The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, has released a Green Sheet, or preliminary report, on the October 25, 2019 entrapment of one firefighter and two civilians. It occurred on the Kincade fire northeast of Geyserville, California about 43 hours after the fire started.
In mid-afternoon a Division Supervisor was scouting his division and searching for firefighters who he had been told were not wearing their Nomex wildland fire jackets. He turned his SUV off Pine Flat Road onto Circle 8 Lane, an unpaved road that reaches a dead end 1.5 air miles from Pine Flat Road.
Later, seeing that the fire intensity had increased and crossed the road behind him, he realized that he was in imminent danger and decided to ride it out near an old cabin. A dozer operator had already cleared a line around the structure as as well as a line from the road downhill to the drainage.
Below is an excerpt from the Green Sheet as well as more maps, photos, and a video. The Division Supervisor is identified as “DIVS1”.
On September 12, 2019 an Oklahoma firefighter operating a UTV became entrapped during the initial attack of a wildfire in the southeast part of the state 24 miles northeast of Antlers. The Oklahoma Forestry Services released the following preliminary information about the incident.
“On September 12, 2019 during initial attack efforts on the Jack Creek Fire, an Oklahoma Forestry Services firefighter from the Southeast Area / Antlers District was involved in an entrapment and subsequent burnover while scouting control line opportunities. The fire was burning in steep, rugged terrain dominated by dense pine forest with occasional hardwood glades. The firefighter was operating a UTV scouting logging roads for access and suppression opportunities when the UTV became disabled. The firefighters escape route was compromised when fire behavior increased due to the fire making an uphill run in the flashy understory fuels and crown fire in the canopy fuels. The firefighter did not deploy his fire shelter.
“The dispatch office requested an ambulance at the time of the incident while Oklahoma Forestry Services and local fire department personnel located the firefighter. The firefighter was transported to ground ambulance then transferred to air ambulance taking the firefighter to a burn center. The firefighter remains at the burn center and is being treated for second and third degree burns on >30% of his body with the most intense burns to his face and hands.
“An Incident Review Team has been assembled.”
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matt. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
The following “72-Hour Report” was distributed by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center August 28, 2018 for an incident that occurred August 19, 2018 on the Mendocino Complex of Fires in Northern California.
THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS PRELIMINARY AND SUBJECT TO CHANGE
Location: Ranch Fire, Mendocino Complex, east of Ukiah, CA Date of Occurrence: Sunday, August 19, 2018 Local Agency Administrator: Ann Carlson, Mendocino Forest Supervisor Activity: Wildland Fire Suppression Number of Injuries: 6 Number of Fatalities: 0 Property Damage: Radios, packs, 2 vehicles with paint blistering.
On August 19, 2018, six firefighters received injuries when the fire crossed the dozer line in multiple locations and cut them off from their planned egress. At the time of the incident, firefighters were en-gaged in firing operations off a dozer line near the division break between Hotel and Juliet on the Ranch Fire of the Mendocino Complex.
Information from RAWS nearby around the time of this incident, showed temperatures at 93.3 Fahren-heit, RH 11.3%, and winds at 6.6 mph with gusts to 13.3 mph.
The Mendocino Complex consisted of the Ranch and River fires that started on July 27th. The fires experienced significant growth during the first ten days, growing 30,000 acres on August 3rd, 40,000 acres on August 4th and 50,000 acres on August 5th. Up until August 19th, the fire growth had been steadily moving both south/southeast and north/northeast. Most days experienced warming and drying trends with very poor recoveries and critically low fuel moistures and afternoon relative humidities near single digits. Steep terrain, poor ventilation, fire intensities and long travel times made it difficult to insert crews and utilize aircraft in certain areas of the fire.
On August 19th, the plan for the fire’s northeast flank was to secure dozer line north of DP25 near the division break in Branch II with a firing operation. Resources from other divisions were brought over to help with the operations. These resources included federal and local fire resources and strike teams from the Los Angeles Fire Department and CAL FIRE. After arriving near the drop point, the personnel staged their engines and vehicles, reconfigured, and were split into two modules to support burning operations and hold the line along a Forest Service road and the dozer line.
During the burnout operations, a sudden wind shift and explosive fire growth happened and at about 1733, personnel were cut off from their escape routes. Most of the firefighters were able to move back to their vehicles to exit the area. However, six individuals farther down the dozer line were forced to run in front of the advancing flame front, through unburned fuels to a nearby dirt road for approximately one mile before they were picked up and transported for treatment. Five Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters and one CAL FIRE firefighter were injured. Two unoccupied CAL FIRE emergency crew transports parked in the vicinity sustained damage from the fire when it jumped containment lines.
Injuries include 1st and 2nd degree burns and a dislocated shoulder.
On September 19, 2016, two days after the fire started, approximately 50+ firefighters were assigned to Division Zulu on the north side of Honda Canyon, about a mile east of the site where four Air Force firefighters were entrapped and killed on the Honda Fire in 1977.
Assigned to the division that day were 8 engines, 4 dozers, 1 water tender, and a 20-person hand crew comprised of 3 helitack crews. All were ordered by the Division Supervisor to take refuge in a safety zone.
After observing conditions that morning last September the tactic decided on was to fire out the ridge on the north side of Honda Canyon, which runs east and west. The main fire was to the south on the other side of the canyon. The operation was going well until the intensity in the burnout increased dramatically; fire whirls developed and the fire began spreading to the west more quickly than the igniters and holders could keep up with it.
The Division Supervisor ordered, “All Division Zulu resources pull back to the safety zone”. Even though some of the personnel were about 600 to 700 yards from the safety zone, the smoke-obscured visibility occasionally made movement difficult or impossible. At times the engines had to stop when they could not see the ground in front of them. Burning embers, some of them fist-sized, pelted the vehicles and the 20 people in the hand crew that were walking to the safety zone.
In the video below, it appears to have taken about 10 minutes to travel the 600 to 700 yards. The recording shows how harrowing it must have been as day turned to night. At least two firefighters were later transported to a hospital suffering from smoke inhalation injuries.
The video is incredible and at times has on the screen views from three different cameras, apparently time-synced. Pretty impressive editing (by Mark Pieper and Tony Petrilli) for a government-produced video. The maps and annotated still images are also very useful.
Some firefighters, approximately two, removed their fire shelters from their gear. One was fully deployed and another was partially unfolded.
From the report:
When asked: “How scared were you on a scale of 1 to 10?” multiple crew members replied “9” and “10.”
We covered the Canyon Fire as it was burning and thought we were aware of the major developments at the incident, but we did not hear about this entrapment until today, March 27, 2017. Maybe we missed it, but it is possible that the fact that it occurred on a military base influenced an apparent desire to keep it low key, even though a California Type 2 Incident Management Team had assumed command of the fire the morning of the incident and, according to the report, “did start Regional notification regarding the shelter deployment”.
The Incident Commander and the Deputy IC were first notified more than three hours after the entrapment.
In spite of the late release of the information, firefighters can benefit from this lessons learned opportunity and the fact that the preparers of the report conducted it in such a way that there were apparently few if any efforts among those involved to “lawyer up” and shut up fearing litigation or prosecution. Many still and video images were made available and at least enough of the firefighters were willing to talk about what happened to allow a useful report to be completed.
Maybe the way this review was conducted can be a template to reverse the recent trend of investigations that are not as useful as they could be.
On September 21, 2016 a Ventura County Fire Department firefighter was killed in a vehicle accident while responding to the Canyon Fire. Fire Engineer Ryan Osler, a passenger in a water tender, lost his life. The driver of the truck self-extracted and was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries.
Above: Two of the fire engines that were entrapped on Corsica. The engine on the left appears to have small water nozzles on the bar that encircles the top of the cab.
During night firefighting operations on the island of Corsica overnight on March 24 and 25 three fire vehicles were entrapped by the fire resulting in five firefighters suffering first and second-degree burns. Some of the firefighters, it is not clear how many, took refuge in one or more of the fire engines that had vehicle protection systems consisting of water nozzles positioned around the truck that could be activated as needed.
The fire occurred in the French commune of Bastelica in southern Corsica (map). Matthias Fekl, the Minister of the Interior, said Saturday morning:
In the early evening, a group of firefighters found themselves trapped in flames as a result of a change in wind direction. They then took refuge in their vehicles equipped with a self-protection device.
One person is in police custody, suspected of starting the fire.
Three firefighter vehicles were damaged or destroyed in the incident.
The fire engine in the above photo appears to be the same one in the photo (on the left) at the top of this article.
Above: Country Fire Authority test of engine burnover protection systems. Screen shot from CFA video.
The Aussies are far ahead of wildland firefighting agencies in the United States when it comes to the protection of personnel during fire engine burnovers and rollovers. Since 1977 Victoria’s Country Fire Authority (CFA) has been creating, evolving, and improving systems to increase the odds of firefighters on an engine surviving if their position is overrun by fire. These efforts were intensified after two engine burnovers in 1983 and 1998 killed a total of 17 firefighters.
During the last 39 years the vehicles have been hardened in various ways. Examples include internal radiant heat curtains and nozzles positioned around the exterior of the truck that spray water as the fire approaches.
We did a quick search on Wildfire Today for “engine burnover” and were surprised at the number of results. Take a moment and at least look at the titles and brief excerpts. These, of course, are just articles on our website. We make no claim that all engine burnovers are included since we started this website in 2008.
On November 21 the CFA posted a video (below) about their crew protection systems. It covers the history of their efforts and several minutes of video recorded during a test when a fire was ignited that burned over three of their engines to evaluate the effectiveness of the designs. The maximum temperature recorded was 728°C (1,342°F)
Below is a screen shot from the CFA video.
What if — in 2006 the five U.S. Forest Service firefighters that were entrapped and killed on the Esperanza Fire, instead of working on an engine similar to the USFS engine farther down this page, had been assigned to one built to CFA standards. Would they have taken refuge in the engine, pulled down the thermal protection shields and turned on the truck protection water spray instead of attempting to survive the fire outside the engine?
One feature of the CFA engines we noticed was a heavy-duty internal roll bar.
We have written before about the need for U.S. wildland firefighting agencies to improve the survivability of engine crews during rollovers. These accidents involving large fire trucks, especially water tenders, are common.
In our opinion it is disgraceful that the outfits employing thousands of firefighters on engines have not taken this step to provide a safer working environment for their personnel.