Three firefighters killed in Washington wildfire

(Originally published at 6:12 p.m. PT, August 19, 2015; updated at 8:12 a.m. PT, August 20, 2015)

Three U.S. Forest Service firefighters were killed Wednesday, August 19, while they were fighting the Twisp River fire west of Twisp, Washington. The agency confirmed that they were “engaged in initial attack operations and were involved in a vehicle accident when it is believed that the fire overtook the vehicle.”

According to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, the three Forest Service deaths occurred in a fire on Washington Department of Natural Resources land.

Four additional firefighters were injured: one USFS, two DNR, and one DNR contractor.

Evacuations of the 3,000 residents of two nearby towns were ordered, Twisp and Winthrop.

The names have not been released, pending notification of next of kin.

“We are devastated by the tragic loss of three of our Forest Service firefighters,” said Mike Williams, Forest Supervisor on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.  “We are working with County and State partners to notify the families of those lost.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and fellow crewmembers of these brave firefighters.”

The Forest Service said a national incident management team has been ordered.

Q13 Fox reported that the county “sheriff said the wind suddenly shifted and the firefighters became trapped as the fire was turned back on them”.

The rapidly spreading new fire that caused the evacuations is represented by the six red dots in the map below, 6 miles northwest of Twisp. Heat from the fire was detected by a satellite at 1:05 p.m. PT, August 19. Click on the map to see a larger version.

Map fires near Twisp
Fires near Twisp, Washington. The dots represent heat detected by a satellite, with the red ones being the most recent, recorded at 1:05 p.m. PT on August 19, 2015. (click to enlarge)

Evacuation information can be found at the Okanogan County Emergency Management Facebook page.

The first articles to report the fatalities were time-stamped shortly before 6 p.m. PT, August 19.  The reports say shifting winds may have contributed to the entrapment of the firefighters. The weather station between Twisp and Winthrop, NCSW1, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday recorded winds from all directions, starting from the north at 8 a.m., the wind direction changed going clockwise until they were from the north-northwest at 5 p.m. The wind speeds were light, at 1 to 6 mph until 5 p.m. when they increased to 10 with gusts to 20 mph. The relative humidity was in the mid-teens and the high temperature was 95 degrees.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families of the injured and deceased firefighters.

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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.

8 thoughts on “Three firefighters killed in Washington wildfire”

  1. R.I.P., fallen firefighters. Condolences, prayers, and sympathy for their loved ones and co-workers and to the critically injured fourth fire fighter.
    Something is troubling. Didn’t we suffer a similar tragedy in this same forest fourteen years ago with the Thirty Mile fire? It claimed four fire fighters within some 50 miles of yesterday’s deaths. Hot weather, regional resources heavily committed, fire fighters caught in a canyon with fire between them and the only exit, sudden fire growth, entrapment, burnover. Except for yesterday’s vehicle issue ad being an initial attack instead of transition (from mop up to project fire in 2001!), there seem to be some disturbing parallels between what happened to Northwest Regular crew no. 6 in 2001 and yesterday’s tragedy out of Okanogan County district 6 (west of Twisp). There’s even a tweet about some firefighters driving through flames to escape… another eerie parallel. Time to re-read MacLean.

  2. RIP. Sincerest condolences to all touched by this. Given the passion understandably caused by this kind of loss, it may be best to let the dust settle before concluding that it aligns with any particular cause, especially since the proximate cause seems to have been a vehicular accident and not necessarily PPE.

  3. Oh my God, with great saddness, my heart is Crushed and am short of breath.
    I knew that this could happen again….Leadership has not seamed to have learned anything. These events are preventable, but they can not See, do not Hear.
    We Have Lost and Given so much, why do we keep saying it can’t be done. The solutions are within reach.
    David Turbyfill
    GMHS Dad

    1. It is very sad to see this happen again. It definitely reopens the wounds that we were trying to heal from the Yarnell Fire. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about those men, several of which I went to school with.
      I wish something would be done to stop these tragic events from happening in the future.
      My heart goes out to these fire fighters family and my heart will continue to go out to the families who have lost someone in a wild land fire.
      RIP to the men who died trying to save others. You will never be forgotten!

      ~Deanne K. Petty

  4. My sincerest condolences to those families affected by this tragedy…all to sad to see people lose loved ones..that were trying to save the lives of others…RIP

  5. My heart goes out to the lost firefighters and there families. To all of the remaining firefighters, be strong and honor your fallen comrades by being very safe and look out for all. God speed.

  6. i offer my sympathies to the families of these fire fighters,and i wish them a safe journey from here forth.very sad season.


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