Crew on North Complex in California overrun by fire deploys fire shelters

And, an update on the shelter deployment at the Dolan Fire

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Map of the North Complex, Claremont & Bear Fires
Map of the North Complex, Claremont & Bear Fires 11:12 a.m. PDT Sept 11, 2020.

A firefighting hand crew was overrun by the fire they were fighting September 9 and had to deploy their fire shelters. It happened on the Claremont/Bear Fire, two merged blazes that are part of the North Complex.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection explained that the fire  became unpredictable due to erratic weather and dry fuel conditions. The agency said the personnel were “virtually unharmed except for two minor injuries.” The incident is under review.

Fire Shelter Test
Fire Shelter Tests in Canada, June, 2015.

Fire shelters are small foldable pup tent-like fire resistant devices that a wildland firefighter can unfold and climb into if there is no option for escaping from an approaching inferno. The shelters can resist radiant heat, and if the person inside can seal the edges under their body, convective heat as well, but there are limits. Many firefighters have used the devices successfully, but others have been killed inside them.

The North Complex has burned 252,534 acres east of Oroville, California. Approximately 1,000 structures have been destroyed and 10 civilians have been killed. Resources assigned include 73 hand crews, 18 helicopters, 254 fire engines, 76 dozers, and 98 water tenders for a total of 3,108 personnel.

On September 5, three firefighters on the Bridger Foothills Fire northeast of Bozeman, Montana were forced to deploy and take refuge in their fire shelters when their safety became compromised by the proximity of the blaze, fire officials said.

September 8 on the Dolan Fire south of Big Sur, California, another crew of firefighters was entrapped and deployed their fire shelters. Updated information from the U.S. Forest Service is slightly different from what was originally released shortly after the incident. Andrew Madsen, an information officer for the fire, explained that of the 14 that were entrapped, three were flown to Community Regional Hospital in Fresno. One was initially in critical condition and the other two were in serious condition. As of today, September 11, the two that were serious have been released, and the critically injured individual is much better and is expected to be released in a day or two. Mr. Madsen said some of the other 11 members of the crew had “smoke inhalation” issues, but were evaluated at the scene and are OK. The crew was attempting to protect the Forest Service’s Nacimiento Fire station as the blaze approached.

Nacimiento Station
Nacimiento Station, satellite photo, September 7, 2018.

Update: September 20, 2020:

North Complex burnover
North Complex burnover

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

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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.

12 thoughts on “Crew on North Complex in California overrun by fire deploys fire shelters”

  1. that Nacimiento Station area looks like a wicked place to be in a fire. glad they all made it out alive.

  2. For all we hear from fire authorities about keeping brush and trees at least 50 feet away from our houses, isn’t it just a little ironic that the Nacimiento Station had trees growing right over it ???

  3. What part of the Claremont/Bear fire did the deployment occur? Did Cal-Fire deploy as it approached Oroville? Cal-Fire is the only source quoted in the article? I was there as the fire crossed the Middle Fork of Feather River. We went to our safety areas. No one deployed a fire shelter.

  4. Are you seriously suggesting that CAL FIRE or someone else made up the story? Or, because you were not aware of the incident it didn’t happen?

    Let’s stay reasonable here.

  5. I was there in one the safety areas that was burned over Gabbert! No one deployed a shelter! We were in our vehicles. Get your facts straight!

  6. Yes, all private citizens are civilians, but so are all police and fire public employees, as distinguished from military personnel. Please don’t refer to citizens as civilians unless you’re distinguishing them from military.

  7. John Kevin, your comment seems a bit petty. It is very common amongst firefighters to refer to public citizens as civilians. As much as that might urk you, it is long normalized language. It’s simply referring to people that aren’t trained or equipped to be in the fire environment. Why is the purpose of the term in the military? I don’t know, but guessing it serves the same purpose. Can’t it even be referring to veterans of our military who are present in a battle environment, but aren’t currently trained and equipped for battle? No disrespect to our military, but your point was missed. Appreciate clarification.

  8. I was part of the strike team that treated the injured inmate crew FFs that deployed their shelters on the North Complex, West Zone, as we had an ALS engine in the ST. It was an actual deployment. I can guarantee you this.

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