Captain Hughes died when a 105-foot tall Ponderosa Pine fell in an unexpected direction on the Ferguson Fire on the Sierra National Forest near Yosemite National Park in California.
A Tree Falling Accident Analysis was completed by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center at the request of the the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. Their study compares 53 incidents from 2004 to 2019 in which firefighters were injured or killed in the process of falling trees.
Anyone involved in tree falling should read the entire 17-page report, but here are some of their findings:
53% of the time the tree fell in the intended direction.
28% of the time, the tree impacted another tree during its fall—including 2 of the 8 fatalities.
19% of the time, the top broke out and came back—including 2 of the 8 fatalities.
Of all the reports that included recommendations, 21% recommended enhancing training related to tree conditions (like rot) and species-specific traits.
19% of the time, the sawyer was working on a hung-up tree— including two of the eight fatalities.
51% of the time, the incident involved a direct helmet strike.
Of the reports that include recommendations, 24% recommended research and development related to wildland fire helmets.
42% of the time, the person struck was not cutting—including in 5 of the 8 fatalities.
24% of the reports recommended somehow improving safe work distance and compliance.
40% of the time, the person struck was in the traditional escape route—including in 5 of the 8 fatalities.
79% of the reports recommended improving risk assessment.
13% of the time, the tree strike happened during training— including in 2 of the 8 fatalities.
26% of the reports recommended improving faller training.
21% of the reports recommended enhancing training related to tree conditions (like rot) and species-specific traits.
In addition to the rollover of a fire truck on December 19 in New South Wales that killed two firefighters and injured three, in a separate incident the same day five firefighters were entrapped by fire, injuring three firefighters. Two males, age 36 and 56, were airlifted to a hospital after suffering face, airway, and other burns.
“Given the serious potential for airway burns, the advice is… they’ll be intubated,” said New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons
A third person, a 28-year-old female, was transported by ground ambulance after suffering smoke inhalation and less severe burns.
Both incidents occurred on the Green Wattle Creek Bushfire in the Lake Burragorang area. The fire is more than 176,000 hectares (435,000 acres) in size and is out of control.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Karl. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
The weather on Monday gave firefighters the opportunity to make significant progress on the fire. But on Tuesday and Wednesday much of California is under a Red Flag Warning for strong winds and low humidity, including the Kincade Fire area.
Below is the National Weather Service forecast for wind and humidity near the fire at Geyserville. The wind barbs point to the direction the wind will be from. After 2 p.m. Tuesday the prediction is for 14 to 16 mph sustained winds out of the northeast with gusts of 21 to 33 until 4 a.m. Wednesday. The humidity will reach into the single digits and there will be no clouds or chance of precipitation.
CAL FIRE reports that 57 homes and 5 commercial structures have been destroyed.
Resources assigned to the fire include 549 engines, 42 water tenders, 27 helicopters, 86 hand crews, and 66 dozers for a total of 4,548 personnel.
Many fixed wing air tankers have been used on the fire. The 747 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) has been activated as well as four DC-10 VLATs. These and other tankers, such as the C-130, 737, BAe-146, RJ85, P-3, and MD87 are being used on CAL FIRE and U.S. Forest Service contracts throughout California as fires erupt. There could be more if needed, but the Forest Service has not awarded the Call When Needed contracts for backup air tankers that was first advertised 517 days ago. The eight C-130 military Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, MAFFS, could also be activated.
Strong northeast winds that continued Sunday pushed the Kincade Fire to Highway 101 south of Healdsburg, California. The map below indicates that the fire may have been stopped before entering the city.
Two firefighters were burned yesterday. CAL FIRE spokesperson Jonathan Cox said one firefighter with serious burn injuries was airlifted to University of California Davis Medical Center.
Sunday afternoon CAL FIRE reported that the fire had burned 54,298 acres, but an overnight mapping flight found that number had increased to nearly 80,000 acres. Approximately 94 structures have been destroyed and 17 damaged.
After one of their helicopters used a hoist to extract two seriously injured firefighters on the Middle Fire in Northern California, the Coast Guard issued a press release that read in part:
…The helicopter crew approached the extraction zone and made a high-altitude, tree-top hoist from 240 feet, the helicopter’s maximum hoist range. The injured firefighters were flown to Weaverville airport and transferred to emergency medical services.
“This rescue was extremely challenging due to the proximity to an active fire, the high elevation and the rugged terrain,” said Lieutenant Commander Derek Schramel, the pilot in command of the mission. “I’m very proud of how our crew worked together with our fire service and law enforcement partners in Trinity County to save these two men.”
The press release failed to mention that the injured firefighters were rescued and then delivered to two medical helicopters at Weaverville more than seven hours after the Coast Guard received the request for the mission.
On September 6, 2019 two firefighters were seriously injured by a rolling rock while working at night on the Middle Fire on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California. One firefighter was knocked unconscious for 30 seconds due to a head injury. The rock also hit his neck and shoulder. The other firefighter had a very serious broken femur causing his leg to be twisted about 180 degrees.
And, on the Iron 44 fire in 2008 the IC had been on the helicopter flight immediately before the crash of the overweight helicopter that killed nine firefighters and flight crew personnel.
The IC was thinking about the delay in extraction and a too heavy helicopter when the Coast Guard helicopter arrived over their fire at 2340 and the pilot said the ship was too heavy to extract personnel at 4,500 feet and would have to loiter to burn off fuel.
After flying for 90 minutes the pilot said the helicopter was still too heavy and would have to return to base to reconfigure. The crew was told that only one firefighter could be extracted, so they moved the firefighter with the head and shoulder injuries to a different location. When the helicopter was en route back, the pilot told the IC to prepare both patients for extraction—they could take both after all, so the crew carried the second firefighter back to the hoist site.
The helicopter was back on scene sometime after 0300. The two firefighters were extracted and delivered to two waiting medical helicopters at Weaverville at 0350. The patients were flown to “Mercy Hospital” (or Mercy Medical Center in Redding which is about 35 miles from Weaverville).
Here is the time line, according to the Rapid Lesson Sharing report:
2100 — Two firefighters hit by a rock 2107 — The IC requested extraction of the victims by helicopter with hoist 2117 — The Coast Guard was called to request a helicopter 2252 — The Coast Guard accepted the mission 2340 — Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter arrives at the fire. Pilot says the ship is too heavy to hoist, orbits for 90 minutes to burn off fuel, then still too heavy, flies back to reconfigure. 0300 — (approximately, or later), Coast Guard helicopter is back on scene 0350 — Coast Guard helicopter extracts then delivers the two firefighters to two waiting medical helicopters at Weaverville. They were then flown to a hospital or medical center.
The firefighters were lucky that at least there was a Coast Guard helicopter available to take on the mission, even though the injury-to-hospital-time was over seven hours.
To be fair, conducting a hoist rescue at night far from the coast at 4,500 feet above sea level is not a primary mission for the Coast Guard. But fighting fire in every kind of imaginable condition is routine for wildland firefighters. The Coast Guard, judging from this incident, is not prepared that kind of mission, but it is not uncommon for the wildland fire agencies to have to extract injured firefighters at night in remote, rugged terrain.
The U.S. Forest Service does not have in-house capability to use a helicopter to extract injured firefighters at night. Some of their contract helicopters are approved for and have a helitack crew that can perform short-haul operations during daylight hours.
One of the lessons learned that was identified in the report is:
Be willing to turn down an assignment if evacuation of an injured person is not possible in a timely manner.
Below is video of the hoists, shot from the Coast Guard helicopter.
The federal and state agencies with major wildland fire programs need to develop the day and night capability to extract injured firefighters within one hour. Failure to do so is firefighting malpractice.
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.