Chief Jim Strain discusses coping with a line of duty death

Trampus Haskvitz was entrapped and killed while fighting the Coal Canyon Fire in 2011.

Trampus Haskvitz

In this video Jim Strain, the Assistant Chief of Operations for the South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire Suppression, talks about how he and his department coped with the line of duty death of firefighter Trampus Haskvitz.

Mr. Haskvitz was killed while making an initial attack with an engine on a lightning caused fire approximately 9 miles north of Edgemont, South Dakota on August 11, 2011. One firefighter entrapped in the engine with Mr. Haskvitz survived but with serious burns and was admitted to a burn center in Greeley, Colorado. Another was injured while escaping from the engine and was admitted to a hospital in Rapid City, SD. Two others injured in a rescue attempt were treated at local hospitals and released.

The report on the fatality can be found here. All of our articles about the LODD are tagged Coal Canyon Fire.

Final size of Cottonwood Fire: 41,360 acres

Above: Final official map of the Cottonwood Fire, produced by the Incident Management Team.

The Cottonwood Fire that started 12 miles east of Wall, South Dakota has been contained. After GPS mapping the 16-mile long fire the incident management team determined it had burned 41,360 acres. Jim Strain, the South Dakota Chief Fire Management Officer, said most of those acres were burned during the first eight hours. And according to Darren Clabo, the South Dakota State Fire Meteorologist, it is the fifth largest on record in the state.

Tuesday night the local Type 3 Incident Management Team was released and turned the fire over to the Wall, Interior, Philip, and Kadoka Fire Departments, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, and Buffalo Gap National Grassland.

Livestock losses reported to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office stand at 137 as no additional losses were reported to the team.

Cottonwood Fire map
The map shows the APPROXIMATE location of the Cottonwood Fire, based on a satellite image from October 18, 2016. The thin green lines are county borders, and the thicker green line at lower-left is Badlands National Park. We made this before the Incident Management Team produced their final more accurate map.

Mr. Clabo sent the tweet below when the estimated size of the fire was 31,000 acres.

Mr. Clablo also looked at the data recorded at the weather station in Badlands National Park south of Wall.

Moderate weather and air tankers slow the Indian Canyon Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota

Above: The north side of the Indian Canyon Fire along the Cheyenne River late in the evening of July 17.

(UPDATED at 7 p.m. MDT July 18, 2016)

Around noon on Monday we visited the west side of the Indian Canyon Fire south of Edgemont, South Dakota. It was very quiet. Not much was going on at the airport, the incident command post, or along Highway 471. We only saw one location that was putting up much smoke and it was on the north side in some cottonwood trees near the Cheyenne River. That area probably has logs and dead trees that could smoulder for days.

Art Prints

The order for the Type 1 Incident Management Team was cancelled. The latest size estimate for the fire is 13,500 acres. At 9 a.m. today the incident management team reported there was zero containment on the fire. Then at 4:06 p.m. that increased to 60 percent. This just illustrates that containment numbers are meaningless most of the time and is the reason why we rarely regurgitate that statistic.

The six photos in the next gallery were taken around noon on Monday. Scroll down to see two other galleries. Click on a photo to see a larger version, then click on the arrows to view more.


(UPDATED at 10:28 a.m. MDT July 18, 2016)

Monday morning the Great Plains Fire Information office reported there had been “heavy rain” on the Indian Canyon Fire in South Dakota. When I left the Edgemont area at 7:30 Sunday night a thunderstorm was moving in and light rain was falling. Two rain gauges that are near the fire but not within the perimeter recorded 0.03″ and 0.07″ overnight.

The heat-sensing satellite did not detect any large heat sources Sunday night on the fire. That does not mean it is out. The sensors, about 200 miles overhead, can only “see” large concentrations of heat. And the grass, which comprises most of the vegetation in the fire area, can burn and then cool before the next satellite overpass.

The behavior of the fire on Sunday was affected by the moderate weather conditions — temperature around 80, relative humidity in the 30’s, and an 8 mph east wind. The forecast for the fire area on Monday predicts 96 degrees, southwest winds of 14 to 18 gusting in the mid-20’s, and 30 percent relative humidity. These conditions could dry much of the Sunday night rainfall.

Another factor slowing the fire was the use of air tankers, helping to keep the fire out of Edgemont. In addition to a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, seven other air tankers were used on the fire Sunday — four Single Engine Air Tankers and three large air tankers, T-02 and T41 (both BAe-146’s), and T-45 (a P2V). In addition, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters worked on the fire Sunday.

The photos in the gallery below were shot around 7 p.m. MDT Sunday night. To see larger versions, click on one, then click the arrows to see more.

This was the first time that a Very Large Air Tanker has dropped retardant in the state of South Dakota. It carries 11,600 gallons, far more than any other air tanker currently certified in North America. The other Large Air Tankers hold between 2,000 and 4,500 gallons. Global Supertanker has a 747 Very Large Air Tanker with a 19,600-gallon capacity working its way through the FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board approval process.

Continue reading “Moderate weather and air tankers slow the Indian Canyon Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota”

South Dakota: Sheep Draw Fire

(UPDATED at 6:10 p.m. MDT, March 31, 2015)

The size of the Sheep Draw fire in northwest South Dakota is now estimated at 13,949 acres.
  • Firefighters are calling it 70% contained
  • One non-commercial structure burned. The structure was a protective shed for a natural gas well. The gas well caught fire the first day and was put out by the first night.
  • As of 6:00 PM Monday night, two Dozers met and tied in the line around the fire (one from the north and one from the south)
  • The successful burnout operation ended at 10:00 PM last night
  • No injuries of firefighters or the public have been reported
  • This fire is burning mainly on public and private land with a small portion of Bureau of Land Management Land


(UPDATED at 12:20 p.m. MDT, March 31, 2015)

The Rapid City Journal has an article about the Sheep Draw Fire.


Originally published at 9:54 p.m. MDT, March 30, 2015

Sheep Draw fire
Sheep Draw Fire in northwest South Dakota.

Jim Strain’s Type 3 Incident Management Team has assumed command of the 10,000-acre Sheep Draw Fire in northwest South Dakota. Two National Guard helicopters are assisting with the fire which is burning on state and private land.

Firefighters were calling it 15 percent contained at noon on Monday.

The weather forecast for Tuesday calls for 17 mph southwest winds gusting to 28 mph, temperature of 80, and a relative humidity that will be in the teens overnight, 16 percent at dawn and rising to 40 percent by sunset.

sheep draw fire
Sheep Draw Fire in northwest South Dakota as seen from the Incident Command Post. Photo provided by Great Plains fire information.
sheep draw fire
Sheep Draw Fire South Dakota. Photo provided by Great Plains fire information.

Topics discussed at meeting of Fire Compacts

Notes from the meeting of the Alliance of Forest Fire Compacts in Denver.

map Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission (NFFPC)
Map of state & provinces within the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission

Even though you may not have heard of them because of their relatively low profiles, wildland fire compacts for state fire organizations got their start in the United States 64 years ago in 1949 when Congress passed legislation establishing the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission. Seven states joined in 1949 and 1950 — Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. The Canadian provinces of Québec and New Brunswick became members in 1969 and 1970, making it the first international compact. International treaties and other state and federal legislation enabled additional compacts to be formed so that today most of the Canadian provinces and all states in the U.S. are members except for six states: Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

The other seven Compacts are Great Lakes, Big Rivers, Great Plains, South Central, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Northwest.

Their purpose is to provide the means for its member states and provinces to cope with fires that might be beyond the capabilities of a single member. They share firefighting resources through mutual aid, support the development of integrated forest fire plans, and coordinate training. Some of the compacts are funded through annual dues for each state and/or federal grants from the U.S. Forest Service State and Private Forestry. Others have no funding at all.

On October 29 and 30 the Alliance of Forest Fire Compacts held their annual meeting in Denver, hosted by the Great Plains Compact. In addition to representatives from many state and province fire organizations, there were also attendees from the U.S. Forest Service, National Interagency Coordination Center, National Association of State Foresters, All-Hazards Incident Management Teams Association, and Western Governors Association.

Jim Strain, the Assistant Chief of Operations for South Dakota State Wildland Fire was at the meeting and took excellent notes, which he graciously shared with us. The following information draws heavily from Mr. Strain’s report and includes some of the points we found the most interesting.


Dan Smith, representing the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) reported:

The NASF is dealing with ramifications of the Yarnell Fire report and the four areas identified for action that concern: (a) more instructions on how to utilize Very Large Air Tankers (VLATs); (b) interoperability of radio communications and GPS technology and tracking of ground based resources; (c) Interpersonal communications; and (d) guidance on what point is it necessary to separate Aerial Supervision Module (ASM) and lead plane roles to carry out responsibilities for each platform.

Mr. Smith also said the big update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) is the Incident Management Team Succession Project. It appears for the time being that 40 is the number of nationwide teams that would be qualified at the Type 1 or “complex” level. Folks in the field need to know that we are heading to a future incident management world of Initial Attack, Extended Attack (Type 3) and Complex (Type 1). With that in mind, we need to develop alternative pathways or “speed to competency” to build up this capacity at the Type 3 level.

National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) update. Continue to expect future shortages of Type 1 crews and air tankers at the national level when the western fire season is in full swing. Still dealing with some hand crew support issues during times of nationwide mobilization (i.e. Type 2 Initial Attack crews not self- sufficient as per Mobilization Guide direction).

National Interagency Coordination Center update: Susie Stingley-Russell, Center Manager, NICC:

Very concerned about the shortage of Type 2 crews nationwide and the future capacity of Type 2 crews to fill resource orders.

Very Large Air Tankers, (VLATs) will be on a federal contract again next year that will pay daily availability, so the ordering agency only has to pay for flight time and retardant.

Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC): Serge Poulin:

The 2013 fire season in Canada as of 9/11/13 saw 5897 fires that burned 3,798,206 ha. There seems to be a trend in Canada of a lower number of ignitions but more ha burned. We are also seeing more of our personnel mobilizations lasting the full 14 days.

They are developing an alternative to BEHAVE called REDAPP ( Furthermore, CIFFC is reviewing the FI210, S490 course and ICSCanada project. Work is going forward on several on-line courses (S290, s291, S292 and S204) with on-line exams. CIFFC this year moved all personnel on CAN/US exchanges on a passport basis only and will continue in that manner in the future.

All-Hazards Incident Management Teams Association (AHIMTA), Chief Michael Chapman

AHIMTA is still working with the National Integration Center to find core competencies for incident management tasks with endorsements for specific all hazard specialties. It was noted that Colorado Public Safety worked on all-Hazards task books with the exception of the operations section.

Discussion about international border crossings:

Trent Marty, Director, Bureau of Forest Protection for Wisconsin DNR, shared information on the “quick strike” form. Information will be added to the website on Border Crossing Information contacts and aircraft information. Reminders: Try not to cross on a holiday weekend and get crew manifest to border crossing point 12 to 24 hours prior to arriving at that point.

Fuels and firefighting discussion for the northern plains

During fire season the Fire Meteorologist for the state of South Dakota, Darren Clabo, distributes on a regular basis a paper describing the predicted weather and the current condition of the fuels. In the edition published on Tuesday a section about fuels written by Jim Strain, the Chief of Operations for the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division, caught my eye. He references the 28-mile-long Wellnitz fire that burned 77,159 acres in Nebraska and South Dakota.

…Do not underestimate the spread potentials of Fuel Model 1 and Fuel Model 2 fuels during the evening and night hours. When wind, slope and fuels are in alignment, with no natural barriers, these fires will burn just like in the middle of the day. The Rosebud complex in eastern MT last month went from 7000 acres to 100,000 acres in one night! When the Wellnitz fire crossed the state line on late Friday afternoon, the forward progress of the fire was finally stopped in the south portion of the road ditch on US Highway 18, at 2230 hours that evening.

The head of the Wellnitz fire spread quickly through green crop fields such as standing sunflowers. The head of the Wellnitz fire was finally corralled by tactic used by Pine Ridge BIA. Pine Ridge BIA units scraped a line with a grader on the south side of the Hwy 18 Right of way, and as the fire moved through the shorter grass (FM1) to the scraped line, it meet a pretty significant barrier of 10 feet of bare mineral soil, and 33 feet of pavement. This allowed fire units to patrol larger sections of line and hold the fire. Pine Ridge BIA and the Tribe did an outstanding job of pulling the trigger real fast for evacuation once the fire crossed the state line, and good thing they did. Fire was up to many housing units just as fire trucks arrived that evening.

So for any fire in our zone, if you think evacuation needs to take place, just do it, because it probably needs to happen!