The above photo shows some historic cabins on June 30, 2012 that firefighters worked hard to protect during the White Draw Fire northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota. The photo below was taken yesterday, about 16 months later. Both were shot by Bill Gabbert.
A memorial site was dedicated today to honor the four people that died when the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 air tanker crashed in South Dakota exactly a year ago. MAFFS 7, from the 145 Airlift Wing in North Carolina, was dropping retardant to slow the spread of the White Draw Fire when it encountered turbulent air and crashed, killing Lt. Col Paul K. Mikeal, 42; Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36; Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, and Senior Master Sgt. Roberts S. Cannon, 50. Two crew members survived, Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt, and Master Sgt. Joshua Marlowe.
Family members had the opportunity Sunday to travel to the crash site about eight miles northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota. The new memorial is approximately 6 miles northeast of Edgemont on Highway 18 near the point of origin of the fire (map) where the motor home that started the blaze caught fire while pulling the grade between Edgemont and Hot Springs. The memorial consists of a gravel parking area with room for about six vehicles and it has two interpretive panels — one describing the White Draw Fire and the other covers the accident and the four victims.
Plans are underway to construct a memorial to honor the aerial firefighters killed in South Dakota July 1, 2012 when a military Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 aircraft crashed while dropping retardant on the White Draw Fire. Four members of the six-person air crew died when strong winds out of a thunderstorm caused the air tanker to impact the ground on a ridgetop northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota.
The aircraft that crashed was MAFFS #7 from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Killed were Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville; Maj. Joseph McCormick, 36, of Belmont; Maj. Ryan David, 35, of Boone; and Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon, 50, of Charlotte. Two survived but were seriously injured — Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt and Sgt. Josh Marlowe of Boiling Springs.
The memorial will be approximately 6.5 miles northeast of Edgemont on Highway 18 near the point of origin of the fire (map), where the motor home that started the blaze caught fire while pulling the grade between Edgemont and Hot Springs. During May and June workers will construct a parking area and make room for interpretive signs that will tell the story of the fire and the fatal accident. Visitors at the memorial may be able to see the ridge which was the site of the crash. The construction is being coordinated by the South Dakota National Guard, according to Scott Jacobson, Public Information Officer for the Black Hills National Forest.
The dedication of the memorial is scheduled for July 1, 2013, exactly a year after the accident. There are reports that some family members of the victims from North Carolina will attend.
The North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing crews will return to firefighting missions in the West on Monday. They’re headed back to Idaho, nearly a month and a half after a tanker crash in South Dakota killed four of the unit’s members.
“We all feel it’s extremely important for our people to get back to this critical mission,” said Col. Roger Williams, 145th Airlift Wing Operations Group commander. “We will carry the memory of MAFFS 7 in our hearts as the wildland firefighting continues.”
WBTV News reported that the 145th will send two aircraft and 16 airmen to Boise, where they’ll start duties on Tuesday. One aircraft is MAFFS-equipped and the other will transport equipment and personnel. MAFFS 7 was assigned to the White Draw Fire on July 1 when it crashed, killing four crew members and severely injuring two others. The Charlotte unit decided to retire the tanker’s tail number; they will operate MAFFS 8 for the upcoming assignment, and one of the California MAFFS tankers will return to its base for maintenance.
When the Myrtle fire, which is now contained, was threatening structures between Pringle and Hot Springs, South Dakota, many firefighters were assigned to structure protection. Most homeowners who evacuate have little understanding of what will happen around their house while they are hunkering down in a motel or school gym. Firefighters, when time permits, will do far more than spray water on the structure, as Lynn and Gardner Gray discovered when they visited their home near Pringle the day after they evacuated.
Jim Kent, a columnist for the Rapid City Journal wrote about the Gray’s experience in today’s edition. Here is an excerpt:
…During a return visit the following day, Lynn encountered four firefighters taking what she considered extraordinary steps to fully protect her property.
Once the Myrtle Fire moved out of range and the couple were back in their house, Lynn insisted I tour the property so she could point out the care and attention given by complete strangers.
From removing the propane tank on the Grays’ outdoor grill, to fully sealing their garage door and saturating 6 cords of wood stacked against the side of their home, the firefighters left no combustion hazard to chance.
They even took down a flammable decorative flag and repositioned a wood-handle rake before digging a protective trench around the property. In fact, the list of what the firefighters actually did is too long to include here.
And speaking of public relations, Craig Bobzien, the Forest Supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota, met with a group of citizens from the Edgemont area who had concerns about how the White Draw fire was fought. Mr. Bobzien explained in a Rapid City Journal article attributed to him that he had heard about some complaints in the media and wanted to hear them first hand.
Those citizens from the Edgemont have been generating a lot of publicity about how some of them thought the firefighters could have stopped the 9,000-acre rapidly spreading timber fire in late June if only they had paid more attention to the locals. Previously, on July 6 South Dakota Senator John Thune traveled to Edgemont with reporters and photographers in tow to also meet with those citizens. This was the fire on which a military C-130 MAFFS air tanker crashed, killing four members of the crew and injuring two others.
Morning briefings for firefighters about to go out on the fireline usually involve half-awake men and women cradling cups of coffee standing around a truck or a hastily-erected plywood bulletin board onto which a map has been taped, as the fire overhead tells them what they will be doing that day. But if the Incident Command Post is located at a county fairgrounds, more elaborate accommodations may be available, such as the grandstand in the photo above.