Facilitated learning analysis: Mother Lode Fire

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Mother Lode fire, spot fire approaching H2

Mother Lode fire Google Earth map, Figure 4The U.S. Forest Service has released a facilitated learning analysis for a series of events that occurred on the Mother Lode fire on the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon September 4 through 7, 2011.

If you are a regular reader of Wildfire Today and think the Mother Lode fire sounds familiar, it’s because we featured a photo from it on September 18, which showed a Class A faller (qualified to fall trees smaller than 8 inches in diameter) cutting a very large tree which is barber-chairing, a very dangerous condition.

The entire FLA is HERE (7 MB), but we will include an excerpt of it below. The narrative picks up on September 7. Previously, on September 6, at least 90 firefighters engaged in line construction had to abandon their assignments due to fire activity and utilize escape routes. They spent the night on the fire at a couple of different locations but met at H2 the next day. On the morning of September 7, 85 firefighters were extracted from H2 by helicopters. Left at H2 were 5 people, rappellers and helitack personnel.

Here is an excerpt from the FLA, which reads like a novel with the names removed:


Entrapment Avoidance

The Rappellers and Helitack continued to build loads of non essential gear while they waited for the sling missions to continue. They noticed some indicators of increasing fire behavior; scattered group torching and an increase in the main column. The fire edge closest to H2 was relatively calm, and was being checked by the Type 1 helicopter. When Air Attack had to leave the fire, the Lead Crewman from the Helitack Crew established communication with the Type 1 helicopter to act as lookout for H2. Shortly thereafter, the Type 1 helicopter had to leave the fire. Without the bucket support fire activity near H2 increased significantly.

Mother Lode fire, spot fire approaching H2At approximately 1500 Ship 1 returned for sling work but could not complete the mission because of smoke covering H2. He informed Air Attack on air to air. Ship 3 had just refueled at Helibase and was enroute to pick up the Rappellers. The Rappel Manager copied traffic on air to air in flight. As he approached the fire area for the first time he established communication with Rappeller 1 and could tell they were breathing hard. Ship 3 circled while Rappel Manager scanned the main ridge assuming that H2 was toward the top of the ridge. The fire activity the rappel manager saw along the ridge made him very uncomfortable. He estimated 200’ flame lengths off of sustained crown runs. He said “This isn’t good.”

The Rappellers and Helitack left H2 when fire behavior adjacent to the helispot increased. They headed for the East side of the East Lake (Figure 4). The foot travel was slow through the thick rhododendron. It took them approximately 12 minutes to get there. As they reached the lake they looked back at H2 and could see that it was now burning.

Recognizing that the Rappel manager could not establish their position, Rappeller 2 waded into the lake to signal their location to the helicopter. The Manager spotted Rappeller 2 and immediately felt a sense of relief. He began looking for places to land nearby. He hovered over the area he thought was the best location for an extraction site and Rappeller 2 acknowledged he saw the location. The Rappel Manager then called Air Attack to inform him they intend to let down 2 saws to cut H3. Rappeller 2 and 3 headed up the ridge to their South to begin looking for H3 . Rappeller 1 stayed to communicate the plan with the Helitack Crew.

At about 1530 the ICT3 tells the Forest Agency Administrator that he needs to order a Type 2 team and stated that if they wanted to continue managing this at the 3 level, they will need to find a new Type 3 IC.

At approximately 1545 Ship 1 flew back to helibase to reconfigure for crew extract. Ship 3 also started back to helibase to reconfigure for cargo let down. Enroute they chose to land in a dry creek bed. On the way out the Rappel Manager noticed two spots southeast of the main fire edge. Minutes later on the way back to H3 the spots were approximately 50 acres. They arrived at H3 and letdown the chainsaws. Ship 1 and Ship 3 orbited the fire waiting for H3 to be completed. During this time Ship 2 provided bucket support trying to cool the edge nearest H3.

Rappeller 2 and 3 began falling trees. Rappeller 1 positioned herself at a vantage to keep eyes on the fire. The Helitack Crew came up from the lake to help move material and there was a highly coordinated and tightly coupled effort to get the helispot done quickly. Rappeller 2 and 3 used close to a tank of saw gas each in approximately 40 minutes. When the Helispot was near completion the Helitack Crew called Ship 1 in to approve. Ship 1 decided H3 needed two more snags cut. As soon as they were felled the ship came in to load the Helitack Crew. Immediately behind them Ship 3 picked up the rappellers.

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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.

2 thoughts on “Facilitated learning analysis: Mother Lode Fire”

  1. “At about 1530 the ICT3 tells the Forest Agency Administrator that he needs to order a Type 2 team and stated that if they wanted to continue managing this at the 3 level, they will need to find a new Type 3 IC.”

    One has to appreciate an IC that recognizes that an incident is expanding beyond their capabilities.


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