Last victim of helicopter crash named

The last of the nine fatalities in the helicopter crash in northern California has been identified. At a meeting with reporters as one of the injured firefighters, Richard Schroeder, was being released from the hospital, Grayback Forestry owner Mike Wheelock said Stephen Renno, 21, of Cave Junction, Oregon died in the crash. His name had been withheld because his family could not be located immediately. Grayback officials found them on a camping vacation in Oregon.

Schroeder had difficulty speaking due to cuts to his lips which required stitches. He also has a broken shoulder and fractured vetebra.

The National Transportation Safety Board will begin examining the cockpit voice recorder today. More information about the crash, including photos of Schroeder, are available HERE.

Suggest a poll

The poll we had going, “Do you think helicopters should fight fire at night”, has closed, after receiving 447 votes. The final tally was 208 votes for Yes, and 221 for No.

Do you have a suggestion for a new poll? If so, leave your idea in the comments, or send us an email by clicking on our Profile at the bottom of this page.

Time to think

When I walked into Bill Supernaugh’s office one day in 1995 I found him looking out the window with his feet up on his desk. I was the Fire Management Officer and had an appointment with the Assistant Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to brief him about the prescribed fire we were going to ignite in the park in a few days. I got along well with him and felt comfortable smiling and saying, “Oh sorry, I didn’t know you were busy–I’ll come back later” and half turned to walk away.

He pointed to a chair and told me to sit down. In the banter that we usually engaged in before getting around to business he explained that he was “thinking”, something that he felt was important for a manager in his position, supervising the Operations of a large workforce and a big chunk of public land. Taking time to think gave him the opportunity to mull over the issues of the day and strategize about the direction the park would take. He said a person in his position was more of a thinker than a doer.

I wanted to slink down into my chair and disappear, because what he said made perfect sense and I was giving him a hard time. I was there to brief him about a project I was going to DO, and he was going to take my information and THINK about it, then approve it, ask for more information, or give me advice about how to do it differently, or not at all.

At 5:00 a.m. on August 26, 1992 Hurricane Andrew made landfall, knocking the crap out of south Florida and four national parks including Everglades, Big Cypress, and Biscayne Bay. Early the next morning I was in a rental car south of Miami driving through Homestead trying to navigate on back roads while driving over downed power lines and other debris. The first power line was scary as hell, but then we realized there was no electricity anywhere. Navigation was difficult because all of the road and street signs and many of the usual landmarks were gone. Even someone with us that was familiar with the area was disoriented.

We were a Type 1 All-Hazard Incident Management Team with a mission to rescue park employees and restore the infrastructure. It was a huge job and after a few days as Planning Section Chief I felt a little overwhelmed, with lots to do and not enough time in the day to get it all done. In confessing my situation to our Incident Commander, Rick Gale, he said “Order the personnel you need to get the job done. You are paid to think, not do.”

After that, I made time, like Bill Supernaugh, to think. Occasionally I even put my feet up on a desk.

Until he retired from the day to day operations of Microsoft, Chairman Bill Gates scheduled a twice-yearly “Think Week” ritual, where he would take a helicopter or float plane to his secret lakeside cabin and… think….by himself….barring all outside visitors. He would rarely leave the cabin during the week except for an occasional walk on the beach, having a caretaker slip him two simple meals a day at the cabin. He subsisted on the two meals, Diet Coke, and Orange Crush.

Think Week was legendary in Microsoft. Gates would pore over about 100 papers written by company executives, researchers, managers, and developers, who hoped to obtain approval for their new project, or a new direction for the organization. Comments that Gates wrote on the papers could give the green light to a new technology that millions of people would use, or send Microsoft into new markets. He had to be careful what he wrote, after finding that a casual “Hey, cool, looks good” could result in 20 people being assigned to a project.

Barack Obama appears to understand how important it is to set aside time to think. Here is part of an accidentally-captured conversation between Obama and British Conservative Party Leader, David Cameron. Cameron asks Obama if he will be taking any time off for a vacation this summer:

Mr. Cameron: Do you have a break at all?

Mr. Obama: I have not. I am going to take a week in August. But I agree with you that somebody, somebody who had worked in the White House who — not Clinton himself, but somebody who had been close to the process — said that should we be successful, that actually the most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking. And the biggest mistake that a lot of these folks make is just feeling as if you have to be …

Mr. Cameron: These guys just chalk your diary up.

Mr. Obama: Right. … In 15 minute increments and …

Mr. Cameron: We call it the dentist waiting room. You have to scrap that because you’ve got to have time.

Yes. You have to have time to think. Those of us in the emergency management business too often see time to think as a luxury we don’t have. True, at times, when split second decisions can have life-long, or even life-dependent outcomes. But when initial attack becomes extended attack morphing into a long duration incident, thinking is not a luxury. It is a necessity.

USFS bans Fire Use fires in California

The Regional Forester for the U.S. Forest Service in California has banned any additional fire use fires in national forests in the state for the rest of the fire season. Fire use fires are not aggressively suppressed, but are monitored and herded around as long as they remain within the “maximum management area” (MMA) as determined by the incident management team.

The Clover fire on the Sequoia National Forest in central California was initially a fire use fire, but in late June it exceeded the MMA and burned east out of the forest onto private land, burning over 13,000 acres.

Currently there are two fire use fires listed on the national situation report: the Gunbarrel fire east of Yellowstone National Park, 35,500 acres, and the Hawks Overlook fire in Arkansas, 105 acres. Recent lightning in the Boise National Forest in Idaho started 11 new fires, and three of them are being considered for fire use designation.

The Sacramento Bee has an article on the ban, HERE.

Thanks, Dick, for the tip.

Gunbarrel and LeHardy fires update, Aug. 9, 2008

Wet and cool weather is slowing the spread of the two fires.The LeHardy fire in Yellowstone National Park, at 9,332 acres, received some rain yesterday and will be releasing some resources due to that and the predicted weather.

The Gunbarrel fire just east of Yellowstone, 35,500 acres, did not report any rain yesterday in their news release, but the weather decreased the fire activity. The release says a drying trend is expected on Saturday, while the Weather Service point forecast predicts a 50% chance of heavy rain.

NTSB: Helicopter took off slowly, hit tree

The helicopter that crashed on the fire in California, killing 9, took off slower than usual and then hit a tree, according to NTSB statements in a news conference today.

After picking up a crew of firefighters from a remote landing spot on the flank of a wildfire a heavy helicopter appeared to take off and move forward more slowly than normal before hitting trees and crashing, a federal transportation official said early this afternoon.


The privately-owned Sikorsky S-61N had lifted about 50 feet off the ground near the north end of the Buckhorn Fire in Trinity County Tuesday night when its nose hit a tree. Just after that its rotors smashed into trees, said Kitty Higgins, a board member with the National Transportation Safety Board today.

The chopper fell to the ground, landing on its left side about 150 yards from where it had lifted off, she said, and black smoke soon billowed from the wreckage.

Higgins safety board investigators interviewed 10 of the crash’s 30 witnesses and flew into the crash site via helicopter after arriving in the north state Thursday.

At the site they found the helicopter’s voice recorder, which is being flown to Washington, D.C., where it will be examined Saturday, Higgins said.

“The recorder is in better condition than we thought it would be,” she said at a press conference in Redding today.

Weather at the time of the crash — about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday — was clear with light winds blowing at about 5 miles per hour, Higgins said. The helicopter had been flying since 4:30 p.m. that day, having done two water drops and transported two other fire crews before taking off with a crew of two, 10 contract firefighters and a U.S. Forest Service pilot.

Today investigators will evaluate the height of the trees surrounding the crash site, Higgins said. They also will work with coroner’s office workers from both Shasta and Trinity counties to remove the remains of victims still in the wreckage. She said that work should be done today.

From the Redding Searchlight