OSHA reveals more about the fatality on the Fort Jackson prescribed fire

Wildfire Today obtained the information through a FOIA request

Nicole Hawkins
Nicole Hawkins, the wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson’s Directorate of Public Works Environmental Department, Wildlife Branch, checked an endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and prepared to put him in the hand-made artificial cavity box 20 feet up in a tree at Fort Jackson Nov. 6, 2015. The bird was relocated from Shaw Air Force Base. (U.S. Army file photo by Jennifer Stride/Released)

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Wildfire Today has produced more information about the death of Nicole Hawkins, a wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson in South Carolina who died while working on a prescribed fire at the Army base May 22, 2019. She had worked as a civilian at the base since 2007, with much of her time spent in helping to bring back an endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the techniques used to improve the bird’s habitat is the use of prescribed fire. She was 45 at the time and the mother of two pre-teen sons.

The FOIA was filed with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one of five entities investigating the fatality.

OSHA determined that Ms. Hawkins was a member of a six-person squad conducting the prescribed fire that day. The others were from the Department of Defense and contractors from Whitetail Environmental, LLC.

After a 10 a.m. briefing followed by a successful test burn they began ignition at 10:30 a.m. OSHA’s information reports that at that time the skies were fair, the temperature was 90 degrees, and there was a 5 mph wind out of the southeast. At noon a weather station at Congaree, SC about 10 miles to the southeast recorded 91 degrees, 55 percent relative humidity, winds  out of the west at 1 mph gusting to 7 mph, and fuel temperature of 108 degrees.

Ms. Hawkins was operating a Yamaha All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) equipped with a “power torch” made by Hayes Manufacturing. ATV torches are commonly used for igniting prescribed fires and burnouts on  wildfires. They pump a small stream of a diesel/gasoline mixture through a nozzle where it is ignited. The fuel lands on the ground while still burning and ignites vegetation. The NWCG Standards for Ground Ignition Equipment (Feb. 2019) lists Hayes Manufacturing as one of five sources for ATV torches.

ATV torch
File photo. Example of an ATV torch used by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. It  may have been manufactured by a different company than the one being used at Fort Jackson. USFWS photo.

Most of the time Ms. Hawkins was paired with another worker. But occasionally on prescribed fires on the base one member would go off out of sight to do something quick and come right back.

Ms. Hawkins said over the radio that she was going to light around one of the red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees and would be right back. It is not clear what time she said that, but at 11:30 a.m. the others knew she was working on that task and “all were in communication with each other for the next few minutes”, according to the information from OSHA.

At 12:14 p.m. she came on the radio and stated she was heading out of the burn area. One of the other firefighters parked his truck on the route she would be taking to wait for her.

At 12:23 p.m. the  firefighters noticed a column of black smoke which was different from the white smoke normally produced by the prescribed fire. At 12:28 p.m. Ms. Hawkins did not respond to radio calls.

One of the workers found Ms. Hawkins on the ground next to her ATV, which were both on fire. She was presumed dead, according to OSHA. The period in which she last contacted anyone on the radio until the discovery of her body was 13 minutes. The dark smoke was seen 8 minutes after her last communication.

OSHA did not determine what caused the accident. A preliminary  autopsy performed on May 23, 2019 by the Armed Forces Medical  Examiner revealed no signs of trauma other than the injuries sustained from the fire. Their report also stated that they would not determine a cause and manner of death until receiving the toxicology results. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division found no criminal activity associated with the fatality.

The  radios the firefighters carried on chest harnesses had “man down” buttons which when pressed and held for two seconds would notify the Fort Jackson Fire Department that there was an emergency and it would provide the location from an internal GPS receiver. However the “man down” system had been deactivated for several weeks after several false alarms. Following the fatality it was turned back on, an action that was recommended by OSHA.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also investigating the incident. It is likely that they will thoroughly look into the  cause of the fire that engulfed Ms. Hawkins and the ATV, to determine if she was entrapped and overcome by the spread of the prescribed fire, or if there was an incident related to the ATV torch.

OSHA found that the fuel mix used by Fort Jackson personnel that day was 50/50, gasoline/diesel.

In 2002 the National Wildfire Coordinating  Group sent a message to the field after a firefighter was burned when flames erupted after removing the spout assembly from a drip torch that had just been extinguished. It contained approximately 35% gasoline and 65% diesel or 1 gallon of gasoline for every 1.9 gallons of diesel. In the message written by Wesley Throop, a Mechanical Engineer at the U.S. Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center, he stated:

The most volatile mixture authorized by the agency is 1 gallon of gasoline to 3 gallons of diesel. Use of this mixture carries the following warning the agency’s health and safety handbook: “Caution: 1 gallon of gasoline to 3 gallons of diesel fuel produces a very volatile mixture. This mix should be used only in appropriate fuel types and during periods of high humidity.”

The U.S. Fish  & Wildlife service’s Standard Operating Procedure for the Mountain Prairie  Area states: “The correct fuel mixture for the refuge’s ATV mounted torch is 1 part gasoline and 3 parts diesel fuel.”

An article written by Amanda Stamper for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center published on March 14, 2017 also addresses the drip torch fuel mix.

More diesel than gasoline is perhaps the only cardinal rule when it comes to mix ratio, with somewhere between 3:1 and 4:1 [diesel to gas] being the most common.

On October 18 OSHA issued a Notice of Unsafe and Unhealthful Working Conditions to Fort Jackson. It stated that the Army base did not furnish “a place of employment free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm, in that employees were exposed to burn hazards associated with control burning of forest vegetation.” And, on the day of the fatality Fort Jackson failed to ensure that employees “were protected from fire hazards while igniting or controlling the burn areas.”

OSHA suggested that Fort Jackson develop a mandatory procedure for igniting burns that includes use of a tracking system so that employees could be easily located.

OSHA finds “serious violations” concerning fatality during prescribed fire in South Carolina

The agency stated, the Army did not furnish “a place of employment free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm”

Nicole Hawkins
Nicole Hawkins, the wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson’s Directorate of Public Works Environmental Department, sets up an artificial cavity box 20 feet up in a tree at Fort Jackson Nov. 6, 2015 in preparation for a soon-to-be arriving endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. (U.S. Army photo by Jennifer Stride/Released)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, found what the agency called “serious violations” after investigating the death of a wildlife biologist at Fort Jackson Army Base in South Carolina.

Angela (Nicole) Chadwick-Hawkins was killed while she was working on a prescribed fire at Fort Jackson May 22, 2019. Little information about the fatality has been released by the Army such as the mechanism of injury or cause of death. Family members have said she was found with fuel on her body near a burned all terrain vehicle that she had been operating.

ATVs are often used on prescribed fires for transportation, to haul supplies, or as a platform for an ignition device.

Eric Lucero, a Public Affairs Specialist with the Department of Labor, said OSHA’s Violation Notice stated that Fort Jackson did not furnish “a place of employment free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm, in that employees were exposed to burn hazards associated with control burning of forest vegetation.” And, on the day of the fatality Fort Jackson failed to ensure that employees “were protected from fire hazards while igniting or controlling the burn areas.”

OSHA suggested that Fort Jackson develop a mandatory procedure for igniting burns that includes use of a tracking system so that employees could be easily located.

OSHA did not impose a monetary fine on Fort Jackson or the Army but they required that the violations be abated by November 14, 2019. A person outside of OSHA who is familiar with the incident told us the violations have been abated.

In addition to OSHA, at least four other entities have been conducting investigations about the fatality, including:

  1. An internal Fort Jackson inquiry,
  2. Army Criminal Investigations Division (CID). (The CID automatically investigates most fatalities on Army bases, so their involvement does not necessarily mean criminal activity was suspected.)
  3. Army Safety Office, and
  4. U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Ms. Hawkins, a mother of three, had worked as a civilian at the base since 2007, with much of her time spent helping to bring back an endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the techniques used to improve the bird’s habitat is the use of prescribed fire.

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

Report released on the entrapment of firefighter and two civilians on Kincade Fire

The three people shared one fire shelter as the fire burned around them

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, has released a Green Sheet, or preliminary report, on the October 25, 2019 entrapment of one firefighter and two civilians. It occurred on the Kincade fire northeast of Geyserville, California about 43 hours after the fire started.

In mid-afternoon a Division Supervisor was scouting his division and searching for firefighters who he had been told were not wearing their Nomex wildland fire jackets. He turned his SUV off Pine Flat Road onto Circle 8 Lane, an unpaved road that reaches a dead end 1.5 air miles from Pine Flat Road.

map Kincade Fire entrapment deployment
3-D map showing the approximate location of the entrapment of three people on the Kincade Fire, October 25, 2019.

Later, seeing that the fire intensity had increased and crossed the road behind him, he realized that he was in imminent danger and decided to ride it out near an old cabin. A dozer operator had already cleared a line around the structure as as well as a line from the road downhill to the drainage.

Below is an excerpt from the Green Sheet as well as more maps, photos, and a video. The Division Supervisor is identified as “DIVS1”.

Continue reading “Report released on the entrapment of firefighter and two civilians on Kincade Fire”

Draft report released for the Woolsey Fire has 94 recommendations

The fire burned over 96,000 acres and destroyed 1,600 structures in southern California in November, 2018

Above: Progression map of the Woolsey Fire, November 17, 2018. Perimeters produced by the Incident Management Team. Adapted by Wildfire Today.

A draft After Action Review was released by Los Angeles County that details some of the issues that affected the management and suppression of the Woolsey Fire that destroyed 1,600 structures and burned nearly 97,000 acres.

When fire started at about 2 p.m. on November 8, 2018 the humidity was five percent and the wind was gusting out of the north and northeast at 40 to 50 mph. At 5:15 the next morning, Friday November 9, it jumped the 12-lane 101 freeway and before noon it ran for another six miles to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of about 15 miles from the point where it started 22 hours before.

Thursday November 8 was a busy day in California. Just before midnight the night before there was a mass shooting incident leaving 12 dead at a bar in Thousand Oaks, just west of where the fire was hours later. The Camp Fire started early Thursday morning wiping out much of Paradise in northern California before noon. Then the Hill Fire started at about 1 p.m. south of Thousand Oaks about 13 miles southwest of where the Woolsey Fire started an hour later. The Hill Fire eventually burned over 4,500 acres and required the evacuation of 17,000 residents. While firefighters were still initially responding to the Hill Fire the Woolsey Fire ignited at about 2 p.m. Strike teams of engines and crews were already en route to northern California, so right away there was competition for firefighting resources with three major fires burning simultaneously in the state.

The Woolsey Fire started in Ventura County but spread into Los Angeles County. Very large portions of the blaze were in both counties, testing the capabilities of LA City, LA County, and the Ventura County Fire Department. The report states that even though the three organizations “regularly plan for and practice their response to a large fire in the region, they could not have planned for a complete exhaustion of California’s limited firefighting resources brought on by a regional wildfire weather threat in conjunction with the Camp Fire, a mass casualty shooting in Ventura County, and the Ventura County Hill Fire, which began just before the Woolsey Fire started.”

With large numbers of firefighting resources committed to the three major fires, and with the dry, windy weather continuing, many agencies had to think hard about continuing to send more and more firefighters to the Hill and Woolsey Fires in case more incidents broke out. Approximately half the resource orders for the Woolsey Fire were UTF, Unable to Fill.

The fire presented a number of complexities, according to the report:

  • The location and topography, which presented severe challenges for initial attack.
  • The early November sunset, which grounded non-night-flying aircraft.
  • Early and mid-evening wind shifts when the fire was still outside heavily populated areas.
  • The fire’s crossing of the 12-lane Highway 101 before dawn on Friday.
  • The defense of both sides of the populated areas along Highway 101 consumed fire attack resources just as the fire began the run to Malibu.
  • Very limited initial resources in Malibu Friday morning due to fire ferocity and fire- or wind-caused road damage blocking Santa Monica Mountain and Malibu roads, including evacuation routes.

In Los Angeles County 1,075 homes and 46 commercial structures were destroyed. Approximately 57,000 structures were saved.

The After Action Review was written by a consulting firm, Citygate Associates of Folsom, California. The draft 204-page document has 155 findings and 94 recommendations, including:

  • Improve methods and tools for communicating with the public.
  • There was not a clear, single, comprehensive voice speaking to evacuation, and not all notification tools were used or used often enough.
  • There was an over-reliance on Twitter; care must also be taken to account for the digital divide in which not everyone is on Twitter or even the internet.
  • Entry and repopulation policies were not well briefed to checkpoints or the public.
  • There is a need for greater inter-agency pre-incident evacuation and repopulation planning for the communities in Fire Hazard Severity Zones. No pre-prepared traffic evacuation plans/scenarios exist for the areas impacted by the Woolsey Fire. Evacuation plans also need corresponding repopulation plans at the earliest moment.
  • The following are needed to improve situational awareness: Research and investment in emerging technologies to reduce the “fog of war”. Increased practice, procedures, and technologies in melding the large County agency DOCs and Incident Management Teams (IMTs) into a virtual unified command, as if they were in one physical location, to reduce lag time in fast-tempo, complicated decisions. Real-time display of fire perimeter, hazards, actions, shelters, and evacuation orders for public consumption.
  • Improve coordination of multiple-agency emergency public messages.
  • Increase the speed and use of all alerting tools in wide-area, fast-paced disasters.
  • Address the impact of long-distance fire storm ember spotting through education and an emphasis on using layered buffer zones of appropriate defensible space and structure hardening techniques.
  • Encourage the major fire departments in the area to evaluate creating a sub-regional (three county) Multiple-Agency Coordination and Control Center within the State mutual aid system that will utilize technology to enhance situational awareness and create a shared, real-time intelligence, information, and command center on a round-the-clock basis. This concept should further existing agreements and enhance the ability of agencies to work collaboratively during the first one to two days of a catastrophic disaster, for the common welfare, at a pace faster than the Statewide mutual aid system can provide.

The county expects to hold at least two public meetings to present the report and solicit public input.

The Draft Woolsey Fire AAR is a very large 22 Mb file.

Click here to see all articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Woolsey Fire.”

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

Report released for a firefighter fatality in Texas

Occurred on a wildfire in March, 2018

Texas LODD firefighter 2018 map
The initial firefighting operations with Grass 5-1 and Grass 5-2. The green
arrows indicate the direction of travel for the brush trucks. The red arrow is the
direction the fire is traveling. The time is approximately 1124 hours. (NIOSH)

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has released a report about a 68-year old firefighter that died from burn injuries while fighting a grass fire in Texas last year.

“Firefighter A” was one of three firefighters on a Brush Truck, Grass 5-1, that was initial attacking a grass fire on March 10, 2018 that was burning in two to three foot high Little Bluestem grass. He was riding on an open side step behind the cab when he fell off and was overrun by the fire. The firefighter was flown to a burn center but passed away March 23, 2018.

Below is an excerpt from the report:


“Grass 5-1 began attacking the fire from the burned “black” area. Grass 5-1 was attempting to extinguish the fire in the tree line and fence line while moving north. A bulldozer was operating north of Grass 5-1. A citizen was operating a private bulldozer independent of the fire department operations. The bulldozer was attempting to cut a fire break in the very northern part of the property ahead of the fire.

“Grass 5-2 arrived on scene at 1121 hours. Another fire fighter from Fire Station 5 had responded in his POV to the scene. He got in the cab of Grass 5-2 at the tank dam. Grass 5-2 went east in the field towards the fence line. The grass fire was near the POV owned by Fire Fighter “B” on Grass 5-1. Grass 5-2 extinguished the fire around the POV and moved north towards Grass 5-1.

“Grass 5-1 reached the head of the fire and lost sight of the bulldozer. The driver/operator of Grass 5-1 attempted to turn around and the wind shifted, causing the smoke to obscure his vision. The driver/operator inadvertently turned into the unburned grass. The driver/operator described the grass as two to three feet tall. The time was approximately 1124 hours.

“The wind shift caused the fire to head directly toward Grass 5-1. Grass 5-1 Fire Fighter “B” advised the driver/operator to stop because they were dragging the “red line” (booster line). Fire Fighter “A” and Fire Fighter “B” exited the vehicle to retrieve the hoseline. The driver/operator told them to “forget the line” and get back in the truck. Fire Fighter “B” entered the right side (passenger) side step and Fire Fighter “A” got back on Grass 5-1 on the side step behind the driver. Fire Fighter “A” had a portion of the red line over his shoulder. When the driver accelerated to exit the area, Fire Fighter “A” was pulled from the apparatus by the red line that remained on the ground due to the gate not being properly latched. Fire Fighter “B” started pounding on the cab of Grass 5-1 to get the driver/operator to stop the apparatus. Grass 5-1 traveled approximately 35 – 45 feet before the driver/operator stopped the apparatus. The time was approximately 1127 hours.

“When Fire Fighter “A” fell off of Grass 5-1, he fell into a hole about 6 – 12 inches deep and was overrun by the fire. The driver/operator and Fire Fighter “B” found Fire Fighter “A” in the fire and suffering from burns to his face, arms and hands, chest, and legs. They helped Fire Fighter “A” into the cab of Grass 5-1 with assistance from the two fire fighters on Grass 5-2. The driver/operator of Grass 5-1 advised the County Dispatch Center of a “man down”. Once Fire Fighter “A” was in the cab of Grass 5-1, the driver/operator drove Grass 5-1 to the command post, which was located near Tanker 5. Fire Fighter “B” was riding the right step position behind the cab of Grass 5-1. The time was approximately 1129 hours. At 1131 hours, the County Dispatch Center dispatched a county medic unit (Medic 2) to the scene for an injured fire fighter.”


Texas LODD firefighter 2018 side step
The side step position on Grass 5-1 showing the gate latching
mechanism and the short hoselines on each sided of the apparatus
(NIOSH Photo.)

Instead of wearing the fire resistant brush gear or turnout gear he had been issued, Firefighter A was wearing jeans, a tee shirt, and tennis shoes.

Contributing factors and key recommendations from the report:

Contributing Factors

  • Lack of personal protective equipment
  • Apparatus design
  • Lack of scene size-up
  • Lack of situational awareness
  • Lack of training for grass/brush fires
  • Lack of safety zone and escape route
  • Radio communications issues due to incident location

Key Recommendations

  • Fire departments should ensure fire fighters who engage in wildland firefighting wear personal protective equipment that meets NFPA 1977, Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Firefighting
  • Fire departments should comply with the requirements of NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program for members riding on fire apparatus

The report referred to an August 17, 2017 tentative interim amendment to NFPA 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus, 2016 edition with an effective date of September 4, 2017.

“NFPA 1906 Paragraph 14.1.1 now reads, “Each crew riding position shall be within a fully enclosed personnel area.”

“A.14.1.1 states, “Typically, while engaged in firefighting operations on structural fires, apparatus are positioned in a safe location, and hose is extended as necessary to discharge water or suppressants on the combustible material.” In wildland fire suppression, mobile attack is often utilized in addition to stationary pumping. In mobile attack, sometimes referred to as “pump-and-roll,” water is discharged from the apparatus while the vehicle is in motion. Pump-and-roll operations are inherently more dangerous than stationary pumping because the apparatus and personnel are in close proximity to the fire combined with the additional exposure to hazards caused by a vehicle in motion, often on uneven ground. The personnel and/or apparatus could thus be more easily subject to injury or damage due to accidental impact, rollover, and/or environmental hazards, including burn over.

“To potentially mitigate against the increased risk inherent with pump-and-roll operations, the following alternatives are provided for consideration: (1) Driver and fire fighter(s) are located inside the apparatus in a seated, belted position within the enclosed cab. Water is discharged via a monitor or turret that is controlled from within the apparatus.
(2) Driver and fire fighter(s) are located inside the apparatus in a seated, belted position within the enclosed cab, but water is discharged with a short hose line or hard line out an open cab window.
(3) Driver is located inside the apparatus in a seated, belted position within the enclosed cab with one or more fire fighters seated and belted in the on-board pump-and-roll firefighting position as described in a following section.
(4) Driver is located inside the apparatus in a seated, belted position within the enclosed cab. Firefighter(s) is located outside the cab, walking alongside the apparatus, in clear view of the driver, discharging water with a short hose line.

“Under no circumstances is it ever considered a safe practice to ride standing or seated on the exterior of the apparatus for mobile attack other than seated and belted in an on-board pump-and-roll firefighting position. [2016b].”

Report released on 120,000-acre fire in Utah

Bald Mountain and Pole Creek Fires south of Provo in 2018

Pole Creek Bald Mountain Fires
Pole Creek-Bald Mountain Fires. Photo from the report.

The Bald Mountain and Pole Creek Fires started last year on August 24 and September 6 respectively about 15 miles south of Provo, Utah in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Both fires were initially managed in a less than full suppression mode — allowed to spread within lines drawn on a map. Rainfall amounts ranging from 1.3″ to 2.3″ on August 25 put a damper on the fire activity, but within days the Energy Release Component had returned to the 90+ percentile range. Meanwhile the area had been classified as in Severe Drought by the Drought Monitor.

The weather changed on September 10, bringing strong winds and a series of Red Flag Warnings causing the two fires to burn together. The final size was 120,851 acres.

Map Utah Pole Creek - Bald Mountain Fire
Map of the Pole Creek – Bald Mountain Fire. Wildfire Today

The Bald Mountain Fire caused mandatory evacuation of two cities: Elk Ridge and Woodland Hills. The Pole Creek Fire triggered mandatory evacuations for the Covered Bridge Community of the Spanish Fork Canyon along with the Diamond Fork Canyon and the Right Fork Hobble Creek Canyon areas.

Below are excerpts from a Facilitated Learning Analysis recently released:


First WFDSS Decision

Late afternoon on August 24, the District Ranger wrote a Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) decision for the Bald Mountain Fire, which was then at 0.1 acre in size. This decision was published on August 27 at 1018 hours. Based on map estimates, the planning area boundary was 3,280 acres.

The relative risk was determined to be low, as were the probability of a significant event or extreme fire conditions. A Type 4 organization was determined as appropriate for staffing. The course of action recorded in WFDSS was to: “Allow fire to burn to north, northeast and east. However, consider and allow suppression actions on the southwest and southern boundaries to prevent fire from reaching private lands and minimizing the need to close the Mona Pole Road. Fire behavior may dictate a different outcome, but where management of the fire through suppression or other tactics allow for steering the fire in the right direction, implement those.”

[…]

Fire managers assessed the opportunity to take advantage of this fire to meet restoration objectives by taking into account such factors as: a lack of values at risk (campgrounds, private inholdings, power lines, etc.), the composition of the surrounding vegetation, time of year, remote location, recent precipitation, and potential hazards (standing dead trees, steep terrain, and loose rocks). They expected the fire to go out by itself like other recent fires on the Forest.

“We put the Bald Mountain Fire into monitor status due to issues with snags and associated safety concerns, but also because it was Wilderness where fire is OK as a natural process,” said the Zone Assistant Fire Management Officer/Duty Officer (ZAFMO/DO). “But firefighter safety was the primary driver for our decision.”

[…]

September 10

Shortly after 1400 hours, ICT4 called Dispatch, informing them that the winds had increased and the fire had aligned with the south fork of the drainage and was making a run. He requested that they order a Type 2 Incident Management Team (IMT) and multiple aviation resources. ICT4 was new to the Region but came from a high complexity forest with a heavy fire load. Where he was from, an order for a Type 2 Team and significant aviation resources would have been automatic.

Meanwhile, ZFMO had just left the fire an hour before, when it was still 25 acres. “When I hit the bottom of Nebo Loop [Road] I could hear clearly a Type 2 Team being ordered from the fire,” said ZFMO/DO, a long-time UWF employee who had also been a hotshot superintendent on a northern Utah crew. He thought, “We need to ‘pump the brakes’ on the team order.” He told ICT4, (also a qualified ICT3) to hold on until he could get a look at the fire.

At the time ICT4 was calling for a Type 2 Team, the Forest DO and Forest FMO were briefing the Forest Supervisor. Not knowing the details of the rapidly evolving situation and thinking the fire was approximately 75 acres, the Forest Supervisor asked the Forest DO to put a hold on the aircraft and Type 2 IMT. After the Forest Supervisor’s review of WFDSS, it didn’t make sense to take such aggressive suppression action. The fire was well within the planning area, meeting objectives, and not close to threatening values at risk (see Figure 13). Parts of the order for aircraft went through, however, and shortly thereafter a Type 1 Helicopter and some “Fire Bosses” (water-scooping single-engine air tankers) were on scene.

[…]

September 13

[…] At 0836, the Forest Supervisor canceled the Type 2 IMT and ordered a Type 1 IMT to assume command for both the Pole Creek and the Bald Mountain Fires. At 1030, ZFMO flew the fires with ICT3 and ICT3t. The flight was rough due to unstable air and high winds. Both fires were actively burning and had already formed columns. They witnessed extreme fire behavior along the Highway 89 corridor with ongoing firefighting efforts. ICT3 noted that the Pole Creek Fire would likely impact Highway 6. ZFMO contacted Forest DO and recommended that the Forest Supervisor order a second Type 1 Team for just the Bald Mountain Fire due to fire behavior, values at risk, and the complexities of both fires.

September 13: Bald Mountain IC Transitions

At approximately 0500, a local Fire Chief arrived on scene and tied-in with Bald Mountain IC. The Chief ordered three engines from his department. All resources on the Bald Mountain Fire were now engaged in evacuations.

[…]

The WFDSS for Pole Creek published on September 13 included these courses of action:

  • Only commit firefighters under conditions where firefighters can actually succeed in protecting identified values at risk.
  • Utilize direct and indirect tactics to fully suppress the fire. This action will take into account: first, risk and exposure to firefighters and the public; and second, the protection of identified values such as utility corridors and infrastructure, private structures, the railroad corridor, and the Highway 6 corridor.

The WFDSS for Bald Mountain published on September 13 included the previous courses of action for Pole Creek and added:

  • Assign a Public Information Officer in order to disseminate timely information to the public, partners, and cooperators, including local government and law enforcement. All closures and evacuations will be coordinated with the Utah County Sheriffs’ Office.
  • Agency Administrator approval is required prior to any mechanized tool use within the Nebo Wilderness Area. Outside the Wilderness, the full range of tools and tactics are authorized. Work with READ [Resource Advisor] to mitigate impacts and assess rehab needs

[…]

Lessons Learned by Participants of the Incidents

Preparedness

  • Reading the 7-10 day outlook along with the spot weather forecasts can assist in gaining a better long-term perspective, which may lead to making different decisions in long-term events.
  • Using the 10 risk questions in WFDSS can open our thinking to options we may not have considered. These questions could encourage us to more carefully consider a wider array of possible outcomes from the decisions we make.
  • Fire modelers and weather forecasters are able to make better predictions with accurate and timely field observations.
  • Collaboration with predictive services early in an incident around long-term outlooks may help fire decision-makers. They are constantly producing tools to help firefighters in the field.
  • “Normalization of deviance2” (also referred to as “practical drift”) led us to not consider the worst-case scenario. Without planning for the worst-case scenario, we are constantly behind the power curve.

Operations

  • Nighttime fire behavior surprised us, especially this late in the season. This experience showed that high winds can override cooler temperatures and still create extreme fire behavior late in the fire season.
  • Understanding the capability and capacity of your resources is critical to ensuring the probability of keeping your resources safe.