The BBC produced this report on the U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers based in northern California at Redding.
The Bureau of Land Management has released an Accident Investigation Factual Report on the fatality of the smokejumper in Idaho last year. On September 27, 2013 Mark Urban was killed on a parachute jump while conducting an equipment evaluation at a remote airstrip outside of Prairie, Idaho, approximately 50 miles east of Boise.
Mr. Urban and other smokejumpers were collecting data during jumps to validate the vertical speeds and the activation window under which an automatic activation device (AAD) would initiate the opening sequence of either a main or reserve canopy in smokejumper operations. The AAD was not intended to be engaged during the jump and was not thought to be a factor in the cause of the accident. The parachute was to be manually opened.
All of his previous 287 jumps had been from approximately 3,000 feet above ground level (AGL), but the test on September 27 was designed to begin from the 6,000-foot level. The plan was to wait until reaching 3,000 feet AGL to deploy the main parachute. Similar tests had been conducted years earlier and several jumpers successfully executed the procedure earlier that day.
Mr. Urban’s parachute did not deploy until he was 138 feet AGL, which did not result in any significant deceleration. He was killed upon impact with the ground.
After leaving the Twin Otter aircraft, Mr. Urban, as did other jumpers that day, experienced some spinning while descending from 6,000 to 3,000 feet. The jumpers had been briefed on procedures to correct the spin, but while the exact cause of the accident may never be known, at least one of the investigators concluded that it is possible Mr. Urban spun fast enough to create G-forces that caused him to lose consciousness.
Below is an excerpt from the report in the Human Factors section. It was written by Randy McCalip, a LtCol with the U.S. Air Force, trained as a human factors/aerospace physiology expert and military free fall jumpmaster with 16 years of jumping experience.
…I believe the [Mishap Smokejumper] MS experienced enough initial G-force to cause visual, cognitive, and/or physical degradation delaying early necessary action. The MS channelized on fulfilling the T&E jump profile requirements exposing him to longer and higher G-forces resulting in a G-LOC. The GLOC caused the MS to lose all motor function and go limp. This reversed the MS’s spin and eventually slowed the spin enough to return blood flow to the brain. The MS regained consciousness and initiated pull sequence at 138 ft AGL, well below safe deployment altitude.
Gravitational forces were CAUSAL in this mishap.
F. HF Summary
I thoroughly reviewed all factors that possibly caused and contributed to this mishap. Although the team had eye witness testimonies and two different video angles of the mishap, exactly why the MS didn’t pull at the instructed altitude will never be known with 100% certainty. The MS was highly regarded as an exceptional leader and experienced smokejumper that paid attention to details and standards. This HF analysis attempted to piece together the most logical reasons why the MS failed to deploy his main parachute.
Rescued wolf pups to find home
The five abandoned wolf pups that were rescued by firefighters on the Funny River Fire on March 27 are doing well and will be adopted by the Minnesota Zoo, located south of Minneapolis-St. Paul in Apple Valley, Minnesota. The pups will remain at the Alaska Zoo until veterinarians are certain the animals are old and healthy enough for transport. When found last week, they weighed about 2.5 pounds apiece and suffered from dehydration and punctures from porcupine quills.
Thirty five applicants awarded funding for their fire research projects
The Joint Fire Science Program announced that 35 applicants have received funding for their proposed fire-related research. The topics include smoke, fuels treatment effectiveness, fire behavior and effects, bats and fire, people and fire, and more.
Fire Training in Pennsylvania
— PA Wildfire News (@penn_fire) June 2, 2014
New York Times obituary for Robert Sallee
On May 29 we wrote about the death of Robert Sallee, the last survivor of the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire, and later we linked to some rare photos of the incident.
Surprisingly, the New York Times on May 31 published an obituary of Mr. Sallee. John N. Maclean pointed it out to us, saying that he learned some things from the article. After the death of his father, Norman Maclean, John helped to edit the almost finished Young Men and Fire, the book his father wrote about the fire. John later wrote several books of his own about wildland fires, the latest being The Esperanza Fire.
Below is another photo related to the fire. It was taken in Mann Gulch by Alan Thomas, who was the editor at the University of Chicago Press who worked on Young Men and Fire with the Macleans.
Colorado Fire Chief talks about how climate change has affected his job — and his life
The video below features Elk Creek, Colorado fire chief Bill McLaughlin, whose department fought the Lower North Fork Fire in 2012 that killed three residents and burned 4,140 acres. “Climate change is very real,” says McLaughlin. “It’s changed my entire life.”
The last of the three firefighters who survived the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire died Monday. Robert Sallee passed away from complications following open heart surgery.
Mr. Sallee was 17 when he parachuted into the Helena National Forest (map) above the fire along with 14 other smokejumpers from Hale Field in Missoula, Montana. As the crew worked their way toward the bottom of the fire at the Missouri River, the winds changed causing the fire below them to blow up and begin moving in their direction. As the crew retreated up the steep slope, Foreman Wagner Dodge lit an escape fire in the light fuels and told the rest of the crew to join him in the burned area, but none of them did. Mr. Sallee and another crewman, Walter B. Rumsey, took a different route than the other smokejumpers, squirming their way through a narrow crevice in a rim rock, finding much better conditions in a rock scree on the other side of the ridge. Foreman Dodge, when the main fire caught up with his escape fire, eventually followed the other two where the three of them had to keep moving around in the rock scree as the fire burned around them. The blowup burned about 3,000 acres, claiming the lives of 12 of the smokejumpers and one former smokejumper who had been fighting the fire for 4 hours before the jumpers arrived.
Foreman Dodge died five years later from Hodgkin’s disease, and Mr. Rumsey died in an airplane crash in 1980.
Norman Maclean wrote Young Men and Fire, a book about the smokejumpers and their demise in Mann Gulch. His son, John N. Maclean helped to edit and make some of the finishing touches on the book which was published in 1992, two years after his father’s death. John said that Mr. Sallee became a companion for Norman while he was collecting information for the book, and in later years was very generous in telling his story about the fire. John said Mr. Sallee had abundant social skills and “was almost courtly in his personal manner”. John later wrote Fire on the Mountain about the 1994 South Canyon Fire that killed 14 firefighters in Colorado.
About eight years after the Mann Gulch fire the “Ten Standard Firefighting Orders” were developed and incorporated into firefighter training.
Funeral arrangements are pending at Hazen and Jaeger Valley Funeral Home in Spokane, Washington.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Jay, Dave, Steve, Chris, and Shaun.
Air tanker pilot dies in Spain
Fire Aviation has more details about an AT-802 pilot that died in a crash while fighting a wildfire in Spain.
Smokejumpers’ clandestine missions for the CIA
Now that they are no longer required to remain quiet about their ties with the CIA, smokejumpers are talking about how they worked for the agency in the 1950s and 1960s. According to an article in the Missoulian, about 82 smokejumpers were recruited by the CIA to rig paracargo and serve on C-130s dropping commandos and cargo over Tibet.
…The story begins when [Ray] Beasley, who was 29 and a laid-off smokejumper in McCall, Idaho, got a phone call in 1959.
“Would you like a job that pays $850 a month?” the caller asked.
Soon, Beasley and a cowboy by the name of Tommy “Shep” Johnson, who would later become one of his close friends, were on their way to the nation’s capitol.
They had been “referred” by an insider to “The Company,” the term they used for the CIA. That’s the only way you got into this line of work, Beasley said. This wasn’t a job that was advertised. They came looking for you.
Videos from Aussie fire conference
About a dozen videos of presentations at the Australian Community Engagement and Fire Awareness Conference run by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service are available for your viewing pleasure.
Martin Greenwood told us:
This conference brought together practitioners from all over Australia and NZ to look at community engagement and awareness to bushfire.
To get a good taste from the 2 days worth of videos I recommend the ‘be ready Warrandyte’ and the ‘Out of the Ashes’ videos.
This is a brilliant free resource, particularly those involved in engaging the wider community in relation to wildfire. Hopefully the accent barrier isn’t too big of a problem.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Martin and Steve.
Below is an excerpt from the U.S. Forest Service blog:
“The U.S. Forest Service and movies-goers have seen agency-managed lands as the backdrop for dozens of motion pictures over the years, but this year it is participating in the magic of Hollywood in a slightly different way – as a creative consultant for the soon-to-be-released “Planes: Fire and Rescue.”
Two film crews from Disney Studios descended on the agency’s Redding Smokejumper Base in northern California the first week of May. They were there to interview and take video footage of the Forest Service’s firefighters in advance of the movie’s release in July.
The plot of the second animated Planes movie revolves around the transition of Dusty Cropdropper – voiced by Dane Cook – into the dangerous yet exciting world of wildland firefighting after he learns he can no longer fly in races.
The Disney crews spent three days filming units suiting up, boarding aircraft and jumping into simulated wildfire zones and conducting water drops. That footage will be used in a Disney Channel special on the making of the movie and will also be included as behind-the-scenes extras when the film is released on DVD.
Soon after deciding on the general script for “Planes: Fire and Rescue,” Disney turned to the experts. The Forest Service, CAL FIRE – California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection – and the National Park Service are creative consultants on the world of wildland firefighting…”
Fire Aviation has more information (and a trailer) about the movie “Planes: Fire & Rescue”. It is due for release this summer.