Gunbarrel and LeHardy fires update

A new map of the Gunbarrel fire west of Cody, WY is available, produced from an infrared flight at 8:19 p.m. August 6. Cooler temperatures and higher humidities have moderated the fire activity for the last couple of days and allowed the evacuation orders to be lifted. The fire has burned 35,500 acres.

The same weather pattern has also slowed the spread of the LeHardy fire in Yellowstone National Park, which has burned 9,332 acres and is 5% contained according to the latest information from the park.

The map below is the result of an infrared flight (IR) at 8:11 p.m. August 6. The IR interpreter determined the number of burned acres to be 7,318. The legend is hard to read, but the black cross-hatched areas are intense heat, and the red dots (or reddish areas) are scattered heat. Fishing bridge and Yellowstone Lake are at the bottom of the map. Click on it to see a larger version.

One of the IR planes scheduled to fly the fire last night had a mechanical problem and was grounded at West Yellowstone, waiting for a mechanic.

The photo was taken by Carter Marsh on the LeHardy fire. It is a Sikorsky S-61 and has a similar paint scheme as the Carson S-61s, one of which was involved in the recent crash on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Possibly the worst non-military helicopter crash in U.S. history

UPDATE @ 1:49 p.m., August 8

The U.S. Forest Service has identified the USFS employee who died in the crash. It is 64-year old Jim Ramage, a resident of Redding, California, who has been a helicopter pilot for over 20 years. He was serving as a “check pilot” on the helicopter when it crashed. A check pilot rides along on a aircraft to affirm the skills and capabilities of the pilot. This can be done on a regular recurring basis, or to certify that the pilot has the necessary ability to perform specific tasks, such as water bucket drops, repelling, aerial ignition, or external loads. Ramage worked for CalFire as a helicopter pilot before transferring to the USFS. He was planning on retiring soon and had planned a trip to China with his family.

That leaves one person who died in the crash that has still not been named, a firefighter for Grayback Forestry.

9:23 a.m., August 8

The names of most of the victims of the helicopter crash on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California have been released.


William Coultas, 44, Cave Junction, Ore. Pilot for Carson Helicopters of Grants Pass, Ore. Critical condition at UC Davis Medical Center with burns over a third of his body.

Michael Brown, 20, Medford, Ore. Firefighter with Grayback Forestry of Merlin, Ore. Good condition at UC Davis with facial burns and fractures.

Jonathan Frohreich, 18, Medford, Ore. Grayback firefighter. Good condition at UC Davis.

Rich Schroeder, 42, Medford, Ore. Grayback firefighter. Fair condition at Mercy Hospital in Redding.


Shawn Blazer, 30, Medford, Ore.

Scott Charleson, 25, Phoenix, Ore.

Matthew Hammer, 23, Grants Pass, Ore.

Edrik Gomez, 19, Ashland, Ore.

Bryan Rich, 29, Medford, Ore.

David Steele, 19, Ashland, Ore.

Roark Schwanenberg, 54, Carson pilot, Lostine, Ore.

* The first six were Grayback firefighters. The names of one Grayback employee and a U.S. Forest Service employee who were killed have not been released pending notification of their families.

Rich Schroedersuffered a cracked scapula, fractured vertebra, and cuts and bruises. He called his mother who told the San Francisco Chronicle what he remembered of the crash.

The helicopter had just returned from ferrying 13 other firefighters back to the base camp, he said. Schroeder clicked his seat belt, and the helicopter started rising from a clearing.

Somewhere between 200 and 300 feet off the ground, he heard what no air passenger ever wants to hear – the pilot yelling in panic.

Schroeder looked out the window in the split second of freefall and thought he saw the craft crashing through branches. In a second, he was on the ground, trapped under burning metal and a body.

He was injured but was able to push away the body – which was on fire – and wriggle out of his seat belt. The only way out was through a broken window. He smashed the window to make more room and crawled out to escape the flames. Three others made it out.

“Whoever landed on top of him, that’s what saved his life,” Parks said.

“He didn’t hear any sound before it happened – he said the whole thing was over in a flash of an eye,” Parks said.

Gary Robb, an attorney who represents victims of helicopter crashes, said helicopters account for 10 to 12 percent of all aircraft flights in the United States, yet are responsible for almost 50 percent of all crashes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.. He said this is possibly the worst non-military helicopter crash in U.S. history


The recovery of the bodies and the investigation of the crash are being delayed by the wildland fire on three sides of the crash site. In addition, the fire caused by the helicopter going down with a full load of fuel burned through Thursday morning.

The LA Times has more information about the crash.

“Two survivors escaped the aircraft, and when they were able to get out of the aircraft, they were on fire,” said Kitty Higgins, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. “The third escaped under his own power and did go back in to rescue and pull out the fourth survivor.”


Higgins said that about 30 firefighters and support personnel watched as the helicopter with 13 occupants and a full tank of fuel took off from a remote “helispot” at about 6,000 feet elevation at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, traveled about 150 yards and crashed, bursting into flames.

The bodies and wreckage of the Sikorsky S-61, operated by Carson Helicopters, remain at the site.

At an afternoon news conference here, about 35 miles from the crash site, Trinity County Undersheriff Eric Palmer described a confused and difficult aftermath that stretched for hours.

About a half hour after the crash, the U.S. Forest Service called the Sheriff’s Department to report the accident, initially saying that 16 people were on board and none had died. “This information later turned out to be inaccurate,” Palmer said.

About six hours later, the fire service command team for the Iron Complex fire called, he said, and reported that nine people were unaccounted for. Sheriff’s personnel did not get to the site until 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

A federal investigation into the cause of the crash began Thursday, with members of the safety board, Forest Service and Federal Aviation Administration meeting in the morning, along with representatives from Carson Helicopters, Sikorsky Helicopters and General Electric, which manufactured the aircraft’s engine.

Higgins said that investigators would look for the helicopter’s voice data recorder, but she said she could not guarantee its usefulness because of the extensive fire damage.

One of the survivors, Michael Brown, 20, of Medford, Ore., said in a telephone interview Thursday from his hospital bed in Sacramento that his crew was pulling out of the area at the time of the crash because a lightning storm was fast approaching.

“All I can remember is lining up with my bag in one hand and my chain saw in the other,” Brown said, noting that he climbed into the helicopter and took a seat behind the pilot. He believes his spot on the aircraft may have saved his life because the pilot also survived.

“I had flashes of rotors hitting trees and we started to go down,” Brown said, but added that he was not certain if the accident actually happened that way or if he imagined it, because his memory is unclear.

Another survivor, Richard Schroeder, 42, also of Medford, said in a phone interview Wednesday night from his hospital room in Redding that it seemed that the helicopter’s rotor hit a tree as it was taking off. He also said he may have been saved by sitting up front.

Two northern California television stations have online videos about the crash. KRCR has several, including views of the crash site, and KHSL also has reports.


Here is a 1.5 minute video from AP about the crash.

Grayback Forestry has set up a web site with updated information about the tragedy. By clicking on “Comments” and scrolling to the bottom of the page, you can leave condolence messages. There is also an online “guestbook” operated by the Redding Searchlight newspaper where a person can leave written comments, audio comments, or post photographs.

Photo courtesy of LA Times and Grayback Forestry

Wildfire news, August 8, 2008

More than 150 fire engines escorted the casket of Chief Dan Packer to his memorial service yesterday in Federal Way, Washington. The Chief of the East Pierce County Fire and Rescue Department was killed July 26 on a fire in northern California. A slide show of photos from the service is HERE. A similar service was held Monday for Andy Palmer who was struck by a falling tree July 25 on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California.

Judge Van Sickle has changed the time and date of Ellreese Daniels sentencing from Monday, the 18th, to Wednesday August 20 at 10 a.m. in Spokane. Daniels plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of making false statements to investigators for actions on the Thirtymile fire.

The Columbia River Road fire, a new fire in Washington state on the Colville Indian Reservation near Nespelem, has burned 5,000 acres and is threatening 40 structures. More lightning and a red flag warning are predicted for Friday in eastern Washington, with possible showers on Saturday.

Lightning yesterday in northeastern Oregon started approximately 50 fires. Most of them were put out at less than an acre. A few of them burned 35-100 acres before they were contained. More lightning is expected on Friday.

A spokesman for the Lolo National Forest in Montana told the Missoulian that they received only about 50 lightning strikes in the Missoula area, less than expected:

“And most of them were sheet lightning, which don’t reach the ground.” 

The spokesman should brush up on his lightning facts. “Sheet” or “heat” lightning is simply lightning at a distance from the person viewing it, and it is behind clouds which lights up the clouds, some say like a sheet. But lightning at a distance behind clouds can still strike the ground and start fires.

And speaking of lightning, HERE is a link to an impressive slow-motion video of a lightning strike.

CalFire will not press charges against the 28-year old target shooter who started the Telegraph fire near Chico, California. The fire burned 34,091 acres and destroyed 30 primary structures. It was contained on August 6 and cost over $37 million to suppress.

And, we request that the fire blogger who has been copying sections of our posts and pasting them verbatim into his blog at least give us a credit when doing so.

Update on fires in the Yellowstone & Cody areas

Gunbarrel fire

The fire, 40 miles west of Cody, WY and about 6 miles east of Yellowstone, was relatively quiet on Wednesday, thanks to lower temperatures and higher humidities. A burnout planned for Wednesday evening was canceled due to the reduced rate of spread of the fire. Firefighters used the opportunity to construct firelines around structures and install sprinkler systems. Similar weather conditions are expected for today. The most current map available from the incident management team is HERE, but InciWeb has been intermittent today.

The fire is 34,770 acres and has 343 personnel assigned.

LeHardy fire

There is no new information available about this fire in Yellowstone NP north of Yellowstone Lake. The fire has burned 8,950 acres according to the last information from the park. We will update this post later today if needed.

But here is a cool picture from the fire of a helicopter dropping on what looks like a spot fire. Click on it to see a larger version.

Photo Steve Cory, Casper Star Tribune

Wildfire news, August 7, 2008

Fatal helicopter crash

UPDATE @ 10:15 a.m., August 7

The LA Times has information from one of the survivors.

One of the survivors, Richard Schroeder, 42, said in a phone interview from his hospital room in Redding that it seemed that the helicopter’s rotor hit a tree as it was taking off. 

A father of five from Medford, Ore., Schroeder said someone behind him screamed for everyone to put their heads under their legs. “He was looking out the window and saw something,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder’s stomach dropped as the helicopter pitched forward and plummeted. He blacked out on impact and came to with a body on him, he said. He shoved the body off and saw that the tail of the aircraft was on fire. His mouth was bleeding heavily and he could barely breathe. He said he thought, “I’m not dying here,” and unbuckled himself and kicked out a partially broken window. He wiggled his way outside. Men above screamed at him to scramble up the slope.

The helicopter exploded as he watched from above. “I was totally shocked,” he said. “I lost all my friends.”

Schroeder sustained serious injuries to his neck, shoulder and back. He did not suffer any burns, he said.

Another crew on the ground waiting to be shuttled out alerted base camp about the crash, and rescue crews were immediately dispatched to the scene, authorities said.


Schroeder said the crew was being transported back for rest because clouds were rolling in and they expected heavy lightning strikes. He said they were the third group to go out from that spot on Tuesday.

9:13 a.m.

Not much additional information is available about the crash of the S-61 helicopter with 13 on board. HERE is a link to a video report from KSEE News in Fresno. It has file photos of the three injured firefighters from Grayback Forestry.

Here is an excerpt of a Sacramento Bee story in which spokesman Bob Madden of Carson Helicopters in Grants Pass and Tom Karroll of the U.S. Forest Service describe the accident.

The helicopter crashed near the north edge of the large wildland fire. The craft was taking 10 firefighters and the Forest Service official out of the fire zone.

Both pilots had at least 10,000 hours of experience, he said.

On Tuesday, the helicopter had shuttled crews in and out of the fire zone and landed several times at Helicopter Spot 44, where the crash occurred, said Forest Service spokesman Tom Karroll.

“It’s at 1,800 feet (elevation) in very steep country, the Salmon Trinity Alps primitive area,” he said. “As it loaded up and the people had put on their seat belts, it didn’t have a successful liftoff.”

The helicopter caught fire after hitting the ground, Madden said. “Two other company choppers responded to the mayday (emergency call) and dropped water on the ground around the burning aircraft.”

Memorial service for Dan Packer

The service for Chief Packer who died on the Panther fire will be today in Federal Way, Washington. The funeral procession will begin at 11:30 a.m. and is expected to involve 200 fire trucks and police cars.

More lightning in northern California

More than 1,000 lightning strikes hit the area on Tuesday night, starting at least 26 new fires in Shasta County.

Secretary of Homeland Security tours NIFC

From the Idaho Statesman:

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff hails from New Jersey and seemed a little unfamiliar with Idaho on his first visit to the state Wednesday while touring the National Interagency Fire Center. 

“Thanks to Gov. Otter for his hospitality,” he said, looking at Lt. Gov. Jim Risch during a press conference.

Chertoff, along with Interior Secretary and former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, were in Boise to learn about the NIFC, which coordinates national firefighting efforts. While Idaho has had almost no fire activity this year, California has seen a slew of wildfires tear through that state, destroying homes and prompting mass evacuations.

The presidential cabinet members also toured the Wildland Firefighters Monument, while secret service agents and bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the grounds.

Smoke in California

The heavy smoke created by the fires in northern California has prompted Governor Schwarzenner to declare a state of emergency in 12 counties.