Injury burnover in Kentucky

UPDATE: Zach Garland, the state firefighter injured Thursday on a Kentucky wildfire, is now in stable condition at the burn center in Huntington, West Virginia. On April 25 the Pike County 2 Crew was working a wildfire when the fire shifted; Zach was trapped and burned and critically injured. He was building fireline when fire cut off his escape route. Crew members immediately called for EMS; Zach was flown to the burn center at Huntington, where he is in good spirits. Though he is medically stable, he faces a very long road to recovery; Zach suffered second- and third-degree burns to his face, arms, hands, and knees.

Zach Garland in the burn center at Huntington, West Virginia
Zach Garland in the burn center at Huntington, West Virginia
His friend and co-worker Trey Beam has started a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses. “Zach was protecting our Kentucky land,” writes Trey, “as well as wild horses, homes, and civilians. Zach is a dad to two young children, the youngest of whom was born on the day after Zach was injured. We are requesting contributions of any size, to assist with out-of-pocket expenses for medical bills, travel, lodging, and Zach’s lost wages. Zach and his family face a very long road ahead.”
Zach Garland’s GoFundMe page is here:
Update: Generous people like you have chipped in over $7600 toward
Zach’s unexpected expenses. If you have another $20 in your pocket, he
and his wife need it more than you do — and May the 4th be with you.

Zach Garland, Kentucky
Kentucky firefighters Teena Dunn and Zach Garland.

PUBLISHED 27. APRIL 2024 — On Thursday about a mile south of Stopover in Pike County, Kentucky, the Blankenship Hollow Fire early in the afternoon injured a firefighter in a burnover incident. A structure fire in Blankenship Hollow escaped into the woodland and was reported to the Hazard Branch forestry office; volunteer fire departments at the incident requested a forestry crew to assist. The Forest Ranger IC type 5 and a Pike County crew were dispatched just before 2 p.m. and arrived at 3 p.m.

Kentucky fires
Kentucky fires
Zach Garland running firing on burn out operations.
Zach Garland running firing on a burnout operation.

Initial size-up from the IC was 10 acres burning in timber with an uphill run and high spread potential.

The IC reported that several additional structures near the fire would be their initial focus.

About 45 minutes later with structure protection completed, the IC and the crew hiked up the mountain to engage the head of the fire directly. They said they had active behavior with short-range spotting and decided to wait for a break before engaging.

Blower line on the Blankenship Hollow Fire near the site of shelter deployment.
Blower line on the Blankenship Hollow Fire near the site of shelter deployment. The area is hardwood leaf litter — as was 90 percent of the burn area. The area around the deployment zone was 60-100 ft hardwood with 3-12 ft beech, maple, and mountain laurel understory.

At 5:15 the IC reported a break in fire behavior and they re-engaged with  direct handline construction. Firefighters began building line down both flanks and at 5:55 IC reported that a firefighter had become trapped by a spot fire, cutting him off. He said he was deploying a shelter; 3 minutes later the IC reached the crew member and began a medical assessment. Kentucky State Police out of Pikeville was contacted by dispatch; they sent EMS units and requested a life-flight medical helicopter be held on standby.

Zach and his Kentucky Division of Forestry crewmembers.
Kentucky Division of Forestry Pike 2 Crew — Zach Garland is third from left.

The IC and the fire crew were able to assist the injured firefighter, who walked mainly under his own power off the mountain to the waiting ambulance, where EMTs decided to request helicopter transport to the burn unit at Cabell Huntington Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. There were no reports of other injuries.

The burned firefighter is in stable condition at the burn center this evening and is in good spirits. He endured burns on the hands, knees, and face; there will be a 72-hour followup report.

A statewide burn ban is in effect through the end of this month.


Another PacifiCorp lawsuit

The federal government plans to sue PacifiCorp for nearly $1 billion in costs related to the 2020 wildfires in southern Oregon and northern California;  the company is trying to negotiate a settlement.

According to an Associated Press report, the pending lawsuits were disclosed in an annual report from the parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, on Monday. The utility company has already agreed to pay hundreds of millions in lawsuits related to the 2020 fires.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy said the Department of Justice is seeking $625 million in suppression and cleanup costs that followed the Archie Creek and Susan Creek fires. Oregon’s Justice Department said it also wants $109 million in damages for those fires, and the Forest Service has asked PacifiCorp for $356 million for suppression and damages over the Slater Fire — which started in California and then burned over the state line into Oregon.

The company estimates that its utilities face at least $8 billion in claims from all the wildfire lawsuits already filed, but damages could be doubled or even tripled in some of those cases.

Other PacifiCorp lawsuits over the Labor Day 2020 fires are detailed HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.

The PacifiCorp website says the company leads in wildfire mitigation, and its system-wide, six-state plan includes in-house emergency management and meteorology and data science teams — and features the installation of over 450 weather stations, grid hardening, fire-risk modeling software, and an “enhanced” vegetation management program.

“The safety of our employees, customers, and communities remains our top priority,” declares PacifiCorp.

Meanwhile in southeast Idaho, renewable energy developer NorthRenew Energy has sold its 300-MW-plus Arco Wind and Solar project in southeast  Idaho to PacifiCorp. This is NorthRenew’s ninth project sale since the company’s inception in 2017.

NorthRenew energy projects
NorthRenew energy projects

Renewables Now reported last week that the project in Bingham and Bonneville counties is designed with a storage capacity of more than 300 MW of wind and solar power, but could be expanded by as much as 800 MW of solar energy in the future. The project acquisition extends PacifiCorp’s diverse mix of generating resources across its system spanning the western states of Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming.

New arduous medical standards process this year

In 2024 USFS employees with arduous quals will do the arduous exam. Firefighters with moderate or light duty will have the OF 178 exam if they mark one box in Part A or three in Part B. If you have questions you can email the help desk at

Arduous Medical Exam (AME) or Self-Certification or (HSQ)

What is the difference between the AMP and the HSQ?

      • The Arduous Medical Process is for those taking the arduous WCT.
      • The HSQ is for those employees taking the moderate and light WCTs.

What about the AMP Exam (AME) and Self Certification?

      • eMedical AMP runs on a 3-year cycle for employees.
      • Year one is the AME: a thorough health screening questionnaire followed by a physical exam with a medical provider. The exam results are reviewed by a USFS Medical Officer (RMO) before the employee can get medical clearance to take the WCT.
      • Years 2 and 3 are the self-certification process, which requires a shorter screening questionnaire plus a blood pressure check by an EMT or other qualified individual. The results are reviewed by HSQC’s and, based on the answers, may be routed to the RMO or cleared to the WCT.

NOTE that this is a gradual rollout over the next few years, not just in 2024 and not all regions are shifting the AMP at the same time. Here is the rollout schedule (subject to change):


      • Those with arduous qualifications who have not completed the arduous process yet will continue using the current system with the HSQ, alongside all moderate and light quals.
      • In those areas that are implementing the AMP, Acuity International will  assist with scheduling and payment for exams, at the employee’s request. This is a completely optional service.

The NWCG Risk Management Committee provides interagency national leadership in firefighter risk management, health, and safety. The Federal Interagency Wildland Firefighter Medical Standards establish minimum medical fitness for arduous duty. Light or moderate duty firefighters may be required to do a medical screening process.

The USFS uses Federal Interagency Medical Standards for employees who engage in firefighting duties.

Firefighters with arduous duty quals must complete a physical exam every three years, and it is required before that year’s work capacity test.

You must fill out a medical history form in eMedical and then you can schedule your exam with your doctor; your supervisor can initiate this for you. If you are approaching three years since your last exam, you should get started at least 45 days before your work capacity test. You can log into eMedical and request a packet.

USDA Forest Service

Annual Self-Certification

A questionnaire and blood pressure check are required each year between your in-person exams. The self-certification form FS-5100-42 is not the same as the HSQ/OF-178. It can also be completed in the eMedical system.

Details on additional exam requirements are posted [HERE].

  • eMedical Public Site for Temporary, AD, and new employees (available through ConnectHR) — this requires a username and password.

Medical Provider Documents (ALL PDF)

Appeals commission rejects British Columbia landowner’s claim of neighbor arson, sticks him with $450K bill

Clarke Matthiesen claimed his neighbors’ grandson caused the 2019 fire that originated on his property, and not his unregistered burn, according to the CBC News.

It took B.C. Wildfire Service crews two weeks to contain the fire that  started as a holdover from Matthiesen’s debris burn. He’s now on the hook for about $450,000 after an appeals commission rejected his claim that his neighbors’ grandson started the fire. The Forest Appeals Commission dismissed his appeal, finding that his explanation was “both unproven and unlikely.”
British Columbia Fire Service photo
British Columbia Fire Service photo

Investigators had concluded that a holdover fire from an improperly extinguished open burn of Matthiesen’s was the cause. The burn covered around 224 square metres — under 2500 square feet —  and a holdover fire can smolder underground for days or even months. “The burning of a large debris pile, as in this case, is inherently risky and can result in significant destruction if wildfires result from the burning. It is the responsibility of those engaged in such burning activity to ensure they have met the legislated requirements,” the appeals decision says.

The wildfire burned for about two weeks some 150 kilometres west of Quesnel, B.C. Matthiesen was ordered to pay $179,344 for damage to Crown resources, $260,369 for the cost of fighting the fire, $7,546 for reforestation costs, and a $2,350 administrative penalty.

Matthiesen hadn’t raised his arson theory with any officials or investigators in the four years before his appeal. He did not have a burn permit for the fire he started, and had no firefighting tools or water nearby as required. An investigator said Matthiesen’s burn pile included root wads from trees, which are often involved in holdover fires.

“The appellant was unaware of the degree of risk posed by holdover fires, the appropriate way to check for hotspots, or the need to maintain a fuel break even after the initial burning phase,” the decision says.

Matthiesen is one of the latest people ordered to pay huge fines under a section of provincial law that allows the government to recover suppression costs from those responsible for starting wildfires. In another recent case, another man was billed for another 2019 fire, according to another CBC News report.

A northwest British Columbia resident was billed more than $100,000 to cover the province’s cost of a fire that started on his property four years ago. Eldon Whalen was ordered to pay $100,688 for a fire that spread from a burn pile on his property in the Kispiox Valley northwest of Prince George.

The open fire was deliberately ignited, and if not for the response of the B.C. Wildfire Service, the impacts would likely have been even more widespread, according to the decision from B.C.’s Forest Appeals Commission.

Close calls and injuries in Texas

A 215-acre wildfire in San Jacinto County was contained on August 2 according to a report by ABC-13 News. That afternoon, resources were requested from Texas A&M Forest Service (TAMFS) on the Snowhill Fire. Shortly after 1 p.m. crews on the fire reported moderate to high fire behavior with several structures threatened, evacuations under way, and road closures in place.

The agency also reported that two of its firefighters suffered burn injuries when fire behavior intensified at about 5 p.m.

The agency’s 24-hour report noted that fire behavior intensified on a part of the fire where a dozer crew was working. The two injured firefighters were not wearing PPE properly and both experienced first- and second-degree burns to the face, hands, and sides.

The two firefighters were transported to a hospital and both were treated and released.

Two days later the agency released its 72-hour report on an aircraft incident in Travis County.

On August 1 at about 10:30 p.m. an air tactical aircraft working a different fire was involved in an incident at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport — about 5 miles southeast of downtown Austin — after flying the Powder Keg Pine Fire near Bastrop, about 150 miles southwest of Lake Livingston near the location of the Snowhill Fire.

Texas map

TAMFS resources were requested on August 1 on the Powder Keg Pine Fire in Bastrop County. Numerous aircraft were dispatched, including the Air Attack Platform at the Gillespie County Airport in Fredericksburg. The aircraft is a King Air C90A turboprop registered to Safford Aviation Service in Coolidge, Arizona (which had not yet replied to a request for comment when this was posted).

At about 8:40 p.m. the aircraft was released from the fire and made a 30-minute flight back to the Gillespie County Airport. On approach, though, the pilot and ATGS reported an issue with landing gear indicators; just two of the three indicated that the landing gear was down and locked. The pilot and ATGS attempted to fix the issue manually, and at about 9:30 p.m. they reported they had two hours of fuel left and intended to fly to Austin-Bergstrom, an FAA-controlled airport, where they’d do fly-bys so the control tower could see whether the landing gear was actually down. After two fly-bys, the tower told them it appeared to be down, and they approached for landing.

Upon landing the aircraft, though, the right landing gear collapsed, and the right propeller blades contacted the concrete and were damaged. The right gear appeared to have collapsed back into the aircraft gear hold, according to the report.

Neither the pilot nor the ATGS was injured and no civilians were injured. Both the pilot and ATGS were in constant radio communication with TAMFS dispatch in College Station, and the aircraft was tracked using the real-time map-based Automated Flight Following (AFF) system. The NTSB will investigate.

Spectrum News reported that Texas A&M Forest Service, the state’s lead agency for wildfire response, on Monday raised the state’s preparedness level to 4 — its second-highest level. The agency said over the past seven days it has responded to 80 wildfires burning 8,521 acres, with 41 fires since Friday.

The forecast for this week calls for more triple-digit temperatures with few chances for rain, and 164 Texas counties are now under burn bans.