Four firefighters killed in Spain


Four firefighters have died and two others rushed to hospital with life-threatening burns on July 21 after tackling a blaze in the north of Spain. The firefighters were caught off-guard by a sudden change in wind direction.

The men were involved in efforts to extinguish a huge wildfire which has so far burned over 800 hectares of forest in a national park near Tarragona, in Catalonia. Local officials say the firefighters appear to have been caught off-guard by a sudden change in wind direction, which stoked the blaze.

“They were prepared, capable, qualified firefighters,” head of the Catalan regional government Jose Montilla said. “A change in meteorological conditions caused them to lose their lives.”

One of the two men who survived suffered burns to 75% of his body, while the other suffered burns to 50% of his body, a local government official told news radio Cadena Ser.

A water-dropping aircraft was called in to help fight the blaze as the municipality of Horta de Sant Joan came under threat.

But Spanish fire crews were stretched across the country battling a number of blazes. A fire burning near the town of Collado Mediano, northeast of Madrid, forced the evacuation of some 2,000 people before it was brought under control.

Wildfires in the regions of Cuenca and Ciudad Real also prompted local authorities to close stretches of roads. Forecasters said the strong winds which have fanned flames were expected to ease, but scorching temperatures – as high as 41 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country – would remain for several days.

Euronews has a good 51-second video report about the incident.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families and co-workers of the firefighters.

Followup on fatal rapelling accident

The U. S. Forest Service has issued a Safety Alert as a result of the accident on July 21 in which Thomas Marovich fell 200 feet to his death during rapelling training.

No. FS 09-01

July 21, 2009

Subject: Rappel Operations Equipment and Procedural Check

Area of Concern: Rappel Operations

Distribution: Rappel Bases

Discussion: This morning at approximately 1015 PDT a rappel accident occurred resulting in a fatal fall of a Forest Service rappeller. The facts we have on hand are that the helicopter and crew were assigned to the Backbone incident on the Six Rivers, NF west of Redding, CA. The crew was conducting a routine rappel proficiency mission involving in a Bell 212 HP.

A Chief’s level accident investigation is being conducted. The Forest Service is a party to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

Recommendation: We are advising all rappel units to review the Interagency Helicopter Rappel Guide (IHRG) Chapter 3, Rappel Equipment to assure that all rappel equipment meets the current standard. Also review Lesson Plan 7, Helicopter Mock-up on pages D-12 through D-16 of the IHRG.

Your review of equipment and procedures must be accomplished prior to the next operating period. The National Office is not calling for a stand-down of the rappel program at this time, until we can determine the specifics of what occurred and corrective actions to be taken. However, Region 5 has suspended all rappel activities until further notice.

The Safety Alert was signed by William C. Waterbury (AD Risk Management and Human Performance) and Ron Hanks (Chief, Aviation Risk Management and Training Systems).

The International Association of Wildland Fire reports that there have been 10 other wildland firefighter fatalities in the United States this year:

  • John C. Meyer, firefighter/mechanic, 01/03/09
  • John W. Adams, firefighter, Oklahoma,02/02/2009
  • William Roger Vorwark, firefighter, Missouri, 03/14/2009
  • Roger Hershner, pilot, Kansas, 03/08/2009
  • Gregory Carroll Cooke, firefighter, North Carolina, 03/21/2009
  • Heath Van Handel, pilot, Wisconsin, 04/08/2009
  • Dennis M. Simmons, firefighter, Kansas, 04/21/2009
  • Tom Risk, pilot, 04/25/09
  • Brian Buss, airtanker crew member, 04/25/09
  • Mike Flynn, airtanker crew member, 04/25/09


Fatal accident during training at Backbone fire

The Backbone fire on the Klamath National Forest in northern California issued this news release about 45 minutes ago:

Fatal Accident During Routine Training At the Backbone Helibase

WILLOW CREEK, Calif.– During a routine training exercise an individual was involved in an accident Tuesday morning. A Helicopter and its crew, who are assigned to the Backbone Fire, was conducting weekly skill proficiency acceptance training and was involved in an accident that took an individuals life.

At 10:10 this morning while performing a proficiency skill acceptance training, at the Backbone Helibase in Willow Creek, an individual fell and incurred fatal injuries. The training is required to be conducted weekly to insure the crew’s safety and proficiency.

Information is limited at this time and all names of individuals involved are being with held until notifications to families have been made. We will be happy to provide information as soon as it is available.

The individual was provided medical attention immediately at the scene. The Base medical staff, the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office, and the Humboldt County Sherriff’s Office were dispatched and involved in the initial response.

Our sincere condolences to the family and co-workers.

More information about the Backbone fire, which is being managed by a National Incident Management Team (NIMO), can be found at Inciweb.

UPDATE @ 6:43 p.m. PT, July 21

The Backbone fire issued a second news release at about 5:45 p.m. PT today:

WILLOW CREEK, Calif.– Thomas Marovich, 20, of Hayward California incurred fatal injuries when falling while performing routine rappel proficiency skill training, at the Backbone Helibase in Willow Creek.

Marovich was a second year apprentice with the Forest Service at the Modoc National Forest, and was working with the Chester Helitack Crew from the Lassen National Forest which was assigned to the Backbone Fire at the time of the accident.

At 10:10 this morning Marovich fell and incurred fatal injuries while performing the required training which is conducted at a minimum every 14 days to insure the crew’s safety and skill proficiency.

The individual was provided advance life support treatment immediately at the scene. The Base medical staff, the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office, and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office were involved in the response.

The Forest Service has mobilized an accident investigation team and is working with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Colorado: BLM firefighter killed in falling accident

Today the Bureau of Land Management released information about a fatality that occurred in Colorado on Friday.

From the Steamboat Pilot & Today:

A Bureau of Land Management firefighter was killed Friday afternoon in an accident while working on a hazard-tree removal project, the BLM office reported in a news release Saturday.

Craig resident Brett Stearns, 29, was killed about 4:30 p.m. Friday during a hazard tree abatement project at Freeman Reservoir, 15 miles northeast of Craig.

The accident is under investigation by a federal accident investigation team.

Stearns was working on a project with about 12 other BLM firefighters when he was struck by a falling tree. He was pronounced dead on the scene.

Stearns was an engine captain and had worked in the fire program for the BLM Little Snake Field Office in Craig since 1999. He is survived by his wife, mother, father, brother and half sister, the BLM reported.

“On behalf of the Little Snake Field Office and the Northwest Colorado Interagency Fire Management Unit, I offer my condolences to the family and friends of Brett Stearns,” said John Husband, Little Snake Field Office manager. “He dedicated his life to protecting the lives and property of the public. Firefighting is a dangerous profession and firefighter safety is the number one priority on fires and projects such as this.”

Our condolences to the Stearns family and co-workers.


Two bodies of helicopter crash victims found in Turkey

According to Xinhua news, rescue workers found the bodies of one of the pilots and a forestry worker, victims of the helicopter crash that occurred Thursday in Turkey. Wildfire Today covered the story on Thursday:

Two people aboard a Russian helicopter are missing after it crashed on Thursday April 18 while it was dipping water out of a lake in southwestern Turkey. Divers are searching for the missing Turkish pilot and a forest security officer, provincial governor Ahmet Alitiparmak said on Thursday.

Three Russian technicians were rescued after the accident. The helicopter with the five-person crew was suppressing a forest fire in the southwestern province of Aydin. The cause of the crash is unknown.

Our condolences go out to the families and co-workers of the crew.

Wildfire news, May 17, 2009

Canadian firefighter LODD


We, along with Chief Trent Hill and the members of the Keswick Valley FD, New Brunswick, Canada regret to announce the Line of Duty Death of Firefighter Phil Strang.  Firefighter Strang responded to the report of a fire behind a house in Keswick Valley Friday afternoon. Upon arrival firefighters encountered a power line that had sparked and set a small wooded area on fire.  While extinguishing the fire, Firefighter Strang collapsed from an apparent heart attack and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Doctor Everett Chalmers Hospital. Firefighter Strang was 64 years old. As always, our most sincere condolences.

Calilfornia: Water tender rollover

Photo courtesy of

A water tender belonging to North Tree Fire lost control on Interstate 5 and rolled over several times Wednesday while returning from the Jesusita fire in California. It ended up on its wheels and the driver, with non-life threatening injuries, was able to self-extricate before the fire department arrived on scene.

It is likely the water tender was similar to the one below, in a photo from the North Tree site.

Photo courtesy of North Tree Fire

Obama’s environmental record at 100+ days

The Idaho Statesman, via McClatchy Newspapers, has an interesting article about the environmental record of Obama now that we are almost 4 months into his administration. It covers a wide range of topics, but here is an excerpt:

Even so, Tom Partin of the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, Ore., said it remained to be seen where the administration would come down when it came to managing the forests.

“I think they understand there is a problem in the forests and they need to do something soon,” Partin said. “We are cautiously optimistic.”

One way to track what the administration’s plans are is by following the money for such agencies as the Forest Service, the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. During the Bush administration, Dicks said, Forest Service funding was down 35 percent, EPA funding down 29 percent and Interior Department funding down 18 percent.

Under the budget Obama recently sent to Congress, Dicks said, funding for the Forest Service is up 3 percent, Interior is up 9 percent and the EPA is up 29 percent.

“We are still not back to where we should be had we received appropriate support from the previous administration,” Dicks said. “Although there are some holes, the new budget requests are better than what we have been accustomed to.”

Some environmentalists greeted Salazar’s appointment as interior secretary with concern. Though he was from a Western state, Colorado, they considered him too close to business interests, and viewed his support for protecting public lands as suspect.

“The jury is still out on Salazar,” said Bob Irvin, the senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife. “We are certainly encouraged by some of the decisions, but let’s see how they are doing in six months.”

Lompoc’s mutual aid

Mark Clayton, Vice President of Local 1906, wrote a short article that was published in the Lompoc (California) Record. It appears to be in response to something, but to what, is not clear.  Here is an excerpt from the curious article:

It is important to understand that our firefighters assist other fire agencies during fire season as part of a statewide Master Mutual Aid Assistance Plan. We participate in this plan out of a desire to aid our fellow firefighters, and serve the communities we are sworn to protect, of which Lompoc is the primary one. We do not participate for the purposes of earning overtime money and receiving accolades.

So, remember that each time a wildfire starts anywhere in our state, your Lompoc firefighters are likely en route to assist. Every dollar they earn is done so out of service to you. They and their families are proud to serve you, and do so out of a sense of duty, honor and professionalism, not the promise of financial compensation and glory.

Redding Searchlight’s series on wildfire

The Redding Searchlight has published another in it’s series of articles on the subject of wildfire. The current one is about fire prevention and fuel modification.  Here is a brief excerpt:

We can have all the responders in the world, but unless we do more work in the prevention area, we will never resolve the wildland fire problem in California,” said Ruben Grijalva, former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Grijalva headed the agency as it fought last summer’s blazes, retiring in February after three years as chief.

One of the few places that isn’t a battleground in debates about preventing and fighting fire is the land where communities and wildlands meet.

“We don’t have to worry about fire in our forests,” said Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project, a conservation group in the northern Sierra. “What we need to focus on is home protection.”

There may be some people out there who disagree with Mr. Hanson’s analysis.