Second firefighter to die in B.C. in 2023 responding to wildfires
A Canadian wildland firefighter in British Columbia died while responding to the Donnie Creek Fire in northeast B.C., according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This is the second firefighter death on the front lines during the 2023 wildfire season in the province, along with other fatalities in Canada this season. RCMP said in a statement that the firefighter was a 25-year-old man from Ontario who died on Friday.
According to police, the firefighter, who was contracted to the B.C. Wildfire Service, was working in a remote area about 150 km (a little over 90 miles) north of Fort St. John when his utility terrain vehicle rolled over a sharp drop in a gravel road. “He was transported by helicopter to the Fort St. John Airport, but sadly succumbed to his injuries while en route,” reads the statement.
B.C. Premier David Eby said Saturday that the Donnie Creek Fire is the largest ever recorded in B.C. history. “I am heartbroken that another firefighter was lost protecting our communities and our province during this devastating wildfire season,” Eby said.
A Virginia firefighter, Deputy Chief Chester T. Lauck with Frederick County Fire and Rescue, suffered a heart attack hours after responding to a wildfire and died the following morning.
The notice from the Frederick County Government Facebook page on Sunday announced “On behalf of Fire and Rescue Chief Steven A. Majchrzak, it is with profound sadness that we announce the Line-Of-Duty Death of Deputy Chief Chester T. Lauck, who passed away this morning at 8:09 a.m. at Winchester Medical Center surrounded by family and friends.”
In his most recent position, Lauck was responsible for the Emergency Management Division. Prior to that he had worked for the Winchester (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department and had retired He retired from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) Fire and Rescue Department as a Battalion Chief of the Special Operations Division. He’d also worked as an Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighter (ARFF) for the Air National Guard and began service in 1984 as a patrolman for the Virginia Department of Forestry, where he worked on wildland incidents and events.
A West Virginia Department of Forestry employee, Cody J. Mullens, 28, was killed by a falling tree while fighting a wildfire on April 13 near Montgomery, West Virginia.
The firefighter’s death was announced by West Virginia governor Jim Justice, who said he and his wife were “heartbroken by the tragic news of losing one of our own. Our state foresters are some of the most dedicated workers in our state, putting their lives on the line to protect our communities from wildfires, and we owe them all, especially Cody, an enormous debt of gratitude.”
Mullens was from Mt. Hope, Fayette County. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported that he was part of a response unit working a brush fire along Route 61 in Armstrong Creek, around 30 miles southeast of Charleston.
West Virginia has statewide burn restrictions in effect and is midway through their typical wildfire season.
Rocky S. Wood died while fighting a wildfire in Buchanan County in southwest Virginia on March 9, 2023.
Wood, an employee with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), died at approximately 8:30 p.m. while working on a 15-acre wildfire near the Roseann community along Lester’s Fork Road. Prior to becoming a full-time forestry technician with VDOF in 2016, he had worked as a part-time wildland firefighter with the agency and for the Virginia Department of Corrections. An investigation is underway, according to a statement from VDOF.
“Today our hearts are broken as we send our sincere condolences to Rocky’s family, friends and fellow colleagues during this difficult time,” said State Forester Rob Farrell.
A Facebook post from the Town of Haysi, Virginia, where Wood was vice mayor and chief of the Haysi Volunteer Fire Department, also shared condolences. “We will strive to honor his memory and service,” the post reads, “though it’s hard to find the right words at this time. Please keep his family in your prayers as they navigate their grief.”
A Bolivian pilot and a Chilean mechanic died when their helicopter crashed while firefighting in the commune of Galvarino, in the region of La Araucanía, 700 kilometers south of Santiago, Chile.
In statements reported on February 4 in MercoPress, Mauricio Tapiaby, deputy director of the Chiliean National Service for Disaster Prevention and Response noted that the pilot had “many years of experience in aeronautics and firefighting” and that 11 others, including a firefighter, had died on February 3 in a “swarm” of at least 50 uncontrolled fires. Tapia reported that 22 had suffered burns and 95 houses destroyed.
A Constitutional State of Emergency has been declared for the central-south regions of Biobío and Ñuble.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric activated Armed Forces and Carabineros for prevention patrols. “It is much easier to prevent a fire than to fight it,” he said, while adding that fire control activities were progressing with an estimated 75 aircraft and 2300 firefighters.
Temperatures of 40 degrees C (100 F) are being recorded, with moderating temperatures by next week but gusty afternoon winds continuing, and the recent Fire Weather Index in the 75th percentile.
The case against a couple accused of starting the 2020 El Dorado Fire with a gender-reveal device will move forward after one of four felony counts was dropped by a Superior Court judge in San Bernardino, California.
Attorneys for the Jimenezes argued that the fire was accidentally ignited by the smoky gender-reveal device and sought dismissal of the manslaughter charge. Rokos reported that the deputy county attorney argued that “the Jimenezes should have known better than to set off the smoky device on a 103-degree day with low humidity in a park containing extremely dry brush.”
If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the Jimenezes could be sentenced to four years in prison. They are currently on leave from their jobs as California correctional officers.
Prior coverage in Wildfire Today of the “Narrative” and related reports on the fatality of a squad leader on the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew highlighted the increasing risks and complicated processes in a comprehensive analyses. Charles ‘Charlie’ Morton died as he was scouting the fire alone on September 17, 2020 when it overran his location.
Excerpts from the reports included:
“In his September 24, 2020 testimony before Congress, John Phipps, the Forest Service’s Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry, stated “the system is not designed for this,” to illustrate the misalignment between the design of the wildland fire system and the reality that wildland fire responders routinely experience.”
“We continue to ask our wildland fire responders to save communities that are becoming increasingly unsavable. At what point do we declare communities without any semblance of defensible space not worth the risk of trying to save under extreme fire behavior conditions?”
As Bill Gabbert wrote about the reports on their release, they were notable for their in-depth compilation of lessons as well as the suggestion “that perhaps firefighters (or forestry technicians) should be called ‘fire responders’ so they don’t ‘view fire as an enemy.’ Other than that many of their conclusions are very reasonable, even though most of them have been previously identified in various forms. But having so many of them listed in one fatality report is unique, and could be useful. Unless it just disappears into files like so many others.”
One lesson is being applied – to streamline Type 1 and Type 2 team classifications. Other lessons – such as identifying the risk of scouting and implementing tracking devices and drones – are not moving ahead as quickly.