Pilot identified in crash of air tanker in Idaho

Schill Fire
Schill Fire. BLM photo.

Updated September 23, 2020  |  3:40 p.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management has provided more information about the crash of a single engine air tanker:

“On Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, at approximately 7 p.m. MDT, a Single Engine Air Tanker with one pilot on board was involved in a fatal accident during initial attack operations on the Schill Fire, located approximately 2 miles southeast of Emmett.

“The pilot, Ricky Fulton, perished. The aircraft, T-857, was owned by Aero S.E.A.T. Incorporated and was on an on-call contract with BLM Fire and Aviation at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Firefighters on the scene rendered medical aid to the pilot and called for Life Flight, but the pilot did not survive his injuries.

“The 30-acre Schill Fire started at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in grass and brush in steep terrain. It was contained at approximately 10 p.m. on Tuesday. The cause of the Schill Fire is under investigation.”


Originally published September 23, 2020  |  8:58 a.m. MDT

The Bureau of Land Management announced that the pilot of a single engine air tanker (SEAT) was killed Tuesday evening September 22 while working on a wildfire near Emmett, Idaho. The agency said more information will be released following family notifications.

KTVB reported the accident occurred near Pearl Road about two miles southeast of Emmett. The fire started around 4:30 p.m. and grew to 25 acres as two SEATs and one helicopter assisted firefighters on the ground. According to the Gem County Sheriff’s Office, the air tanker was dropping retardant when it went down.

This is the sixth firefighting pilot and the third SEAT pilot to be killed in the United States this year. In addition, three members of the crew of a C-130 from the U.S. died when their air tanker crashed January 23, 2020 while fighting a bushfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and co-workers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Steve, and Tom.

Firefighter’s family killed in structure fire

And unrelated, a firefighter died in a vehicle accident while commuting home

Four members of firefighter’s family killed in structure fire

The wife and three children of a wildland firefighter were killed in Washington while he was deployed on a wildfire.

Marcaria Garcia-Martinez, 32, her daughters Luz Garcia-Martinez, 17, and Michelle Garcia-Martinez, 6, and son Luis Garcia-Martinez, 15, died in the early morning  blaze on August 27.  They had just moved and were spending their first night in the single-wide trailer in Benton City, Washington. When sheriff deputies and firefighters arrived the home was almost completely consumed. The radiant heat from the fire was so intense that a nearby trailer also ignited, but deputies were able to rescue the residents of that home. Firefighters put out the fire and found the family members’ bodies while searching the trailer.

Raul Garcia-Santos, Garcia-Martinez’s husband and the children’s father, was assigned to the Palmer Fire in north-central Washington which has burned about 18,000 acres four miles south of the Canadian border. The fire has not been updated on InciWeb since September 30.

Firefighter dies in vehicle accident while commuting home

Sara Madsen. USFS photo.

A firefighter on the Helena Hotshot crew was killed in a vehicle accident in Idaho while commuting home after a fire assignment.

From the U. S. Forest Service, Caribou-Targhee National Forest September 3, 2020:

“Sara Madsen was an incredible person with a vivacious personality and a love for the outdoors. She began working in natural resources in our very own Teton Valley as a Youth Conservation Corp member, later moving into the fire program where she served as a crewmember on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s Centennial Type 2 Initial Attack Hand Crew from 2017 to 2019. 2020 was her first year as part of the Helena Hot Shot crew with the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Our firefighting community is heartbroken over this tragic loss and our condolences go out to Sara’s family, friends and coworkers.”

The Idaho State Police released the following information:

  • “On September 2, 2020, at approximately 12:21 a.m., Idaho State Police investigated a single-vehicle crash on SH32 near milepost 25 south of Ashton, in Fremont County.
  • Sara Madsen, 24, of Tetonia, was driving eastbound on SH32 in a 1999 Ford Ranger when her vehicle went off the right shoulder of the roadway and overturned.
  • Madsen was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle. She succumbed to her injuries at the scene. Next of kin has been notified.”

Rest in peace, Sara Madsen, and the family of Raul Garcia-Santos.

Eight years ago today — Anne Veseth

Ms. Veseth was killed by a falling tree while working on a fire in Idaho

Anne Veseth 2012 firefighter killed falling tree
Anne Veseth. USFS photo.

Eight years ago today, in 2012, Anne Veseth was killed while working on the Steep Corner Fire 56 miles northeast of Orofino, Idaho. The fire was on private property and was being managed by the Clearwater‐Potlatch Timber Protective Association (CPTPA). Ms. Veseth, in her second season working as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, was killed when she was struck by a falling 150-foot fire-weakened green cedar tree. The tree fell on its own and was 13 inches in diameter where it struck her.

Anne Veseth 2012 firefighter killed falling tree
Anne Veseth. USFS photo.

The report on the incident was released February 13, 2013.

May she rest in peace.

Alaska fire crews mobilized to the lower 48

Alaska fire crews mobilized to lower 48 firefighters
Fire crews line up to board a National Interagency Coordination Center aircraft at the BLM Alaska Fire Service on Fort Wainwright Friday, July 24, 2020. Photo by Tim Mowry, Alaska Division of Forestry.

Three Alaska wildland firefighting crews traveled to the Lower 48 states on Friday to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in the western United States.

The three crews – the BLM Alaska Fire Service Midnight Sun Hotshots, Chena Hotshots, and the Alaska Division of Forestry White Mountain Type 2 Initial Attack Crew – boarded an airliner at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks Friday morning. The aircraft came up to Alaska from the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho Thursday to transport the crews to Boise, where they will be quickly assigned to one of a multitude of wildfires burning in the western U.S.

“It’s always sad leaving Alaska but it will be good to get down there,” Iris Sager, crew superintendent for the Chena hotshot crew, said.

Alaska’s fire season was slowed by abundant and widespread rainfall the past five weeks that has dampened wildfire danger across the state. Because of this, Alaska’s wildland fire agencies have made many resources available to assist with the national firefighting effort while keeping adequate firefighters and aircraft in Alaska to handle any fire activity here.

The mobilization of firefighting resources to the Lower 48 is an annual tradition, similar to Alaska importing firefighters and aircraft from the Lower 48 to assist with wildfires here. Firefighters from Alaska travel to the Lower 48 almost every year to help other agencies battle wildfires after the Alaska fire season winds down, usually in mid- to late-July.

The three crews that departed Alaska on Friday totaled 62 firefighters and will add to the 60 other Alaska firefighting personnel that are already working in the Lower 48. One other crew – the Division of Forestry’s Pioneer Peak Hotshots – flew south last week and is working on the Cedar Fire in Nevada.

In addition, 13 Alaska Smokejumpers are in the Lower 48 working, as well as multiple other personnel filling positions such as dispatchers, heavy equipment managers, engine bosses and division supervisors.

Three more Division of Forestry crews – the Gannett Glacier, Tanana Chiefs, and Yukon Type 2 initial attack crews – are scheduled to fly to the Lower 48 early next week.

Given the fact that Alaska’s wildland fire season has been very slow this season and crews have been relegated to working on fuels reduction projects and other project work the past several weeks, firefighters welcomed the opportunity to head south to work on actual fires.

“We’ve spent less than 20 days on fires this summer,” White Mountain crew superintendent Owen Smith said as he waited to board Friday’s flight. “Everybody is ready for an assignment.”

As of Friday, a total of 309 fires had burned an estimated 178,025 acres in Alaska this summer, which is well below the approximately 650,000 acres that burns in a typical fire season.

Barring any major drying event in Alaska over the next month or two, crews will likely remain in the Lower 48 until fire season in the western U.S. dies down, which isn’t typically until September or October.

Alaska fire crews mobilized to lower 48 firefighters
BLM Alaska Fire Service fire specialist Tasha Shields hands crew members bag lunches prior to them boarding a National Interagency Coordination Center jet at Fort Wainwright, Alaska Friday, July 24, 2020. Photo by Tim Mowry, Alaska Division of Forestry.

Firefighters wore facemasks as they lined up to board the plane on Friday at Fort Wainwright. BLM Alaska Fire Service workers, also wearing facemasks, handed each firefighter a bagged lunch as they boarded the flight to Boise.

While the increase in COVID-19 cases in Alaska and across the U.S. is a concern, it’s something the crews and other Alaska firefighting personnel have been dealing with since the season started in April. Agencies and crews have COVID protocols in place to help prevent the spread of the virus and each crew was traveling with at least three days of personal protective equipment  such as facemasks and hand sanitizer.

Alaska fire crews mobilized to lower 48 firefighters
Chena Hotshots arrive in Boise, Idaho July 24, 2020. NIFC photo.

“I think it would be harder if any of us had families and didn’t live by ourselves,” Smith said in reference to mobilizing to the Lower 48 during the pandemic. “It definitely makes it interesting.”

Returning personnel will follow Alaska state and local health mandates addressing testing and quarantining upon return from their Lower 48 assignments. In some cases, personnel will spend days off in the Lower 48 instead of returning to Alaska in between fire assignments.

Alaska fire crews mobilized to lower 48 firefighters
Midnight Sun Hotshots arrive in Boise, Idaho July 24, 2020. NIFC photo.
Alaska fire crews mobilized to lower 48 firefighters
Alaska fire crews arrive in Boise, Idaho July 24, 2020. NIFC photo.

From the BLM Alaska Fire Service

Numerous USFS permanent firefighter jobs available in several states

U.S. Forest Service Region 1
U.S. Forest Service Region 1

On Monday the U.S. Forest Service advertised numerous permanent firefighter job openings in the agency’s Region 1, Montana, North Dakota, and northern Idaho. Some of the notices say “Job Corps graduates of fire certified programs are encouraged to apply,” which is interesting in that students at USFS Job Corps centers have been sent home due to COVID-19. A massive recruitment beginning just as the wildland fire season starts is unusual.

Some of the announcements are only open for a very brief time.

The information below dated April 27, 2020 was copied from the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Facebook page:


OPEN TODAY ON USAJOBS!🔥🌄
Region 1 Summer Fire Hire PERMANENT Jobs

Vacancy Number — Title — USAJOBS link:

20-FIRE-UHE-MT-FFTR-34DH Forestry Aid/Forestry Technician (Fire Suppression) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566648700

20-FIRE-UHE-ID-FFTR-34DH Forestry Aid/Forestry Technician (Fire Suppression) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566648000

20-FIRE-UHE-MT-ENGSRFF-5DH Forestry Technician / Engine Senior Firefighter https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566648400

20-FIRE-UHE-ID-ENGSRFF-5DH Forestry Technician / Engine Senior Firefighter https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566647200

20-FIRE-UHE-MT-HSHCSRFF-5DH Forestry Technician (Hotshot/Handcrew) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566648900

20-FIRE-UHE-ID-HSHCSRFF-5DH Forestry Technician (Hotshot/Handcrew) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566647800

20-FIRE-UHE-MT-AFEO-6DH Lead Forestry Technician (AFEO) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566649400

20-FIRE-UHE-ID-AFEO-6DH Lead Forestry Technician (AFEO) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566648200

20-FIRE-UHE-MT-HCREW-6DH Lead Forestry Technician (Hotshot/Handcrew) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566649300

20-FIRE-UHE-ID-HCREW-6DH Lead Forestry Technician (Hotshot/Handcrew) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566684100

20-FIRE-UHE-MT-FEOH-7DH Forestry Technician (FEO) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566648800

20-FIRE-UHE-ID-FEOH-7DH Forestry Technician (FEO) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566647700

20-FIRE-UHE-MT-HCREWH-7DH Forestry Technician (Handcrew) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566649200

20-FIRE-UHE-ID-HCREWH-7DH Forestry Technician (Handcrew) https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566647900

20-FIRE-UHE-MT-SFEOH-8DH Supervisory Forestry Tech (Fire Engine Op) / SFEO https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566649000

20-FIRE-UHE-ID-SFEOH-8DH Supervisory Forestry Tech (Fire Engine Op) / SFEO https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566647400

20-FIRE-UHE-MT-HCREWH-8DH Supervisory Forestry Tech (Handcrew Supervisor) HIGH https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566648600

20-FIRE-UHE-ID-HCREWH-8DH Supervisory Forestry Tech (Handcrew Supervisor) HIGH https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/566647600


Other areas are also hiring, with very short response dates. Here is another example.

Mendocino National Forest jobs
Mendocino National Forest jobs

Check out USAJobs.gov

1961 Higgins Ridge Fire — 20 smokejumpers were rescued by a tiny helicopter

Twelve years after the Mann Gulch Fire disaster

Bell 47 helicopter Forest Service
Bell 47 helicopter. Forest Service photo.

(This article was first published at FireAviation.com)

Twelve years after 13 smokejumpers were killed on the Mann Gulch Fire 13 miles north-northwest of Helena, Montana, 20 jumpers were entrapped on a fire in northern Idaho 83 miles southwest of Missoula, Montana.

It happened August 4, 1961 on the Higgins Ridge Fire in the Nez Perce National Forest after an eight-man crew from Grangeville, Idaho had jumped in the area, followed by 12 men from the Missoula jumper base, the last arriving at 1 p.m. The fire behavior on the two-acre fire was fairly benign until a passing cold front brought a sudden increase in the wind at 4:15 p.m. which resulted in the fire spreading rapidly. The 20 men took refuge in a previously burned area. As the wind increased to 50 mph the supervisors of the two squads, Dave Perry and Fred “Fritz” Wolfrum, instructed the firefighters to remain calm and to clear an area for themselves in the ashes.

Lightning was bursting from the pyrocumulus cloud over the fire as the men in their newly issued orange fire shirts covered their heads with their arms when the fire burned around them. They helped each other swat out the flames on their clothes during the ember shower.

They did not hear it because of the roar of the fire, but they looked up and saw the red skids of a helicopter. It was a Bell 47B-3 that had seating for three people abreast, with the pilot in the middle.

Below is an excerpt from the April, 1994 edition of “The Static Line” published by the National Smokejumper Association:

…The pilot was Rod Snider of the Johnson Flying Service and he had spotted the men and their orange [fire shirts].

Fritz and Snider quickly organized an evacuation plan. Snider had to drop down vertically and take off the same way because of old snags surrounding the jumpers [a maneuver that requires more power than departing from a ridge]. On the first few trips Rod took out two jumpers on each run, having them ride in the cabin. Then, with the helicopter getting hotter, Rod told them he would take four out on each trip. Two rode in the cabin and two hung on to the [cargo trays]. Rod was able to ferry all 20 jumpers to the Freeman Ridge fire camp. Fritz and Tom were among those on the last trip out.

Some of the jumpers were treated at St. Patricks’s Hospital for smoke-burned eyes. Within several days most of the jumpers who had been on the Higgins Ridge Fire were out jumping on more fires.

Rod Snider and James Van Vleck Nat Museum FS History
L to R: Helicopter pilot Rod Snider with James Van Vleck. Photo by the National Museum of Forest Service History, June, 2019.

In June, 2019 a reunion was held in Missoula for the firefighters that were involved in the Higgins Ridge Fire. Eleven of the jumpers gave oral interviews and participated in a panel discussion at the National Museum of Forest Service History (video of the panel). Mr. Snider made the trip and gave his oral history, but unfortunately had to return home the night before the panel discussion due to a family emergency.

Below are excerpts from an article in The Missoulian, August 2, 2019:

“It was hard to find them,” said Snider, 89, a quiet man who received awards for his heroism but shuns the obvious mantle of hero.

“The wind was really cooking in there and you couldn’t see the heliport all the time to get down. I had to come in high and drop down into it when I could see a little break,” Snider said in an oral history interview before he left town.

What made you risk your life to do it? an interviewer in Missoula asked.

“Oh, it had to be done. It had to be done,” Snider replied. “I don’t know. You just can’t leave guys down in the position that they were in.”

His helicopter, a Bell 47G-3 that Snider christened “Red Legs” for its painted landing skids and support legs, was one of the first with a supercharger. But the overload was nonetheless hard on it, he said.

“I felt a little uneasy, because I knew I’d over-boosted everything, But when they gave an inspection later on they couldn’t find anything wrong with it,” Snider said.

The following year Snider received the Pilot of the Year Award from the Helicopter Association of America in Dallas and the Carnegie Medal for Heroism.

In 1976, the nation’s bicentennial year, Tom Kovalicky, 84, of Grangeville and Stanley, Idaho, successfully nominated Snider for the North American Forest Fire Medal, which was being revived for the first time since 1956. Snider and his wife were flown to New Orleans for the presentation that October. And in 2002 he was inducted into the Museum of Mountain Flying Hall of Fame.

An article about the fire dated February 21, 2003 at the National Smokejumper Association’s website was written by a firefighter who was on the Higgins Ridge Fire a year before he became a smokejumper.

Higgins Ridge Fire
by Gary Shaw

The year was 1961 when cumulus clouds built up every afternoon promising rain, but delivering isolated dry lightning storms. This was the year before I became a smokejumper. It was my second year to work on the Moose Creek District of the Nezperce National Forest. The preceding summer I had spent as a lookout fireman on top of Bailey Mountain. This year I had been working trail crew for a couple of months until the sky erupted at the end of July and left fires all over the district.

My trail partner (Ron) and I had been cutting a trail from the Selway River to Big Rock Mountain and were currently holed up in a cabin there when a helicopter picked us up to transport us to a small fire on Higgins Ridge. We were to meet a crew walking in from Elbow Bend on East Moose Creek. We saw smokejumpers parachute into the fire area on our way to the fire. We landed on the uphill side of the fire, grabbed our shovels and pulaskis and started for the fire. We could see the jumpers’ orange shirts through the smoke.

Before we could get to the fire a large cumulous cloud covered the sun and the wind picked up to 25 or 30 m.p.h. The fire blew up in our faces, and we were forced to retreat back into a large rockslide.

The jumpers weren’t so lucky. They were trapped in the middle of it with no escape route. They dug in, buried their faces in wet bandanas in the dirt, and tried to find air to breath as the fire roared from a manageable 2 acres to a 1280 acre holocaust. It was late evening, and the fire was beautiful to watch. It was crowning, and trees several hundred feet ahead of the fire would begin to tremble and then burst into flame like a fireworks display.

The fire was so hot that canteens of water near the jumpers started exploding. When things looked at their bleakest, the cavalry arrived in the form of Rod Snider(NCSB-51) in a Bell 47G-3B helicopter from Johnson’s Flying Service in Missoula. It was getting dark when he flew into the middle of the fire and started bringing Jumpers out four at a time, which is two more than the maximum the copter was supposed to carry. He had two guys on the seat and two more on the runners. He made five trips into the fire and rescued twenty jumpers. The manifold pressure on the copter engine was 200% above maximum, and when the engine was torn down later, two pistons fell apart. I heard that “Crash” received 20 cases of beer the next week.

My trail partner and I stayed on the fire through mop-up. The other crew arrived without tools, which were to be dropped in by air. Unfortunately, communications left something to be desired. We kept requesting tools and instead received three separate drops of sleeping bags. Each person had a half dozen sleeping bags, but Ron and I were the only ones who had a shovel and pulaski to work on the fire. So we did.

When the tools finally arrived and we got the fire under control, I walked down to the area where the jumpers had been trapped. I found exploded water cans, unexploded gasoline cans (go figure), and a personal gear bag with all their cameras melted together. I could see Minolta, Canon, and Nikon logos on the fused metal and glass. I sent the lot back to Missoula. The fire had been so hot that there were no snags, just pointed stumps and ashes over a foot deep.

I remember two of the rescued jumpers departed the chopper and immediately asked for a cigarette. Now that’s a habit!

I’ve always wondered what that fire looked like from the other side. If anyone reads this that remembers, let me know.

The group that organized the oral history and panel about the Higgins Ridge Fire was organized by the National Museum of Forest Service History. Wildfire Today first wrote about the museum in 2009 five years after they began their effort to raise $10.6 million to build a national museum to commemorate the 100+ year history of the U. S. Forest Service. Their vision began in 1994 when they obtained 36 acres west of the Missoula airport where they hope to build a 30,000 square-foot building.

National Museum of Forest Service History
An architect’s concept of the future National Museum of Forest Service History.

The museum’s fund drive received a significant boost this month when it received a $2 million contribution from the estate of Bill Cannon, a Forest Service retiree.

From the Ravalli Republic:

…Cannon spent most of his Forest Service years in California and Oregon, with an interlude in Hawaii where he was assigned to state and private forestry work. He finished his career in Washington, D.C., where he worked on program planning for the Forest Service’s state and private programs.

Meanwhile, according to a press release announcing his gift, he used his avocation of studying financial markets to become an adept investor.

Cannon became impressed with the National Museum of Forest Service History on a field trip to the site while in Missoula for the 2000 U.S. Forest Service retiree reunion.

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