Firefighter describes the Cowiche Mill fire burnover

Thankfully the three firefighters that were burned over in an engine while protecting a structure on the Cowiche Mill fire west of Yakima, Washington on July 18 are OK, suffering only minor injuries while escaping from their Type 1 structural engine as it began to burn. Here is an excerpt from an article at SeattlePI, describing the incident as seen through the eyes of a second-year volunteer firefighter:

Cowiche fire burned engine
This camera phone photo of the remains of the burned-over engine was distributed by Brian Schaeffer.

From his rear seat on Engine 31, Michael Rhine watched the fire, seemingly at a safe distance. But as the engineer swung the truck around to face the one way out, a big stand of sagebrush blew up into a 40-foot wall of flame. Amid zero visibility and intense heat, Engine 31 was engulfed, crashing through a dirt barrier and a barbed-wire fence before faltering to a stop.

“They’re off the road,” someone yelled on the radio. “Probably need a mayday.”

The two firefighters in front bailed out the driver’s door, but Rhine couldn’t budge the back door. It was so hot his hand blistered as he tried to push it open.

The others yelled at him to go out the front, but he couldn’t hear over the roar of the fire. He dove over the seat, out the door and to the ground, and they began to flee. As the three sprinted across a field in search of safety, Rhine felt the fire burning his ears. He kept running.

The three firefighters on board suffered minor injuries. But their narrow escape illustrates the dangers of fighting wildfire in the arid West, where tinder-dry land and blustery winds can almost instantly turn a routine blaze into a killer.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.