Technology increasingly being used by firefighters in Oregon

camera detect wildfire Oregon
Cameras are used to detect wildland fires in a detection center in Oregon.

(Originally published at 9:51 p.m. PDT October 13, 2018)

Wildland firefighters in Oregon and other locations are increasingly using technology to streamline dispatching, map fires, communicate, detect fires, and enhance situational awareness. An article at the Mail Tribune covers advances in fire detection, drones, mapping, and satellite imagery. Below are two excerpts.

…It’s called the detection center, and ODF employees who man its viewing stations are constantly on the lookout for just-sparked wildfires.

“Typically, what we’re looking for are slight movements,” [Chris] James says while gesturing at a bank of monitors that displays multiple views of the region’s hazy, forested landscape.

Each monitor contains four pictures that rotate through on the screens and are spaced over time, giving ODF workers the ability to see fires.

“We’re looking at those pictures for any sign that we don’t recognize, that we haven’t seen before, and that keys us up on smoke,” says James, a detection center supervisor.

The Bureau of Land Management utilized drone technology for a variety of purposes, including infrared heat detection, mapping, and scouting certain areas of terrain for possible fire lines. Unrelated to surveillance — but no less interesting — the agency utilized some of the unmanned aircraft to haul in supplies. The drones also were used for burnout purposes, dropping ping pong balls … which triggered a chemical reaction that ignited the plastic spheres.

We checked with Gil Dustin who leads the Bureau of Land Management Unmanned Aircraft Systems program. He said the federal land management agencies have not used drones to haul supplies. The aircraft they have been flying can only carry a few pounds at most. One day they may be resupplying firefighters with drinking water, food, fire hose, pumps, and chain saw fuel, but we are not there yet.

Mr. Dustin said years down the road helibases are going to look very different compared to what we are seeing today.

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

Dozer rollover with injury, Sugar Pine Fire in Oregon

Rapid Lesson Sharing report

Dozer rollover
The dozer after rolling end over end down a steep 175-foot slope.

The description of a dozer rollover in a Rapid Lesson Sharing report indicates that the operator is lucky to be alive after the dozer tumbled end over end for 175 feet down a steep slope. In spite of the serious injuries, several things contributed to getting the patient to a hospital in one hour and 40 minutes in the middle of the night, including having a paramedic and a stokes litter nearby.

The accident occurred on the Sugar Pine Fire 11 air miles northwest of Prospect, Oregon.

There have been too many incidents involving dozers this summer. They are tagged “dozer” here on Wildfire today.

Below is the narrative from the RLS report. The full document with successes and lessons can be downloaded HERE.


On July 30, 2018 at 1:04 a.m., approximately one mile northwest of DP 25, a dozer slipped off the edge of a logging road and tumbled down end-over-end, 175 feet to the bottom of a ravine.

A Paramedic, fireline overhead, and a hand crew quickly responded to the accident site.

Within approximately five minutes, the Paramedic and a crew member were on scene conducting patient evaluation and providing medical treatment. The patient had a broken hip, ribs, and head lacerations.

The fire overhead directed crew members to cut a switchback trail to the bottom of the hill where the Paramedic was treating the patient. The patient was assessed/stabilized/packaged and transported in a Stokes basket to the top of the hill. Crews then loaded him into a vehicle for transport to a waiting ambulance.

The Deputy IC, Unit Medical Leader located in the communications tent had directed the ambulance to meet the truck with the patient on a nearby paved road. When the truck arrived, the patient was quickly transferred to the back of the ambulance then transported to the Medford Medical Center.

After the patient was evaluated, he was transported via Life Flight and admitted to Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

(end of excerpt from report)


dozer rollover
3-D map of the general area where the dozer rolled down the slope.

Water tender rollover on the South Umpqua Complex

It occurred July 26, 2018

In searching for a report about the rollover of a dozer transport, I ran across this very brief “24-hour preliminary report” about a water tender rollover. It occurred July 26, 2018 on the South Umpqua Complex on the “Umpqua National Forest and Medford BLM”. There is no indication that a Rapid Lesson Sharing report is being prepared.

Below is the text from the report, dated July 27, 2018:


Location: South Umpqua Complex, Umpqua National Forest and Medford BLM
Date of Occurrence: July 26, 2018
Time of Occurrence: Approximately 2400
Activity: Wildland Fire Suppression
Number of Injuries: 0
Number of Fatalities: 0
Property Damage: damage to non-federal contract operated water tender
Narrative: A water tender assigned to the South Umpqua Complex Fire was traveling on an unpaved road and rolled backwards off the road resulting in the vehicle rolling on its side. The vehicle came to a rest on the driver’s side. There was only one crew member, that individual was transported back to base camp. There were no injuries.

Firefighter on Terwilliger Fire critically injured in hit-and-run incident

The fire is burning between Eugene and Bend in Oregon. 

Above: A K-MAX helicopter drops water on the Terwilliger Fire in Oregon, September 1, 2018. InciWeb photo.

A firefighter sustained critical injuries Monday September 3 in a hit-and-run accident while assigned to the Terwilliger Fire in Oregon. The incident occurred on Highway 126 near the Tokatee Golf Course.

Below is an excerpt from an article at KEZI:

…Police said John S. Houdeshell, 71, of Yreka, Calif., was crossing the highway when he was struck by a silver or metallic gray Chevy Astro Van or similar looking vehicle traveling westbound.

Officers say Houdeshell sustained critical injuries and was transported by air ambulance to Sacred Heart Medical Center at River Bend in Springfield.

Fire officials said he was a water tender driver who was off duty at the time…

The Terwilliger Fire has burned about 9,500 acres between Eugene and Bend in Oregon.

Below is an updated on September 5, 2018 from the Incident Management Team.

Yesterday’s [September 4] weather conditions optimized firing operations and crews were able to strengthen containment lines on the northwest and southwest flanks. To the northwest, crews completed containment line from Forest Service Road (FS) 1986 down to FS19, while helicopters provided bucket support to wet the exterior of the fire perimeter reducing spotting potential.

On the northeast side, the fire advanced toward the FS1993 as crews removed flammable materials and set up hose line. To the south, some group tree torching occurred and crews worked to close firelines from FS140 to FS100. A structure assessment plan has been completed for the Highway 126 corridor and Kings Road.

landslide Terwilliger Fire Oregon
Landslide on USFS Road 19 at the Terwilliger Fire in Oregon. Undated InciWeb Photo.

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

Oregon firefighter dies after returning from a fire

20-year-old Eric Aarseth passed away Monday, September 3, 2018.

Below is an excerpt from an article at KEZI.com posted September 3, 2018:


Springfield, Ore. — A Eugene wildland firefighter has died after he suffered irreversible brain damage after contracting pneumonia, which became septic.

The family of 20-year-old Eric Aarseth tells ABC News just a day after he came home last Monday [August 27] he was found unconscious in his apartment. Eric was taken to PeaceHealth Riverbend Hospital in Springfield. Eric’s family said they’ve made the difficult choice to take him off life support.

Kellie Mathews, a spokesperson for Miller Timber services, tells KEZI 9 Eric passed away Monday afternoon [September 3, 2018].

Eric worked for Miller Timber Service. Mathews said this was Eric’s first year as a firefighter and he battled the Garner Complex Fire in southern Oregon and the Horns Mountain Fire in Washington.

“We’re heartbroken for the family and friends of our firefighter, Eric Aarseth,” said Lee Miller, President of Miller Timber Services in a statement. “It’s devastating to lose any member of our team and Eric seemed to have found his passion and purpose on the fire line.”

“We take our responsibility to our firefighters seriously and I’m confident we did our best for Eric,” Miller said. “In order to ensure we continue to take good care of our employees, we plan to review our training and support materials, fire line resources, and protocols.”

(end of excerpt)


We send our sincere condolences to the friends, family, and co-workers of Mr. Aarseth.

Two water tender rollovers

One was on the Miles Fire in Oregon and the other was on the Ferguson Fire in California

Two water tenders rolled over while working on wildfires in California and Oregon earlier this month. According to the very brief Rapid Lesson Sharing reports filed with the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, there were no serious injuries. No assumptions were made about the cause of either accident, and road conditions were not mentioned as being an issue.

The first occurred on the Ferguson Fire in California August 10, 2018. The brief report can be downloaded here.

water tender rollover Ferguson Fire California
August 10, 2018 rollover of a water tender on the Ferguson Fire in California. Photo from Rapid Lesson Sharing report.

The other rollover occurred two days later on August 12 on the Miles Fire in Oregon. (brief report)

water tender rollover Miles Fire Oregon
August 12, 2018 rollover of a water tender on the Miles Fire in Oregon. Photo from Rapid Lesson Sharing report.

This is one of 51 articles we have written on Wildfire Today about rollovers of vehicles on wildland fires. They occur far too often.

It is not always possible to point to a single cause of many of these sometimes fatal accidents. But challenges facing drivers of emergency vehicles on wildland fires include visibility due to smoke or dust, long hours leading to fatigue, low standard or inadequately maintained roads, distractions, skills needed to drive a large heavy vehicle, top-heavy vehicles, weights exceeding manufacturer’s GVW rating, and shifting of weight caused by partial loads of water in the tank.

Of the 440 fatalities on wildland fires from 1990 through 2014, 22 percent were related to vehicle accidents.

The Rapid Lesson Sharing report for the accident on the Miles Fire reached this conclusion:

Statistics show that the biggest risk to firefighters today is the mundane task of driving to and from the worksite. Often, the function of driving is accompanied by fatigue from the day’s events and thoughts of what is yet to come.

Water Tender operators are asked to drive large, heavy vehicles in variable conditions repeatedly for multiple operational shifts. Just like line firefighters, these professional drivers must fight fatigue and complacency from the beginning of an assignment to its end.