How would you handle this spot fire scenario?

Cow Fire Eastern Oregon

This photo of the Cow Fire in Eastern Oregon was uploaded to InciWeb August 20, 2019. It appears that there are at least one and possibly two spot fires near the bottom of the photo.

During this very slow fire season in the West, there may be some wildland firefighters that have time to think about a tabletop exercise.

How would you deal with the spot fires?


  • You are the Division Supervisor.
  • Time and date: 4:40 p.m. August 24.
  • The fire has been burning for 24 hours.
  • The strategy is full suppression.
  • Location: Eastern Oregon, at 6,000 feet.
  • Two spot fires were just discovered by Air Attack about 75 feet apart on a west-facing slope 300 feet below the 50-acre main fire. The photo is looking toward the east.
  • The main fire has a slow to moderate rate of spread with occasional multiple tree torching.
  • Wind: a general wind is not a factor, however typical local diurnal slope and canyon winds can be expected for the next two days.
  • Relative humidity for the next two days: high of 45% at night, low of 28% in the afternoon.
  • Temperature for the next two days: high 85, low 62.
  • The main fire is 1/4 mile from the nearest road.
  • Firefighting resources on the fire now include one Type 1 hand crew, four Type 2 hand crews, four 3-person engine crews that are dismounted and working as a hand crew, one Firehawk helicopter with bucket, and one Huey helicopter with bucket.
  • The two helicopters, the Type 1 crew, and one of the Type 2 crews have been working on protecting critical habitat for the endangered Blue-Spotted Achilles Butterfly on the east side of the fire.
  • Additional ground resources are available that could be on scene at noon tomorrow. A BAe-146 air tanker could be over the fire, if ordered, within 90 minutes. A Type 1 helicopter, a K-MAX, could be on scene at 7 p.m. if it was ordered.
  • The drainage bottom, which has a very small creek with water, is 600 feet below the spot fires.

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. Google+

19 thoughts on “How would you handle this spot fire scenario?”

      1. As a former Rappeller, we used to catch IAs the size of those spot fires all day. As a DIVS, would use the RIC as my point of contact for the spot fires (they should have at least an ICT4 on the load). Then put the list of resources to work on the main fire.

  1. If LCES is in place I would do the following. Considering it’s 4:45 and fire behavior is probably going to get less as you continue I would hike the type 1 crew and a type 2 crew in and have them direct bucket drops for the rest of the shift and get a scratch line around the spot fires and saw work done. Next shift, since the creek is only 600 feet below the spot fires, and they look small, and the road is 1/4 mile away, mark 3 and a hose lay to drown it. Hose lay might be able to be used on the main fire as well. Depending upon fire priority order in air for the next shift as well. If dozers are available and can be used get them coming for the main fire as well.

  2. What’s the strategy with the main fireline in the picture? Are there resources going direct? Is the Road 1/4 mile away the eventual containment line? Are these spots going to end up in the main fire anyways? Is the critical habitat the only value at risk?

    Still have questions before engagement.

  3. Order the Huey to do 2-4 drops on each spot (assuming reasonably close fill site) while the Firehawk continues supporting on the east side of the fire. Hike in 2 squads from the Type 1 crew (1 for each spot) first thing in the morning leaving the rest to continue on the east side with the Type 2’s and engine crews and call in for more ground support to continue the line building on the north and south up to the ridge. Unless there are significant canyon winds overnight, the spots shouldn’t get too much of a chance to run.

    Additionally, call in the BAe for the main fire for a few runs on the west side ridge line to reduce the chance of a downslope run with the evening canyon winds. Then direct continue line building from the east side up to the ridge line.

  4. Mid-slope spots below a saddle with main fire above it. No thanks. As a former rappeller and spotter, no way would I put people in there. Water drops won’t be effective on the main fire and tankers are too far out. Look for opportunities off the nearest road for tomorrow and order more aircraft. If the crews on the east side are making progress and have an anchor, keep supporting them with the helicopters. More crews for tomorrow.

  5. I was trying to keep it simple but it seems to have gone technical. looking east at this then the smoke travel would mean the winds are south to southwest. it would also mean there might have been a wind shift because the spots would not be in the direction of travel for the winds now. That being said the slope is uphill into the wind and if the spots are not controlled immediately then the north/northeast side fire front could double by nightfall. Helicopter drops on them asap and then add the air tanker to the main line. Too late in the day to try to send hand crews in for something that has the potential to make a big uphill run.

  6. First: There is a fire tower at table rock. No way they didn’t see this fire earlier than what this picture shows. This spot fire could have been addressed considerably sooner.

    Second: There are roads and former fire lines already in that area. Those fire lines could have been used to address this fire (if they wanted).

    My two cents: Follow the money… Take a look at how much money was made from timber sales because of this fire?
    Who gained $$$ from those timber sales?

    1. Just to be clear, other than the photo, this is a completely fictitious scenario. I made up ALL of the “assumptions”. I have no idea if there are roads or a fire tower nearby or when the spot fires were first observed; and, I don’t care. That’s not the point. It’s just supposed to be an interesting exercise. Maybe from the various opinions expressed, some that are new to firefighting will think, and perhaps learn something.

      1. I definitely appreciate this exercise and all the responses. I just completed all my NWCG courses and hope to get on a crew next season.

  7. Note the old snags. Appears there was a stand replacement fire here a few decades ago. West aspect @ 1600 = hot fuels.
    A quick. decision needs to be made; either aggressive attack the spots OR double the size of the main fire.
    Did the Objectives in the IAP address this?

  8. Type 3 buckets would be more than enough. Out in a fuel cycle. Anything else or a Type 2 would be waste of tax payer money and waste of resources elsewhere.

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