Counter Rotating Vortex Pair: the 2020 El Dorado Fire

From: Mark Pieper
Subject: Counter Rotating Vortex Pair Technology Transfer Video Message
Body: Hello, I’m with the USDA Forest Service’s Innovation and Organizational Learning. We just released a 9 min. video about a fire behavior phenomenon called the Counter Rotating Vortex Pair. Investigators determined this occurred on the El Dorado Fire in 2020, killing Charlie Morton of the Big Bear Hotshots.
Here is the link to the video:    Qcode

This QCODE will get you more info plus the video.

Editor’s note
:  The El Dorado Fire burned 22,744 acres in San Bernardino and Riverside counties of California in September to November 2020. It was ignited on September 5 by a pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party in El Dorado Ranch Park, and quickly spread to the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest. Charlie Morton

Burning over a 71-day period, the fire destroyed 20 structures and resulted in one firefighter fatality, for which the couple hosting the party were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Charlie Morton, an experienced squad boss from the Big Bear Hotshots, was killed by the Vortex Pair detailed in the excellent video linked above.

In a report by the Victorville Daily Press, Martin Estacio explained, “When asked by reporters in July how prosecutors will argue the couple’s actions were responsible for Morton’s death, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said the firefighter was “fighting a fire that was started because of a smoke bomb.”

“That’s the only reason he was there,” he said.

A Superior Court judge in San Bernardino on Monday, Jan. 23, dismissed one felony count against the couple accused of setting the El Dorado Fire in 2020 but let stand 29 other charges, including the most serious, according to a January 23, 2023 report by the Mercury-News.

[Bill Gabbert’s El Dorado Fire story ARCHIVES]

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7 thoughts on “Counter Rotating Vortex Pair: the 2020 El Dorado Fire”

  1. There are times when the fire dynamics are such that the suppression force really can’t accomplish anything, and should be pulled back rather than sent in, vortices or no vortices. I emphasize, however, that any fire boss who makes a bad call, should not be held responsible, but all should learn from mistakes. Unfortunately, the latter is not as common as it should be.

  2. I have to say that I had never heard of this phenomenon before. Looking back over a thirty nine year I’m sure I saw it but didn’t realize what I was looking at and didn’t recognize the mechanics of it. Thanks so much for the info.

    1. Hey Old Captain, did that b&w still image from Wisconsin give you the shivers like it did me? yikes

      1. Sure did Kelly. Being a red truck guy, I can say how much better our personnel are trained today than when I started in 1966. Research and training is giving them the tools to recognize and deal with this sort of occurence.


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