Antibiotic resistant staph infection found among fire crewmembers

News is circulating about an antibiotic resistant staph infection that has affected several members of a hot shot crew in the Southwest Geographic Area and is “running rampant” in California. A portion of the Safety Alert is below, but HERE is the complete version.

During the past week, one of our Region 3 Interagency Hotshot crews returned from a fire assignment in Northern California after having confirmed three (3) cases of MRSA (Staph Infection) on their crew over the course of separate assignments. It has now been confirmed that the initial case was contracted at a previous fire assignment but was not confirmed as MRSA at that time, even after initial and follow-up medical attention and the crew returning home from that first assignment. After being hospitalized, the crew member was still not diagnosed with MRSA and the remaining crew was dispatched to another fire assignment in Northern California.

After a MRSA diagnosis was confirmed in the initial crewmember, another crewmember noticed a similar occurrence and taken to a nearby hospital (near the fire incident) where MRSA was also confirmed. The patient was released to duty and provided topical ointment and told to keep it clean. At the time, the doctors in the emergency room at the hospital confirmed that MRSA was “running rampant” in California.

After cleaning and disinfecting all vehicles and equipment, the crew returned to work on the fireline only to have the crewmember experience worse symptoms and taken back to the hospital with a diagnosis of MRSA and later released from the incident and sent home. The crew remained at the incident only to have a third individual with a ‘bee sting’ that developed MRSA. The individual was taken to the hospital where MRSA was confirmed. After much debate, the crew made the proactive decision to ask to be sent home to provide recuperation time for the crew and affected crewmembers.

Thanks to Bequi Livingston (USFS) and FireNet for the information.

Wildfire news, August 11, 2008

Pilot still critical

William Coultas, the pilot of the helicopter that crashed on Tuesday with 13 on board in northern California, is still in critical but stable condition. He has had skin graft surgery for severe burns.

Firefighters’ remains removed from crash site

On Sunday the remains of the last four firefighters who died Tuesday at the crash site were removed on flag-draped stretchers and flown by helicopter back to a helibase where they were met by a bagpiper and a 22-person honor guard of firefighters. Engines, law enforcement vehicles, and ambulances then escorted a van with the remains to the Coroner’s office in Weaverville where they will be identified.

Cockpit voice recorder being analyzed

The voice recorder from the helicopter that crashed was made in the UK and can’t be analyzed by the NTSB in the United States. It has been sent to the British company that made it.

Memorial services

Jim Ramage, the U.S. Forest Service check pilot who died in the helicopter crash, will be remembered in a memorial service on August 16 in Redding, California.

The firefighters employed by Grayback Forestry who perished in the crash will be remembered in a service August 15 in Medford, Oregon.

“Heat rises”

The 20th anniversary of the 1988 fires in the Yellowstone area has generated a lot of interest. We have seen a number of articles on the topic from a wide variety of authors–some more informed about wildland fires than others.

In attempting to explain the complex process of how vegetation can continue to exist following a fire, one article summed it up this way:

Bulbs and other underground roots often survive and germinate again after large fires because heat rises. 


There will be a major conference to commemorate the 1988 fires in Jackson Hole, Wyoming Sept. 22-27. I am fairly certain that none of the speakers at the conference will sum up fire succession by saying “heat rises”.

No grudge held against grizzly after attack

Tony Allabastro, 26, the member of the Lewis and Clark Hot Shots that was attacked by a grizzly bear while conducting a burnout on the LeHardy fire in Yellowstone NP, said the bear was just trying to escape from the fire. He was treated for scrapes on his back and thighs at the clinic in the park, was on light duty for a few days, then returned to the fireline.

Allabastro said he and four other firefighters were setting a backburn when he heard “a little snap. I look up and there’s a bear taking a few steps toward me.” 

Allabastro said he began walking away, but when he turned to look over his shoulder, the bear was running at him at full speed.

“I instinctively started running as well,” he said.

The bear chased Allabastro about 8 feet to a pile of logs, then swatted him in the shoulder a few times. Allabastro said he tried to crawl underneath the logs, but the bear pulled him out. Then, standing on Allabastro’s thighs, the bear reared up on its hind legs and slammed his front paws down on his shoulders.

“It did that once, maybe twice,” he said.

Then the bear ran off.

“It does seem kind of surreal at this point,” Allabastro said. “It makes you a little more aware when you are walking through the woods.”

Allabastro, a Chicago native, has been living in Missoula for eight years. This is his first season with the Lewis and Clark Hot Shots.

Real time tracking of retardant drops

Land management agencies have been tracking in real time the location of firefighting aircraft, including air tankers and helicopters, for several years, but Latitude Technologies is conducting a test of a system that tracks individual retardant drops by airtankers. Each drop can then be displayed on maps on monitors back at the incident command post. The system is being tested on the Canada-based Martin Mars air tanker which is under contract this year with CalFire. The mammoth aircraft was used extensively in the Siege of ’88 in northern California.

High firefighting costs shut down USFS projects

The U.S. Forest Service has already spent all of their budget for firefighting, and is taking funds from other programs to continue firefighting for the rest of the fiscal year, ending September 30. The Chief of the USFS, Abigail Kimbell, is suspending spending on all contracts and projects except in emergency or critical circumstances.

As an example, they are blaming the high costs of firefighting as the reason funds are not available to repair a popular road to a Mount St. Helens viewpoint. Last week they announced Forest Road 99 to Windy Ridge will remain closed through the end of the year. The viewpoint usually gets about 100,000 visitors a year, but the road was closed by a washout from rainstorms late last year.

Reward offered for arson fires in Idaho

A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the conviction of the individual responsible for a series of wildland fires in southeastern Idaho. Arson fires, ranging in size from 10 to 10,000 acres, have plagued the area during the last few summers.

Photos courtesy of Oregonlive

Wildfire news, August 10, 2008

Gunbarrel fire

This fire between Yellowstone National Park and Cody, Wyoming, has been very subdued for the last several days due to wet, cooler weather. Moderate and drier conditions are expected over the next two days, with the temperature around 70, RH 20-30%, and WSW winds 8-13. Now that they have completed the contingency lines and the preparations around structures, they are releasing some resources and shutting down the helibase. Air operations will be based out of the Cody Airport. The size is still reported to be 35,500 acres.

New fires in Oregon

Lightning has started 85 fires across northeast Oregon since Thursday. The largest so far is a 100-acre fire southeast of Athena.

Young firefighters on contract crews

The Oregonian has an article about college-age people signing up on contract crews to make some fast bucks for school.

Two firefighters leave hospital

Two of the firefighters injured in the crash of the helicopter in northern California were released from the hospital Saturday. From


Michael Brown talks to reporters as he leaves the hospital.

Michael Brown, 20, and Jonathan Frohreich, 18, were two of four survivors of Tuesday’s crash near Redding, Calif., which claimed the lives of eight other Oregonians and one U.S. Forest Service ranger from California. 

Surrounded by friends and family at the UC Davis Medical Center, Brown, of Rogue River, said he remembered little of the fiery crash that killed some of his best friends. He didn’t know the extent of it until he woke up in the hospital.

“I’m broken up,” Brown said, his voice shaking and his face bruised and fractured in multiple places. “I’ve lost a lot of my brothers and my friends.”

Brown, who started volunteering for the Rogue River Fire Department when he was in high school, said he plans to continue firefighting. “I love my job,” he said. “Every firefighter is strong, and it takes a lot of courage. God had his hands wrapped around me.”

Frohreich, a recent graduate of South Medford High School, declined to comment. He had second-degree burns on his face and a fractured lower back.

Co-pilot William Coultas, 44, of Cave Junction was in critical condition with third-degree burns on at least one-third of his body, including his face, arms and legs. On Thursday, he had skin-graft surgery and probably will be hospitalized for at least 35 days. He faces intensive rehabilitation, said Dr. Tina Palmieri, direct of the UC Davis Regional Burn Center.

Photo courtesy of Sacramento Bee

Memorial service for crash victims

According to a post on, a service will be held in Junction City, California on September 13. Andy Palmer, who died after being hit by a falling tree, will also be remembered during the service

Man responsible for the Bear fire paroled

A man’s bad attitude got him a 2-year prison sentence, according to the UPI.

Matt Rupp said after his recent parole that he is furious to have been incarcerated for two years for accidentally starting a major California wildfire. 

The 48-year-old said after being released from a state prison that he did not deserve to spend time among rapists and killers for igniting the destructive Bear Fire with his riding lawn mower in 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle said Sunday.

Rupp said he was not an arsonist, but merely an individual whose mower struck a rock and created a spark that ignited a field of dry grass near Redding, Calif.

“To set a fire, you have to set a fire,” Rupp said.

The former inmate says he is also struggling to make ends meet since he has been ordered to pay the fire’s victims a total of $2.25 million.

Nonetheless, prosecutors defended Rupp’s prison sentence by claiming it was the best way for him to learn to follow public advisories during California’s dry seasons.

“His attitude,” Shasta County prosecutor Ben Hanna told the Chronicle, “showed that he was the type of person who was not going to learn from his mistakes. A prison sentence was appropriate.”


First person account of the helicopter accident scene

For months we have had a special link on the side of this blog that links to and shows an excerpt from the Zion Helitack blog. During this fire season they have not posted frequently, because it can be difficult to find an Internet connection on a dusty helibase.

But it turns out that one of the people on the Zion crew, Michael, was in a helicopter headed to the helispot where the accident occurred on the Iron 44 fire about the time the helicopter crashed, and played an important role in coordinating the numerous helicopters involved in various tasks related to helicopter water drops and rescue of the injured.

Michael wrote a compelling account that you should read, HERE.

Great Leader gives forestry advice

We stumbled across an article that provides an insight into life in North Korea. The “Great Leader” Comrade Kim Jong Il visited a tree nursery and had comments and advice about how to grow trees, manage forests, and prevent wildfires. The tone of the article, obviously written by a North Korean government flunky, in kissing Jong’s ass, is incredible. Here are some excerpts:

The great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il gave on-the-spot guidance at the Nursery Shop of the Yiwo’n County Forest Management Station in South Hamgyo’ng Province.

Thanks to the devoted struggle of the party members and working people of the Nursery Shop and the Forest Management Station, all the mountains in the county are completely changing their look as socialist mountains.

Saying that no one but only the true patriots – who completely devote themselves to the fatherland’s prosperity and the future descendants’ happiness – can accomplish this sort of project, the benefit of which can be reaped one decade or several decades later, Comrade Kim Jong Il highly assessed the noble spirit of patriotism displayed by Comrade Ch’oe Ki-chong, former head of the Forest Management Station, and the functionaries and workers of the Forest Management Station who have glorified their lives for a long period of time through the creation of the forest.

On the spot, Comrade Kim Jong Il set forth the tasks to be fulfilled in carrying out the afforestation work. Comrade Kim Jong Il said that the afforestation work is a noble, patriotic project for the happiness of the people and for a wealthy, powerful, and prosperous fatherland, and it is a nature-harnessing project of eternal value.

Saying that in order to turn the entire country into woodlands and greeneries it is necessary to plant many trees and pay deep attention to protecting and managing the trees, Comrade Kim Jong Il stressed the need to prevent the deeds of recklessly felling trees and to work out thorough measures for the prevention of wildfire.

Extending the warmest greetings of gratitude towards the respected and beloved general who had kindly inspired and encouraged them and imbued them with the noble spirit of patriotism through the visit to their far, faraway worksite, all of the party members and working people of Yiwo’n County, including those of the Forest Management Station, renewed the pledge of loyalty to brilliantly accomplish the honourable tasks assigned by the general and thereby to actively contribute to the completion of the cause of the construction of a powerful state.

It makes you appreciate America even more.

Last victim of helicopter crash named

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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.