Fifteen firefighters attempting to prevent a structure from burning in a California wildfire were entrapped and overrun by the fire, the U.S. Forest Service announced today.
Two firefighters were injured, one critically and the other seriously, the release said. Both patients were transported by Life Flight to Community Regional Hospital in Fresno.
(Update September 11, 2020: New information from the U.S. Forest Service is slightly different from what was originally released shortly after the incident. Those new details are in an article published Sept. 11 about another crew that had to deploy fire shelters.)
It occurred at the Dolan Fire at about 8:31 a.m., September 8, 26 air miles southeast of Big Sur.
The firefighters deployed the fire shelters they carry for this type of situation.
The Forest Service said the incident occurred while the personnel were defending the Nacimiento Station from the approaching fire.
A shelter deployment involving fifteen firefighters from the Dolan Fire occurred approximately at 0831 on Tuesday, Sept 8, 2020, in the vicinity of Nacimiento Station. These dedicated firefighters received injuries including burns and smoke inhalation while defending the Nacimiento Station on Dolan Fire on the Los Padres National Forest in California. Nacimiento Station was destroyed.
When a fixed wing aircraft mapped the Dolan Fire at 2 a.m. PDT September 8 about six hours before the incident, the fire was 74,591 acres, more than twice the size mapped the previous night when it was 36,213 acres. The heat sensing equipment detected intense heat at the fire’s edge at 2 a.m., 0.7 miles northwest of Nacimiento Station.
Fire shelters are small foldable pup tent-like fire resistant devices that a wildland firefighter can unfold and climb into if there is no option for escaping from an approaching inferno. Many firefighters have used the devices successfully, but others have been killed inside them.
Three days before, on September 5, three firefighters on the Bridger Foothills Fire northeast of Bozeman, Montana were forced to deploy and take refuge in their fire shelters when their safety became compromised by the proximity of the blaze, fire officials said.
The engine crew from Fire and Rescue New South Wales Station 509 Wyoming recorded the video below showing the moment their truck was overrun by a fire south of Nowra, NSW. The crew was forced to shelter in their truck as the fire front passed through. The video was posted by NSW Rural Fire Service December 31, 2019 local time.
The crew from Fire and Rescue NSW Station 509 Wyoming recorded this video showing the moment their truck was overrun by the bushfire burning South of Nowra. The crew was forced to shelter in their truck as the fire front passed through. #NSWFires#ProtectTheIrreplaceablepic.twitter.com/Hb0yVrefi9
An engine that was working on a prescribed fire near Covelo, California was burned over and appears to be destroyed.
Below is the summary from a “Green Sheet” report released by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
On October 22, 2018, a CAL FIRE fire engine staffed with one Fire Apparatus Engineer and two firefighters were participating in a Vegetation Management Program (VMP) hazardous fuel reduction burn near Covelo, CA. While the crew was away from the engine assisting with containment of several spot fires, the parked, unattended engine was impacted by spot fires burning outside of containment lines, and sustained major damage. No personnel were injured during the incident.
A report has been released for an incident that occurred August 16, 2018 on the North Eden Fire. Two fire engines were burned over and destroyed but thankfully no one was injured. The fire eventually burned more than 13,000 acres in three states, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming.
While a 5-ton 6X6 former military cargo truck converted for use as a fire engine was making a mobile attack on the fire, the driver, the only person in the vehicle, was operating a nozzle out of his window. The truck was in the green unburned area suppressing the active fire edge when the Low Air Warning System activated and it suddenly came to a stop. The driver was not able to move the vehicle. He got out, looked at the fire, then went back to retrieve his fire shelter. The truck would still pump water and he used a nozzle to wet the area around the immobile vehicle. Another engine, with the Fire Warden and a Fire Chief, came over to help and also sprayed water, but the fire closed in quickly
From the report:
…The Fire Warden used Heavy Brush 13 as a shield and sprayed down the 20-foot flames as the Fire Chief and Engine Operator ran to the black. The Fire Chief looked back and saw the Fire Warden “on his knees spraying into a wall of fire.”
Instincts and training kicked in. The Fire Warden recalls “I pulled them to the front of my truck, dropped the nozzle and told them to get into the black.” The Fire Warden then dropped the hose and also retreated into the black. He went approximately 15 feet where he joined the Fire Chief and Engine Operator. Flames were shooting out of the window of both trucks.
Within seconds, the tires of the trucks began exploding. From the time the Heavy Brush 13 was first reported down until the two trucks were engulfed in fire was a total of approximately three minutes.
There were no injuries.
The report does not conclude exactly what caused the engine to become immobile, but pointed out that the 5-ton M928A2 has an air compressor that feeds three separate air tanks and components for the 6-wheel drive, as well as the parking and braking systems. Air brake systems require compressed air to work. If a loss of air occurs, the brakes will engage and the truck cannot be moved.
When received from the military the M928A2 has poly air lines which can be vulnerable to getting snagged and broken by brush, or melted by extreme heat from a nearby fire. Owners and operators using these on wildfires are advised to shield the lines with heat-resistant materials, relocate the lines, or replace them with more durable braided lines.
A report has been released for a helicopter crash in a very remote area of Nevada that started a fire, injured two passengers, and resulted in rescuers being burned over. It happened August 18, 2018 about 10 miles north of Battle Mountain.
One of the passengers called 911 on a cell phone at 1357:
We just got into a helicopter crash…three occupants, all of us are alive and managed to get out…started a big fire, fire is burning all around us right now…one of the guys hit his head pretty hard…you’re gonna have to get a helicopter, it’s the only way to get in here.
Adding to the complexity was the fact that several different agencies and organizations had various responsibilities: Lander County Dispatch, Battle Mountain Volunteer Fire Department, local EMS services, a medical helicopter, Elko Interagency Dispatch Center, and Central Nevada Interagency Dispatch Center.
As might be expected the complex communication chain between the victims and the actual emergency responders created some difficulties, including a delay in extracting the three personnel.
The Facilitated Learning Analysis does not speculate what caused the crash of the helicopter that was transporting two biologists on a chukar survey, but it started a fire, which was named Sheep Creek. The biologists and the pilot self-extracted, one of them with what appeared to be a serious head injury, and they all hiked up a steep slope to a flat bench where they awaited a helicopter. About two hours after the 911 call the three were evacuated from the scene by a firefighting helicopter that was on scene, and possibly also a medical helicopter. The report is not clear about this.
Meanwhile a volunteer fire department Type 4 engine that had responded in a search and rescue mode toward the crash site found that the condition of the road they were traveling on deteriorated from a 2-track road to a 4×4 trail, and finally ended. At that point the fire was closing in on their location. The rookie firefighter and the Fire Chief got out, and leaving their wildland fire personal protective gear in the truck, began to spray water around the vehicle.
From the report:
Within seconds, the fire was all around Pumper- 2. Both individuals were caught outside of the vehicle while trying to spray water. Neither had on their personal protective equipment (PPE) when the burnover occurred. The Chief stated, “We were in a rescue mission, so we had no PPE on.”
During the burnover, the firefighter jumped off the back of Pumper-2, started to run around the vehicle and then took refuge under Pumper-2. “I was burning and screaming and hunkered down underneath behind the rear tires.” After the burnover, the Chief yelled for the firefighter, whom he could not see anywhere. He eventually located the firefighter under Pumper-2.
After sustaining significant burns, both the Chief and firefighter got back into the vehicle, with the Chief driving, continuing down drainage. The fire was behind them as they continued driving through the black towards the bottom of the drainage. Pumper-2 drove through the bottom of the drainage over the rough terrain until getting stuck. Both individuals got out of the vehicle and proceeded to hike up the steep ridge until they got on top of the ridge to establish communications.
At 1646, Lander County Dispatch received a 911 call from the firefighter, who said he and the Chief had been burned. “We need help.” Dispatch was asking questions to establish a location, but the cell phone was breaking up. The firefighter said, “We might need a helicopter because we are on the ridge…in the black…wearing a red shirt and just uphill right of the engine.”
Suppression resources were actively engaged on the wildland fire during the burnover of the Pumper-2. The Incident Commander of the wildland fire was unaware that Pumper-2 was on the fire until well after the burnover occurred. The dispatch centers did not know the location of Pumper-2.
At 1745 the injured firefighters were located and extracted by the air medical and suppression helicopters to awaiting ground medical resources at Battle Mountain Airport. At about 1900, fixed-wing aircraft flew the injured firefighters to the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The FLA points out a number of organizational and human issues that are worthy of consideration. One topic that was not thoroughly addressed in the report was the dispatchers and firefighting personnel at times did not know the exact location of the crash site or the victims, and were not aware that the engine was responding or it’s location following the injuries to the two firefighters.
Even when, eventually, the location of emergency responders will be able to be tracked on an incident, biologists and volunteer firefighters will probably be some of the last personnel to employ this capability on a routine basis.
Two fire vehicles fighting the North Eden Wildfire were destroyed August 17 by wind-driven flames. A heavy engine from Woodruff Fire Department and a light engine from the State Division of Forestry Fire & State Lands responded to the fire’s west flank.
One engine experienced a mechanical problem and as both crews tried to make the vehicle mobile again flames quickly moved toward the scene cutting off their escape route. The group of three firefighters was forced to leave the vehicles and escape into the black. No injuries were reported.