other two engine crewmembers were seat-belted, received minor injuries, and tried to radio for help.

After unsuccessful attempts at radio communication, one crewmember set out on foot to find help. After over one hour searching for help, the crewmember found a nearby resident who helped the accident victim locate a heavy equipment boss assigned to the fire.

A Heavy Equipment Boss (HEQB) assigned to the Division was also EMT-B qualified and became the first responder and incident-within-incident commander (IIC). This IIC managed a large accident response effort which included a staging area manager, extrication team, paramedics, low-angle rescue team, and multiple aircraft resources.

All three victims were successfully and rapidly transported to a hospital about 40 miles away due to a solid response plan implemented by a fireline leader with a calm demeanor and a strong command presence. Agency and IMT support for the injured contractor employee from the initial patient response to the patient’s three-week admission to hospital was outstanding. Relationships between the Forest Service and the contracting community have been further strengthened by the post-accident patient support.


To date, Wildfire Today has documented over three dozen rollovers of fire apparatus working on wildland fires. 

Report released about wildfire that burned into Gatllinburg

Gatlinburg fire reportOn August 31 the National Park Service released the long anticipated report (12 Mb file) about the wildfire that burned from Great Smoky Mountains National Park into the city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Five days after it started on November 23, 2016, the Chimney Tops 2 Fire spread into the eastern Tennessee city killing 14 people, forcing 14,000 to evacuate, destroying or damaging 2,400 structures, and blackening 17,000 acres.

The strategy used to manage the fire was controversial because very little direct action was taken to suppress the fire during those first five days until a predicted wind event caused it to spread very rapidly out of the park and into the city.

The report was presented to the public during a live Facebook feed which you can see below.

One of the first speakers was Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke who reminded the audience that he served in combat and then mentioned some recommendations:

  • The National Park Service should be more proactive about removing “dead and dying timber”;
  • The dozer lines built during the suppression of the fire could be put to good use, possibly as bike paths;
  • The interoperability of communications systems needs to be improved so that firefighters from different divisions within the NPS and also between other agencies can more easily communicate during an emergency.

Joe Stutler, qualified as a Type 1 Incident Commander and Area Commander, positions at the pinnacle of the incident management structure, read a lengthy statement that included what he and his team of investigators deemed to be the pertinent facts of the fire and the investigation.

Gatlinburg fire report Joe Stutler
Joe Stutler presents information in the report about the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that burned into Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Mr. Stutler began by saying the report was intended to not place blame on anyone, and would “avoid should have, could have, and would have, statements that frankly inhibit sensemaking and also inhibit continuing to learn from the event.”

Describing the actions taken or not taken on the fire, he said, “the review team found no evidence of negligence of anyone at the park. They did the very best they could when it came to their duty. They did the very best they could based on what was loaded in their hard drive”, he said as he pointed to his head.

Chimney Tops 2 Fire August 27, 2016
Chimney Tops 2 Fire November 27, 2016. Photo by Brett Bevill.
“Never in the history of this park or even in the surrounding area”, Mr. Stutler said, “had anyone seen the combination of severe drought, fire on the landscape, and an extreme wind event” occurring at the same time.

Combined with a wildland/urban interface, it was the “perfect storm”, he explained. The review team concluded that the fire management officials did not see the potential for the low-frequency, high-risk event.

The report made recommendations, including:

  • Revise the park’s fire management plan to reflect more aggressive strategies and tactics during extreme fire weather conditions.
  • Expand communications capacity to allow interoperability with responders outside the federal system.
  • The Fire Management Officer should be supervised by a single individual, not two.
  • Since no Red Flag Warnings were issued around the time of the fire, evaluate current Red Flag Warning and advisory criteria to reflect conditions experienced during the 2016 fire season.
  • The National Park Service leadership should embrace and institute change to create wildland fire management organizations that have the capacity and resilience to meet the realities of this “new normal” fire behavior.
  • Institute formal fire management officer and agency administrator mentoring and/or development programs.