Shots fired toward firefighters in Washington state

Four firefighters felt they were targeted, including two from Australia

(This article was updated at 6:13 p.m. PDT September 10 after more information became available.)

Four firefighters said they were shot at while working on a fire in Washington State last month. Two of the firefighters were with the group of 80 that came over from Australia in early August to help suppress wildfires in the United States.

The incident occurred August 23 on the Miriam Fire near the White Pass Ski Area west of Rimrock Lake about 40 air miles west of Yakima, Washington in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The Miriam Fire is adjacent to the ski area.

A Rapid Lesson Sharing (RLS) report was posted at the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center on September 7, 2018. It explains that two lookouts were talking with two of the Australian firefighters, one of which was a Division Supervisor and the other was a Safety Officer. They saw two people walking on the Pacific Crest Trail about 200 yards below them. Excerpts from the RLS document will take it from here:

…The incident personnel stand up and holler and wave. All four are wearing yellow Nomex fire shirts. Two had bright yellow hardhats. They therefore thought they had been seen by these two individuals.

The incident personnel watched with binoculars as one of the two individuals put a scoped rifle on a bi-pod and looked up the mountain toward them. They continued to wave until a shot was fired. They then bailed off the backside of the mountain to take cover as a second shot rang out.

DIVS A/C notified Communications of the rifle shots and told them to notify the two Lookouts on DP 10 about what happened and tell them to leave the area. The shooter and companion started to walk north on the PCT. The four incident personnel could no longer see them but heard several more shots coming from the direction that they had gone. The four bailed off the ridge, ran to the PCT, and went to Helispot H-4 for a helicopter ride out of the area.

At approximately 1510, the Incident Management Team (IMT) initiated the Incident Emergency Plan (an Incident within an Incident-IWI). The Deputy Incident Commander, Air Operations Branch Director, and Safety Officer went to the Communications Unit.

At that time, the following actions took place:

  • Divisions A and C were evacuated.
  • The Sheriff was notified.
  • The IMT’s Law Enforcement Officers (LEO) were responding to area, as well as the Field Operations Section Chief.
  • Helicopters were put on standby for evacuating the four incident personnel from H-4.
  • The ICP was locked down and supervisors were ordered to account for their personnel.
  • The Incident Commander and Agency Administrator were giving briefings (of what they knew) periodically to ICP/Camp personnel.
  • The Sheriff’s Deputies found the rifle shooting individuals’ vehicle on Highway 12 and ran the license plates. They were then able to locate people who knew them and confirmed that they had gone bear hunting near the ski area. The Sheriff’s Deputies then made contact with them.
  • They were cited for entering a closed area—with additional charges pending.

At 1730, the IWI was terminated. Personnel resumed their normal fire management and support duties.

Traci Weaver, a Public Affairs Officer for the Pacific Northwest Regional Office said a press release was issued the day after the incident. Apparently it did not get a great deal of attention at the time.

We checked, and this was in the middle of a long paragraph that talked about closures, resources, location, cause, and more:

…Yesterday, two people entered the Area Closure and fired rifles in the direction of our firefighters. This caused fire operations to halt in the ski area and that section of fireline to be evacuated until the situation could be resolved…

George Jacobs, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Spokane said he understood that the two shooters were issued Violation Notices by the U.S. Forest Service. The charge was for being in an area that was closed by the Forest Service. The agency routinely issues Orders temporarily closing areas that are affected by large fires.

White Pass Ski area Miriam fire
Map showing the Miriam Fire (the red line) and the White Pass Ski area, about 40 air miles west of Yakima, Washington. Click to enlarge.

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