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.

Dozer rollover on the Trailhead Fire

Above: Dozer rollover at the Trailhead Fire on the Eldorado National Forest in California July 2, 2016. Photo from the report.

A report has been released by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center about a dozer rollover that occurred July 2, 2016 at the Trailhead Fire on the Eldorado National Forest in California. You can read the entire report, but here’s a brief summary.

After getting unstuck from being high centered on a large stump, a dozer operator found himself off the ridge where he was building an indirect fireline, and was on a steep slope. Again he got stuck and was not able to backup, this time due to the slope which in places exceeded an 80 percent incline. At various times he was advised by two Resource Advisors, the Structure Group Supervisor, and the owner of the dozer to stay put. In the meantime another dozer with a winch was en route to assist.

Ignoring the advice, the operator continued down the slope and got into a heated argument with the owner, who then left the area. Determined to get the dozer back up to the ridge top, the operator began building a road and creating pads where he could work to push over trees that were in his way, including a 30-DBH cedar which missed by 50 feet the two Resources Advisors who had to run to get out of the way.

The incident-within-an-incident finally came to an end, at least temporarily, when the dozer rolled over onto its side. The operator escaped with only a scratch, after which the dozer continued to roll over onto its top in the creek bottom.

The report did not include information about how the dozer was eventually extracted, or what repercussions, if any, befell the operator and the contractor.

Report released on escaped prescribed fire in northern Minnesota

The fire burned 1,008 acres on the Superior National Forest.

Above: Photo of the Foss Lake Fire, from the report.

A report has been released for a prescribed fire that escaped on May 19, 2016 and burned an unexpected 1,008 acres 10 miles west of Ely, Minnesota. The U.S. Forest Service had intended to burn 78 acres, but extremely dry conditions and winds pushed a spot fire beyond the capabilities of the Hotshot crew and the engine initially assigned to the project. The fire danger index for the Energy Release Component at the time was setting 20-year maximums.

Foss Lake Fire map
The perimeter of the planned prescribed fire is outlined in black, in the gray shaded area. The escaped area is in red.

You can read the entire report here, but below are highlights:

  • Some of the firefighting resources listed as contingency forces in the burn plan were national resources not committed to the prescribed fire and were assigned to other fires when needed on the escape.
  • According to a spot weather forecast the conditions that morning were at the hot end of the prescription and in the afternoon may go out of prescription. There was a discussion about possibly having to pause ignition for a period of time in the afternoon.
  • The test fire began at 11:40 a.m. Soon thereafter the primary ignition began.
  • Within 40 minutes of starting the test fire spot fires began to occur near the fireline, but they were suppressed. At 12:50 p.m. a larger spot fire, 1/4 to 1/2 acre, was discovered 100 yards north of the main burn by firefighters patrolling in a canoe. The firing boss ordered the igniters to slow down.
  • When the larger spot fire occurred, firefighters installed a hose lay from a river to the site but were not able to start a pump to supply the water. A replacement pump that had been working in another area that day was brought in but it also refused to run.
  • At 12:53 p.m. a water-scooping Beaver air tanker that could carry up to 130 gallons of water was requested by the Zone Fire Management Officer (ZFMO) who was at the site, and 11 minutes later he asked for a Type 3 helicopter.
  • At 1:41 p.m. personnel on the fire declined offers or suggestions for “heavy aircraft” and also a Type 1 helicopter that had become available.
  • Between 1:59 p.m. and 2:26 p.m. personnel on the fire requested the Type 1 helicopter, air attack, two 20-person crews, a CL-415 scooping air tanker, and two large air tankers.
  • At 2:07 p.m. the Burn Boss declared the escaped fire to be a wildfire and began shutting down the original prescribed fire.
  • At approximately 1700 a Type 2 Incident Management Team was ordered for the escaped wildfire, which was then several hundred acres in size.
  • At 10:09 p.m. all personnel on the prescribed and escaped fires were released and returned to Ely.

Our original report on the escaped prescribed fire last May.

Report released for burn injuries on Tokewanna Fire

On July 29 a member of the Great Basin Smokejumpers was injured while scouting fireline on the Tokewanna Fire near Mountain View in southwest Wyoming. The firefighter sustained burn injuries to the hands, calves, knees, elbows, cheeks, nose and ears. He was transported by air ambulance to the Salt Lake Burn Center where he was admitted.

The fire started at about 1500 on July 28. The overhead structure worked through the night and began transitioning to replacement personnel after smokejumpers arrived at approximately 1252 on July 29. The person that was later burned became the new Division Supervisor (DIVS) on Division W at 1300. Official transition to the new Incident Commander occurred at 1505.

map burn injury report
Illustration from the report.

Below is an excerpt from the Factual Report that was completed September 15, 2016:

“Between 15:30 and 15:45 the DIVS was scouting fireline and reached the highest point of where the fire had progressed on the ridge. At this location a flare up occurred downhill from the DIVS on the other side of a large stringer of lodgepole pine which had been heavily treated with retardant (Reference Materials photos 2-5). The DIVS stated, “I heard something I didn’t like and determined I needed to leave.” He retreated to his predetermined safety zone, which was the black and opted to continue downhill rapidly. While retreating he experienced an extreme pulse of radiant heat coming from the right accompanied by smoke and blowing ash. Because of the pulse of radiant heat, he used his helmet to shield the right side of his face. In recounting this he expressed “I wish I had my gloves on, but prior to the event I was away from the fire edge using a GPS and taking notes in my notepad.” The radiant heat caused burns to the DIVS’s hands, calves, knees, elbows, cheeks, nose and ears.”

Also from the report:

Summary

Three key findings were brought out during this investigation:

  • Timely recognition and reporting of burn injuries is critical
  • The absence of PPE can contribute to the severity of injuries
  • Firefighters were unable to contact the air ambulance utilizing pre-established radio frequencies

Lessons Learned from the Interviewees:

When asked if there were any lessons learned or best practices the interviewees would take away from the incident the following was captured:

  • Recognize your own limitations and don’t expect to have all of the answers or information on a rapidly emerging fire.
  • Time of day and incident complexity were not optimal for transferring command, but in this case it was a better option than continuing to utilize fatigued resources.
  • Sometimes you just need to safely engage to ensure you are not transferring risk to someone else later.
  • Make the time to tie-in with your overhead to assure face-to-face interactions occur during transition.
  • Participation with district resources in pre-season scenario based training alleviated tension while coordinating a real life medical incident at the dispatch center.
  • Frequency sharing with local EMS will help facilitate efficient medevac procedures.
  • Continue to encourage EMS certifications among line firefighters and/or identify ways to improve access to Advanced Life Support on emerging incidents.”