Engine burned over on Country Fire east of Auburn, California

Injuries to two firefighters were described as minor

Country Fire Cool, California
Screenshot from KCRA video of the Country Fire east of Cool, California September 3, 2019.

(UPDATED at 1:09 p.m. PDT September 5, 2019)

On September 4 the Garden Valley Fire Protection District released a statement confirming that the burnover incident on the Country Fire involved one of their engines and two of their firefighters.

Here is an excerpt:

The two firefighters were transported to UC Davis Medical Center with minor injuries and released later the same day. The fire engine sustained major damage.

In an article on CBS 13 about the burnover, they quoted a radio transmission,“We have a burn over with shelters deployed. On that also would like one medivac helicopter.”

The same day the Fire District issued that statement, they also reported that the result of a recent election will require them to lay off three of their six firefighters. As the changes are phased in the staffing will be reduced from two firefighters to one, and 66 percent of the time that one firefighter will be a qualified paramedic.


(Originally published at 7:40 a.m. PDT September 4, 2019)

An engine was burned over and two firefighters were injured while battling the Country Fire in Northern California Tuesday, seven air miles east of Auburn. CBS 13 quoted a radio transmission,“We have a burn over with shelters deployed. On that also would like one medivac helicopter.”

Tuesday night CAL FIRE said two firefighters had minor injuries on the fire.

Steve Large, a reporter for CBS 13, said CAL FIRE is launching a “Serious Accident Investigation”.

map Country Fire Cool, California
Map showing the location of the Country Fire east of Cool, California September 3, 2019. Google Earth.

The spread of the fire was stopped after it burned 85 acres. There is a media report that three outbuildings, but no homes, were destroyed.

Country Fire Cool, California
Screenshot from KCRA video of the Country Fire east of Cool, California September 3, 2019.

737 air tanker Country Fire Cool, California
Air Tanker 137, a B-737. Screenshot from KCRA video of the Country Fire east of Cool, California September 3, 2019.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Five year effort to improve fire shelter fails

fire shelter
The present version of the fire shelter currently used by firefighters was tested to compare with newer prototypes. Left to right: Bobby Williams, Nick Mink/BLM, Blake Stewart/USFWS, and Joe Roise. Photo by Great Plains Fire Management Zone.

After five years of research an attempt to provide wildland firefighters with a more effective fire shelter has failed. 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.

The catalyst for beginning the effort to improve the shelter had its origin from the Yarnell Hill Fire where 19 firefighters were entrapped and killed on June 30, 2013 in Arizona. They all deployed shelters, but none of them survived, however it is not certain if they were all completely inside the devices when they were overrun by the fire. The temperatures and duration of the heat experienced during that incident exceeded the capabilities of the design, which is still in use today.

During the last five years, the US Forest Service conducted an exhaustive search of materials and designs, working with 23 different entities, including NASA, that produced hundreds of different materials and combinations. Fire shelter materials and designs were evaluated on weight, bulk, durability and toxicity that are critical for determining suitability for use in fire shelters. Suitable materials were tested in a small-scale flame test to determine material strength, durability, flammability, and thermal performance. Materials that showed promise in the small-scale test were then constructed into fire shelters and tested in a full-scale, direct flame test to measure the performance of the overall fire shelter design.

After hundreds of full-scale tests, four prototype designs were selected for wear testing by 60 firefighters during the 2018 fire season.

One prototype was lighter, smaller and performed better than the current shelter, but did not satisfactorily endure production rigors and was eliminated from consideration. One prototype style was tested by line-going firefighters, while two large shelters were carried by equipment operators only.

The prototype designed for line-going firefighters showed a 37-second direct-flame test performance improvement; however, it is nearly one pound heavier and has 1.7 times more volume than the current shelter. The prototype shelter envisioned for equipment operators is more than four times the volume and nearly 1½ pounds heavier.

The researchers were unable to find an alternative that offered less weight/less bulk with similar protection or similar weight and bulk with more protection. Furthermore, past shelter deployments show that the vast majority of firefighters are able to deploy their shelter in a location that is predominantly exposed to only radiant heat. The current shelter performs very well in radiant heat exposure.

The committee that made the decision to recommend continuing to use the existing shelter weighed many facets but emphasized the increased physiological stress of the additional weight, limited storage space left on firefighters’ backs, the limited incremental increase in protection, the firefighter survey that showed a desire for a lighter weight/less bulky shelter, and the trend towards decreased number of annual fire shelter deployments. The results of the 2014 nation-wide firefighter survey was held in high regard. The results of the desire of a new shelter was as follows:

firefighter fire shelter survey

The researchers determined that the current fire shelter continues to provide the most practical amount of protection given the tradeoffs of weight, volume (bulk), durability, and material toxicity.

Slight modifications will be made to the current design to use material more efficiently, as well as updating the fire shelter’s polyvinyl chloride (PVC) bag to ensure a more reliable opening.

Based on these findings the National Wildfire Coordinating Group decided on May 14, 2019 to accept the recommendation from the NWCG Equipment Technology Committee’s recommendation to retain use of the current fire shelter.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

13 videos about fire shelter deployments on wildland fires

fire shelter
Fire shelter, with one side removed to show the position of a firefighter. USFS.

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.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has put together a playlist of 13 videos about deployment of shelters. The next time you have an extra three or four hours, check it out.

Below is a screenshot of the list:

fire shelter video
Playlist of videos about fire shelter deployments. WFLLC.

New versions of fire shelters to be tested this year

Five years ago after 19 firefighters were killed while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona on June 30, 2013 the U.S. Forest Service said they were going to move up the planned revision of the fire shelters that failed to be effective when used by the Granite Mountain Hotshots that day. The redesign has now progressed to the point where it will be tested by 60 firefighters this year.

Below is information released by the National Interagency Fire Center about the project.


This summer, a total of 60 wildland firefighters will carry one of four new fire shelter prototypes for “wear testing” as part of the ongoing “Fire Shelter Project Review” that was initiated in 2014 to identify possible improvements to the fire shelter system.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Fire Shelter Subcommittee, which is comprised of federal, state, and local wildland firefighters, wildfire safety specialists, fire management officers, and other fire shelter users, selected the four new fire shelter prototypes for wear testing. The USDA Forest Service National Technology and Development Program, which administers the Fire Shelter Project Review, will issue a total of 60 prototypes of four different new fire shelter designs that have shown improved performance in lab tests to wildland firefighters to evaluate durability. The wildfire environment is very rugged and fire shelters must be carried by wildland firefighters for years and still be functional when needed.

Two of the new fire shelter prototypes are designed for ground firefighters and 20 of each of these prototypes will be issued to Interagency Hotshot Crew members for wear testing. The other two new fire shelter prototypes, which have been determined to be too bulky for ground firefighters, will be tested by equipment operators. Ten of each of the bulkier prototypes will be issued. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the USDA Forest Service have a cooperative work agreement for this project. Two of the prototype fire shelters are NASA designs.

“The biggest job that a fire shelter has to do is be carried around by a wildland firefighter all day, every day, all season long,” said Tony Petrilli, Fire Shelter Review Leader with the USDA Forest Service National Technology and Development Program. “That doesn’t lend itself to the use of a lot of materials that can withstand high temperatures because of weight, bulk, durability and toxicity.”

The current fire shelter, which has been in use nationwide by all wildland firefighters since 2010, offers 54 seconds of survivability in lab tests. The current and previous versions of fire shelters have saved the lives of hundreds of wildland firefighters since the 1960s. The four new fire shelter prototypes that will be wear tested this summer offer increased protection, but two of the four are also bulkier and heavier. The backpacks that wildland firefighters carry weigh an average of 45 pounds. Adding weight and bulk to the fire shelter increases daily physiological stress on wildland firefighters. A 2014 survey of over 3,800 wildland firefighters indicated that they prefer a lighter fire shelter that matches the performance of the current fire shelter over a more protective fire shelter with additional weight and bulk.

Over the last four years, the USDA Forest Service National Technology and Development Program evaluated and tested hundreds of potential fire shelter materials and designs submitted by 23 different organizations from all over the world. The materials and designs were evaluated on weight, bulk, durability and toxicity, which are critical to determine suitability for use in fire shelters. Suitable materials were tested in a small-scale flame test to determine material strength, durability, flammability, and thermal performance. Materials that showed promise in the small-scale test were then constructed into fire shelters and tested in a full-scale, direct flame test to measure the performance of the overall fire shelter design.

After completion of the wear tests, the USDA Forest Service National Technology and Development Program will evaluate the results and conduct a final round of full-scale direct flame testing to ensure the four new fire shelter prototypes are still able to perform after being carried by ground firefighters and equipment operators over the summer. The final results will be presented to the NWCG Fire Shelter Subcommittee which will make a recommendation on whether to adopt one or more of the new fire shelter prototypes or to continue to use the existing fire shelter.

Wildland firefighters are trained to consider fire shelters as a last resort and to avoid situations that can lead to entrapment. As with the current fire shelter, it is likely that none of the four new fire shelter prototypes can ensure survival in all wildfire conditions. Nationwide, in 2017, wildland firefighters deployed fire shelters on two separate incidents when they were caught in fire entrapment situations, all three wildland firefighters survived.

Researchers testing fire shelter prototypes on South Dakota prescribed burns

Above: Left to right: Bobby Williams, Nick Mink/BLM, Blake Stewart/USFWS, and Joe Roise inspect the fire shelter model currently used by firefighters, which was included in the field test for comparative purposes. Photo courtesy  Great Plains Fire Management Zone 

North Carolina State University researchers this week began field testing new fire shelter prototypes during prescribed fire operations in South Dakota.

About a year after the deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots from the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire, the U.S. Forest Service entered into a collaborative agreement with the NASA Langley Research Center. The goal: to examine potential improvements to fire shelter performance. University researchers also received a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant to develop new material that improved existing fabric technology and enhanced current fire shelters.

Researchers from North Carolina State’s College of Textiles worked with the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources to study and offer up potential improvements. 

Until this week, those efforts were generally confined to the university’s lab. But researchers joined an East River Fire Training Exchange training crew for burn operations in eastern South Dakota to test a new fire shelter prototype.

“The whole project is extremely important because it can save lives across the nation,” Professor Joe Roise said in a news release, posted to InciWeb. “That’s the bottom line: saving lives.”

North Carolina State University Joe Roise (foreground) and Bobby Williams (background) set up their fire shelter test site within the Eyecamp prescribed fire area. The sensor poles shown here measure and record the temperature at 2, 4, 6, and 8 feet in height as the fire passes through the area. Photo courtesy Great Plains Fire Management Zone.
North Carolina State University Joe Roise (foreground) and Bobby Williams (background) set up their fire shelter test site within the Eyecamp prescribed fire area. The sensor poles shown here measure and record the temperature at 2, 4, 6, and 8 feet in height as the fire passes through the area. Photo courtesy Great Plains Fire Management Zone.

Operations are taking place this week in the Madison Wetland Management District.

Field testing is likely to continue in coming weeks and months. The shelter models will be tested in fires on Virginian marshland, north Florida pine forests and timber throughout Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Burn Boss Blake Stewart/USFWS (left) and Firing Boss Nick Mink/BLM (right) walk out to the fire shelter test site after the fire has passed.
Burn Boss Blake Stewart/USFWS (left) and Firing Boss Nick Mink/BLM (right) walk out to the fire shelter test site after the fire has passed. Photo courtesy Great Plains Fire Management Zone.

 

Report released on entrapment of six firefighters on the Cedar Fire in Arizona

Above: Fire whirl on the Cedar Fire, June 28, 2016, around the time of the entrapment. Screen grab from the video.

A report has been released on the entrapment of six firefighters that occurred on the Cedar Fire south of Show Low, Arizona June 28, 2016.

The firefighters were part of the Navajo Interagency Hotshot Crew (NIHC) that remained along with two Type 6 engines and possibly one other crew after the Type 1 Incident Management Team was released the previous day. The assignment of half the crew, nine firefighters, was to “monitor” a part of the southwest side of the fire that had six miles of uncontained fire edge. The other half was working on the southeast side.

Three of the nine personnel on the southwest side served as lookouts while the remaining six were monitoring and checking the fire edge. When a very large fire whirl developed near the six, they realized their escape route was cut off, and took refuge in a previously burned area. The ground fuels had burned, but the canopy was still intact. As the fire approached they deployed their fire shelters, remaining in them for about 30 minutes.

cedar fire entrapment site
The entrapment site at the Cedar Fire.

After the fire whirl subsided, the squad members were able to hike out to staged vehicles. They were transported in three ambulances, medically evaluated, and transported to Summit Hospital in Show Low, Arizona where they were evaluated. Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and all were released by 10 p.m. that evening.

The report says the personnel deployed and entered the shelters just as they had practiced several times in training, and the devices worked as designed. There were no difficulties, as reported at other entrapments, with the PVC bags becoming soft and difficult to open.

Thankfully there were no serious injuries and the training the firefighters had received paid off.

But there are a number of interesting facts about what occurred before the entrapment

Resources on the fire

On June 27, the day before the entrapment, the Type 1 Incident Management Team issued their final update on the 45,977-acre fire just before they were released later that day. Below is a portion of the document.

cedar fire update

The report claims the Type 1 Team recommended that the number of personnel assigned be reduced on Tuesday June 28 to about 400. But on Monday, June 27 all firefighters except for two Type 6 engines were released. With a 70 percent chance of rain in the weather forecast, on Tuesday the local agency decided to replace the Type 1 Team with a Type 4 Incident Commander, two Type 6 engines, and one or two hand crews. The crew(s) had to be re-mobilized on Tuesday after being released. Some aircraft were also assigned on Tuesday.

Video of the large fire whirl

Weather on Tuesday, the day of entrapment

About 20 minutes before the 2:45 p.m. entrapment the weather at the fire was 95 degrees, 21 percent relative humidity, with a 7 to 10 mph wind out of the south. Although “numerous” people observed dust devils and fire whirls before the large fire whirl formed, there was no discussion about modifying fire suppression tactics. Dust devils can be an indicator of the potential for extreme fire behavior.

cedar fire entrapment
Fire whirl on the Cedar Fire, June 28, 2016. Screen grab from the video.