More details emerge about the loss of 2 firefighters and Camp 16

A television station in Los Angeles, KTLA, has put together more details about the Station fire and the events that led to the deaths of two Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighters and the burn over of Camp 16 on August 30, a facility housing inmate firefighters. KTLA obtained, through federal and state disclosure laws, U. S. Forest Service and county dispatch logs, the “daily summaries” (ICS-209, Incident Status Summary?), e-mails, and volumes of other records. The Station fire started on August 26 near Los Angeles, burned 160,000 acres, and killed two county firefighters, Capt. Tedmund Hall and Spc. Arnaldo Quinones.

Camp 16, Station Fire
Camp 16

A key focus of KTLA’s inquiry was what led to the burn over of Camp 16, the destruction all of the facilities there, and the deaths of the two firefighters who were killed while trying to find an escape route for the others at the camp.

The burn over of Camp 16 occurred on day 4 of the fire, a period of time in the life of a fire by which most of the essential pieces of the fire suppression puzzle are in place and the typical chaos has been converted to an appearance of order.

Since the camp was never evacuated, it appears that the incident management team running the Station fire either forgot about Camp 16, assumed it was not occupied, hoped it was fire-safe, or thought they would take care of themselves, since the personnel at the camp were all firefighters. You have to wonder, also, what the thought process was on days 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the Los Angeles County Fire Department which managed the fire personnel at the facility, and if there was anything that could have been done before the fire to reduce the chances of the facility being totally destroyed when the inevitable fire visited the area.

Below is an excerpt from the article by KTLA.


…County Fire Chief Deputy John Tripp, the No. 2 executive in the department, said he did not believe that the camp had been an afterthought to the commanders. He also said that his agency had “some communications” with the crews during the firefight. A county review of the response to the Station blaze termed those communications “sporadic.”

Asked if it had been too risky for firefighters to stay at the camp, Tripp said, “That I can’t talk about yet.” He deferred to an inquiry into the deaths by the county and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, whose findings are due to be released in the coming days.

Don Feser, former fire chief of the Angeles National Forest, said it was senseless to have kept crews at the camp, especially because they were waiting for the blaze to reach them rather than actively confronting it.

“It wasn’t like there was any engagement going on,” he said. “It was an oversight, I’m guessing, in the county command system. . . . They either forgot about them, or the people who were calling shots for the county were oblivious about what could happen to them.”

Feser, who retired in 2007 after seven years as chief, said it was a mistake not to include the camp in the wider Station fire fight: “The incident command teams should have been double-checking to make sure that they didn’t have anybody out there, that everybody’s been evacuated.”

A preliminary county report and interviews show the crews had abandoned any hope of taking a stand against the fast-moving fire on that fateful Sunday morning, Aug. 30, and instead scrambled for cover in a dining hall and their vehicles.

“It got to the point where there was no oxygen to breathe,” said the firefighter who was at the camp.

At 4:15 p.m., “fire conditions around the camp began to deteriorate very rapidly,” the report states. At 5:15, it says, “an accounting of all personnel began, and it was determined that two personnel were missing.” At 5:41, this chilling entry appears in Forest Service dispatch logs: “Camp 16 has been burned over.”

As the flames roared up through the camp, exploding through the treetops, the crew members sought refuge in the dining hall, then were marshaled outside as the fire surrounded the building; they huddled in trucks and engines, and some unfolded hand-held shelters, according to witnesses and records. “We thought we were going to die,” said the firefighter who was on Mt. Gleason.

40 homes burned near Toodyay, Australia

A fire near the Western Australian town of Toodyay, 85km north of Perth, has burned 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) and about 40 homes. The fire is contained but is not controlled.

Western Australia electricity provider Western Power has conceded its power line may have started the fire. In a display of accountability and candor that would be unusual when a southern California electricity provider such as San Diego Gas and Electric starts a fire, a spokesman for the company said:

If it’s determined that it’s caused by our negligence we will be paying compensation as appropriately determined as we always do.

However, investigators from the Fire and Emergency Services Authority said that while the fire started near power lines, it is too soon to say exactly what the cause of the fire was.

Another fire near Badgingarra, 300km north of Perth, forced residents from their homes as it burned through 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres) of bushland.

For the last several days the fire danger rating has been at “catastrophic” for some areas in Western Australia, which is the highest level.

HERE is a link to another video report about the fires, featuring news “presenters” with charming Australian accents.


Bushfires burn homes in Western Australia

There are reports that eight homes have been destroyed.
There are reports that eight homes have been destroyed.

Two large bushfires in Western Australia have caused many residents to evacuate their homes. There are reports that eight residences have been lost to the fires and at least five air tankers are assisting firefighters.

One of the fires is about 85km northeast of Perth and has burned 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres). On Tuesday evening residents were told by the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) to abandon their homes as the flames advanced toward the Lloyds Hill subdivision. The FESA advised them:

This emergency warning means that if you are in this area your best option for survival is away from the fire. Relocating at the last minute is deadly.

A second fire in Dandaragan shire has burned 4,700 hectares (11,600 acres) and is also threatening homes.

The incident controller for the fire, Stephen McDonald said:

We’ve still got temperatures around 34 degrees (93 F), we’ve got westerly winds gusting up to 35 kilometres an hour (21 mph) and we’ve got… [humidity] that’s sitting at about 25 per cent.

Another couple, and a baby this time, get snow-bound, using GPS

Jeramie Griffin and Megan Garrison.
Jeramie Griffin and Megan Garrison.

When we were putting together the previous post about the couple that took the GPS “shortest” route and ended up snow-bound on a US Forest Service road for two and a half days, we kept finding conflicting information about the names of the people and how they were rescued. Finally we figured out there were two similar incidents, both in the state of Oregon and both occurred on US Forest Service roads.

This second incident began much like the other one. Jeramie Griffin and Megan Garrison had a new GPS receiver, and they selected the “shortest” route–40 miles shorter than the quickest route. They intended to drive on Christmas Eve from Lebanon, OR to The Dalles, OR. The GPS told them to turn off of Highway 22 onto Breitenbush Road near Detroit Lake, then onto a US Forest Service road.

Following those directions, they got stuck in snow and spent the night in their SUV with their 11-month old daughter, Lexi.  They had no cell phone service, even after walking for miles along the road, searching for a signal.

Their family was expecting them in The Dalles on Christmas Eve, but when they had not arrived on Christmas day several agencies began searching for them.

Looking for them, Griffin’s uncle, Jim Wiens, used a similar GPS unit and followed its directions for the same route, including driving down the snow-covered USFS road on Christmas day. He was about to turn around thinking the couple could not possibly be that far down a back road when he saw the footprints they had left when they were searching for a cell phone signal. He continued down the road until he found them.


GPS routes couple to a snow-bound 2-day ordeal

John Rhoads and Starry Bush-Rhoads
Starry Bush-Rhoads and John Rhoads

Many of us are abandoning paper maps in favor of GPS receivers. But sometimes, to a GPS unit, a road is a road.

A couple attempting to drive from Portland to Reno relied on their new GPS receiver and became stuck in 18 inches of of snow on a U. S. Forest Service road in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near Thompson Reservoir outside the small town of Silver Lake, Oregon (map).

John Rhoads, 65, and Starry Bush-Rhoads, 67, allowed the GPS unit to select the “shortest route”. But the shortest route is not always the quickest or the safest route.

On Christmas day near Silver Lake, Oregon the GPS directed them to turn right onto USFS road 28. They followed that road and some other spur roads for about 35 miles until they got stuck in the snow after trying to turn around and retrace their route.

For two and a half days they tried to summon rescuers on their cell phones but had no service. They stayed warm by putting on extra clothes they had packed for their trip and by starting the engine and running the heater on their Toyota Sequoia SUV every few hours. They also had plenty of water and food, including lunch meat, salami, and nuts.

On Sunday, December 27, after two and a half days, atmospheric conditions changed, and they had a weak signal on their cell phones. When they finally talked to a Klamath County 911 dispatcher, their GPS-enabled cell phones relayed their location. A deputy Sheriff found them and pulled out their Toyota with a winch.

Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger said:

GPS almost did ’em in and GPS saved ’em.

HERE is a link to a video segment from ABC’s Good Morning America about the couple’s ordeal.

UPDATE at 1:55 p.m. December 29

The same thing has happened to another couple, this time with a baby, also in Oregon and also on a USFS road.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

Our Christmas wish is for all of our Wildfire Today readers to have a GREAT Christmas and a wonderful 2010.

Here is a little Christmas gift for you. It is Darlene Love singing Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Make yourself a hot toddy, then enjoy the drink and the music.

And……. THANKS for visiting Wildfire Today!