Loop fire survivor talks

Loop Fire 1966
Loop Fire, November 1, 1966

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has published the video below featuring Gerald Smith, a survivor of the 1966 Loop Fire on the Angeles National Forest in southern California visiting the site of the tragedy. The video is very powerful. Mr. Smith reads a letter from one of the other victims that was written while he was in the hospital shortly before he passed away. Mr. Smith also talks about his 20-year struggle after the burnover, dealing with the lingering effects and the eventual positive outcome.

 

On November 1, 1966, the El Cariso Hotshots were trapped by flames as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacoima Canyon on the Angeles National Forest.

Ten members of the crew perished on the Loop Fire that day. Another two members succumbed from burn injuries in the following days. Most of the nineteen members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time.

Lessons learned from the Loop Fire resulted in the checklist for downhill line construction, improved firefighting equipment, better fire behavior training, and the implementation of new firefighter safety protocols.

The El Cariso Hot Shots experienced another tragedy in 1959 when three members of the crew were entrapped and killed on the Decker Fire near Elsinore, California.

Voluntary evacuations for fire near Riverside, California

UPDATE at 7:45 a.m. PT, March 2, 2013:

The Jurupa Fire is 80 percent contained and there has been no change in size, it is holding at 311 acres. Full containment is estimated for 8 p.m. this evening.

****

UPDATE at 4 p.m. PT, March 1, 2013:

Riverside County FD reports the fire is 40 percent contained, has burned 311 acres, and the spread has been stopped. At 12:47 p.m. the temperature was 83 degrees, 5 percent RH, with northeast winds of 10-15 mph gusting to 25. Voluntary evacuations have been cancelled (if such a thing is possible).

The LA Times reports that fire officials said two structures burned, ignited by airborne embers. One was a residence and the other was an outbuilding. An RV also burned at another location after embers caused its awning to catch fire.

****

UPDATE at 9:00 a.m. PT, March 1, 2013

Jurupa Fire
Jurupa Fire, Photo by Brandy Carlos

The Jurupa Fire near Riverside, California has burned 200 acres and is 30 percent contained, according to Jody Hagemann of the Riverside County Fire Department. Firefighters worked through the night on Thursday taking advantage of winds that were less strong than the breezy conditions that pushed the fire earlier.

The Press Enterprise reports that Rick Mullins, who lives about a quarter-mile from the fire, said his neighborhood experienced an ember shower that ignited the awning of his RV which spread to the trailer engulfing it in flames. The heat from that fire slightly singed his house but it was not seriously damaged.

On Friday there will be 20 engines, 1 dozer, 1 helicopter, and 8 hand crews assigned to the fire.

Jurupa Fire
Helicopter dropping on Jurupa Fire, Photo by Brandy Carlos

****

Originally posted at 11:15 p.m. PT, February 28, 2013

Voluntary evacuations are taking place for the Jurupa fire near Riverside, California. At 11:15 p.m. local time on Thursday, the fire had burned 150 acres and was 20% contained according to the Riverside County Fire Department. Most of the fire is burning along both sides of the Santa Ana river bottom in areas that make access difficult for firefighters.

A travel trailer about a quarter-mile from the fire burned freely for several minutes until a helicopter dropped water on the blaze. It may have been caused by burning embers from the main fire.

The fire started at about 4:45 p.m. at Jurupa Regional Park at Rio Road and Calle Hermosa. At 7:30 p.m. one helicopter was still dropping water on the flames.

Photos of the fire.

Wildfire briefing, February 27, 2013

Fire burns 407 acres near Lone Pine, California

Map of River FireCAL FIRE expects to fully contain the River Fire on Thursday which has burned 407 acres east of Lone Pine, California. Thick brush and winds measured at 25 mph challenged the 500 firefighters that initially fought the blaze after it started on Sunday. Remaining on the fire Wednesday morning are 234 personnel, 11 engines, 6 crews, and 2 water tenders. CAL FIRE is calling it 85 percent contained.

Oregon may regulate exploding targets and sky lanterns

A bill has been introduced in the Oregon legislature, HB 3199, that would prohibit the use of sky lanterns (or fire balloons), exploding targets, and tracer ammunition on land within the boundaries of a forest protection district. (UPDATE: the bill was signed by the Governor and will take effect January 1, 2014.)

“Concealed carry is a right, target shooting is not”

Those were the words of Utah state senator Margaret Dayton who resurrected her bill that would give the state forester the authority to ban target shooting on state lands during periods of enhanced wildfire danger. Earlier she withdrew the bill after it received criticism from some shooting enthusiasts. The bill passed the Senate this week along with another that would allow firefighters to access water on privately owned land to aid them in fire suppression efforts.

According to Utah State Forester Dick Buehler, of the 1,528 fires in the state in 2012, 33 were caused by target shooting which cost over $16 million to suppress. In October, 2012 when we wrote about the increasing number of fires started by target shooters using exploding targets, we found 10 fires started by these devices in Utah over a 5-month period last year. One of them burned over 5,500 acres.

Colorado Senate considers legislation regulating prescribed fires

A bill is speeding through the Colorado Senate that would add safeguards to prescribed fires conducted in the state. Senate Bill 13-083 would:

  • Establish control over prescribed burning within the Division of Fire Prevention and Control in the Department of Public Safety;
  • “Prescribed Burn Managers” must be certified by the Division for prescribed fires occurring on state lands or conducted by state agencies on private lands. This does not apply to “burning conducted by an agency of the federal government”;
  • A Prescribed Burn Manager must be on site during a prescribed burn “until the fire is adequately confined to reasonably prevent escape”;
  • Allows the Division to collect fees for providing training and certifications.

Getting manufactured crisis fatigue?

While the people we send to Washington to conduct the nation’s business have not passed a federal budget in four years, and they propel us from one manufactured crisis to another, some of us may tire of the hype as we reel from one ridiculous deadline to another. Unfortunately the impacts on the land management agencies from the budget cuts required by the sequester will be significant unless they are reversed within the next few weeks.

On October 13, we first wrote about the sequester, which will require federal wildland fire programs to be cut by at least $218 million, or 8.2 percent.

Here are some excerpts from an article at the Union Democrat with examples of impacts on the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service in California:

The Associated Press obtained a Park Service memo Friday that detailed some of the planned Yosemite cuts. Staff reductions would end guided ranger programs at Wawona and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, eliminate a program in which 3,500 volunteers provide 40,000 hours of activities and mean less frequent trash pickup due to loss of campground staff.

Park administrators fear that less frequent trash pickup would potentially attract bears into campgrounds.

Seasonal road closures like that of Tioga Road may be extended later than usual because there will be less staff available to clear snow.

“The reductions would limit the National Park Service’s ability to sustain a full complement of seasonal employees needed for interpretive programs, maintenance, law enforcement and other visitor services as we are preparing for the busy summer season. Local communities and businesses that rely on recreation to support their livelihoods would face a loss of income from reduced visitation to national parks.”

In the Stanislaus National Forest, cuts could reduce funds available for fuels reductions that help prevent catastrophic forest fires. About $134 million in lost wildland fire management funds would lead to as many as 200,000 fewer acres treated nationwide, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote in a letter dated Feb. 5 to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Forest Service is also prepared to close up to 670 of 19,000 developed recreation sites nationwide, such as campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads, according to Vilsack.

Webinar today: Debunking Myths in Wildland Fire

Today from 1 until 2 p.m. MT:

Sarah McCaffrey will present findings from recent research on social issues of fire management with particular emphasis on the accuracy of various accepted truths about the public and fire management and the variables that actually are associated with approval of different fire management practices.

More info and registration details.

Thanks go out to George

Arsonist targets cypress trees in Los Angeles

SYLMAR, CALIFORNIA – Investigators from the Los Angeles Fire Department are seeking the public’s help in identifying the person responsible for igniting at least a dozen fires in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

The intentionally set blazes – involving Italian Cypress trees, took place in Sylmar, California between November 4, 2012 and February 18, 2013 as seen on an interactive map.

Report released on engine accident in northern California

Berry Point Fire engine accident
Berry Point Fire engine accident. Photo from the report.

A Facilitated Learning Analysis has been released for a non-injury accident that occurred in northern California, August 11, 2012. An engine from the Klamath National Forest ended up partially off of a dirt road after a soft shoulder gave way under the rear tires.

Berry Point Fire engine accident
Berry Point Fire engine accident. Photo from the report.

No one was injured and the engine only had very minor damage. Here is an excerpt from the report, picking up after the engine stabilized:

…The captain assessed the scene for safety and ordered the crew to exit the vehicle with most of the crew leaving the vehicle on the uphill side. I then dumped the water out of my tank to prevent possibility of continued rollover due to the soft pack. After the certified mechanic and I did a damage assessment investigation, we found the only damage was the petcock on the bottom of the pump was broken off. We had spares on board since this may happen occasionally on backwoods roads.

Report released for engine burnovers and entrapment on North Pass Fire

E-2 after the burnover
E-2 after the burnover. Photo from the report.

A Facilitated Learning Analysis has been released for the engine burnovers and entrapments that occurred on the North Pass Fire on the Mendocino National Forest in northern California, August 25, 2012.

You can read the entire report (large 3.8MB file), but here is a very brief summary. On August 18,2012, five Type 3 Engines from municipal fire departments in southern California were working as a Type 3 Engine Strike Team with the assignment that day of securing a dozer line. Due to dense vegetation along the dozer line, and a lack of information about their situation, they were surprised when a spot fire caused by a burning tree resulted in a fire that overran their position.

E-2 at the burnover site, before the incident and before turning around
E-2 at the burnover site, before the accident and before turning around. Photo from the report.

The crew from E-2 dismounted to assist with the spot fire, leaving the engine operator to button it up, disconnect hoses, and move it to assist with the spot fire at another location along the dozer line. The fire approached the engine before the operator was able to relocate the engine. He decided to run down the dozer line to escape, telling a hand crew after he reached safety, “F*** my engine burned up…. F*** my engine burned up!” Hand-crew members responded, “It’s fine, it’s fine. You’re alive so it’s fine.”

A second engine was also burned over, according to the report:

At the same time fire is engulfing E-2, E-5 finds their egress cut off by the flames now lying over the dozer line. E-5 was then forced to withdraw to a safe area. Capt. E-5 notifies ST-1C STEN they are remaining at their current location and requests permission to fire out the area around them. ST-1C STEN tells them, “Do what you need to do.” The crew of E-5 pre-treats the area around them using Class A foam, depleting their water supply. E-5 then deploys thermal curtains, and they seek shelter in the apparatus as the fire burns around them.

After the burnovers the strike team was sent to a USFS work station. The Strike Team Leader reported to a Ground Support Unit Leader who escorted them to the Incident Base. After receiving medical evaluations, all personnel were cleared by the Medical Unit and received no injuries.

Below are excerpts from the lessons learned, as shared by the facilitated learning analysis participants:

  • “Try to think more three-dimensionally. I really didn’t see/perceive the layout of the road, the green, or the fire. It would of helped to realize the danger there.”
  • “Maybe a picture from the air.”
  • ”I wish I’d known I had a qualified faller. Don’t know that I would of used them.” [to cut down the tree throwing out burning embers that caused the spot fire.]
  • “Had I perceived the danger, I wish I’d thought twice about the assignment for E-2.”
  • “I will definitely request more 800 MHz radios.”
  • From the Division Supervisor: “It would have been more appropriate to recognize that their (ST-1C) specialties were in other areas of firefighting and take the time to give them a more thorough briefing on the assignment rather than handing them off to be briefed by ST-2C STEN.”
  • “Walking through it afterward, E-2 was in perfect alignment with the draw, but of course you couldn’t see with all of the vegetation.”
  • From Capt. E-1: “Should of used a faller to drop the problem tree in the first place. Use the professionals.”
  • And from the same Capt: “There are all these other resources that we don’t normally deal with, like fallers, inmate crews and dozers. We had resources we could have used, but I just didn’t have the experience to think to ask for them.”

Excerpts of observations from the FLA team members:

  • The participants believe the division was large and complex. Geographically the division stretched over 5 to 7 miles of line.
  • The participants felt complexity and scope of the division complicated communications over the assigned tactical channel. Early on in the shift it was identified that communications were difficult. To mitigate it, ST-1C began using their 800 MHz for intra-crew communications. One difficulty was that not everyone had both radios. Some had the 800 MHz, and some had a VHF radio, but not everyone had both. Every member should have the same type of communication capability.
  • FLA team members and participants acknowledged that utilizing an unassigned tactical frequency on an incident is against several policies & guidelines.