Report concludes fire tornado with 136+ mph winds contributed to a fatality on Carr Fire

Above: Fire tornado filmed by the Helicopter Coordinator on the Carr Fire July 26, 2018 near Redding, California. The video can be seen HERE.

A “Green Sheet” report on the two firefighter fatalities that occurred July 26, 2018 on the Carr Fire was released this week. Extreme fire behavior during a two-hour period led to a Redding Fire Inspector (FPI1) and a dozer operator (Dozer 1) being overrun by the fire and killed. The report concluded that FPI1, “suffered fatal traumatic injuries when entrapped in a fire tornado while engaged in community protection operations. Dozer 1 suffered fatal thermal injuries while he was improving fireline”, but the report did not say the entrapment was related to the fire tornado.

At times the media or the general public loosely throws around the term “fire tornado”, giving the name to fairly common much smaller fire whirls. But documented fire tornados are much larger, and usually a very destructive weather-induced fire phenomenon.

Below are excerpts from the Green Sheet report:


A large fire tornado was one of the primary causes of the entrapment and death of FPI1 on July 26, 2018. The fire tornado was a large rotating fire plume that was roughly 1000 feet in diameter at its base. tornado Fujita scaleWinds at the base of the fire tornado reached speeds in the range of 136-165 mph (EF-3 tornado strength), as indicated by wind damage to large oak trees, scouring of the ground surface, damage to roofs of houses, and lofting of large steel power line support towers, vehicles, and a steel marine shipping container within ½ mile of the entrapment site. The strong winds caused the fire to burn all live vegetation less than 1 inch in diameter and fully consume any dead biomass. Peak gas temperatures likely exceeded 2,700 °F.

Current understanding of how large fire tornados form and propagate suggests that necessary factors include high energy release rates, sources of vorticity (rotating air), and low to moderate general winds. All of these factors were present in the area of Buenaventura Boulevard on July 26. Observations from witnesses and other evidence suggest that either several fire tornados occurred at different locations and times, or one fire tornado formed and then periodically weakened and strengthened causing several separate damage areas.

[…]
(From page 8-9; Dozer 1 was improving a dozer line toward Spring Creek Reservoir)
At approximately 5:44 p.m., the fire jumped the top of the dozer line near the access road (picture 2). Multiple spot fires became established in the area. Approximately two minutes later, CREW1 Leader returned to the water treatment plant and asked where Dozer 1 was located. CREW1 Leader was told that Dozer 1 had proceeded down the dozer line. CREW1 Leader made several attempts over the radio to contact Dozer 1 in order to tell him to “get out of there”.

Two firefighters from a local government engine strike team were positioned near the top of the dozer line and recognized the urgency of the situation. They attempted to chase Dozer 1 on foot, but were unable to make access due to increasing fire activity.

CREW1 Leader was finally able to establish radio contact with Dozer 1. Dozer 1 stated he could not get out because he was cut off by the fire, and he would push down instead. Sometime between 5:46 p.m. and 5:50 p.m., radio traffic was heard from Dozer 1 that he was on a bench attempting to make a safety zone. Dozer 1 was also requesting water drops.

At approximately 5:50 p.m., a CAL FIRE Helicopter (Copter 1) began making numerous water drops through the smoke in and around Dozer 1’s last known location. Copter 1 notified the Helicopter Coordinator (HLCO) of Dozer 1’s situation, and HLCO assigned three more helicopters to drop water in the area. HLCO noticed a dramatic increase in fire behavior; however, the helicopters continued to make water drops as conditions worsened. At approximately 6:08 p.m., Copter 1 was forced to land due to a temperature warning light resulting from the high atmospheric temperatures. Approximately 30 minutes later, Copter 1 returned to service and continued to drop water on Dozer 1’s location.Carr Fire fatality report

Continue reading “Report concludes fire tornado with 136+ mph winds contributed to a fatality on Carr Fire”

Report issued on one of the devastating fires near Athens, Greece

Greece wildfire July 2018

A report has been issued about one of the wildfires that recently burned into populated areas in Greece (covered by Wildfire Today here). The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens distributed the document in their Newsletter of Environmental, Disaster, and Crisis Management Strategies.

The fire started July 23, 2018 near the community of Kallitehnoupolis on Penteli Mountain, approximately 20km (12 miles) northeast of Athens and 5.6 km (3.5 miles) west of the Aegean Sea. With the extreme weather conditions it spread quickly east to Kallitechnoulopis, Neos Voutzas, Rafina, and reached Mati where it finally stopped at the coast.

The Fire Service responded, sending 60 personnel in  24 vehicles, 2 ground forces teams, 3 Canadair scooping air tankers, and a helicopter.

Pushed by strong winds out of the west the fire ran 5.6 km (3.5 miles) in about 90 minutes, moving through a densely populated area frequented by tourists.

From the report:

The aftermath is tragic. The fire burned approximately 1,276 ha (3,153 acres), estimated from satellite data. Within the area, there are approximately 1,220 totally destroyed buildings (according to official inspections) and 305 burned vehicles. The days following the event, the authorities recovered at least 91 bodies from the scene (updated July 31, 2018 at 11.00am). Several missing persons were reported and tens of injured (approximately 200 at some point) were transferred to nearby hospitals.

The wind speeds recorded by a network of weather stations were the highest seen during the summer months in the last eight years, with gusts of 100 to 120 km/hour (62 to 74 mph).

The rapid spread of the fire and with little effective notification, the residents and tourists in the communities in its path and the densely populated city of Mati had little chance to escape. The report said, “The population had almost zero time between risk awareness and reaction decision”.

Greece wildfire July 2018Many got in their vehicles and drove away from the blaze toward the coast. They encountered urban planning, or the lack of it, that included narrow streets, numerous dead ends, elongated blocks without the possibility of lateral escape, and the absence of areas that could serve as safety zones. The visiting tourists who were often not very familiar with the layout of the streets were at a particular disadvantage. The low visibility due to the smoke was another challenge. Continue reading “Report issued on one of the devastating fires near Athens, Greece”

Report released for entrapments on Horse Park Fire

Above: photo from the report.

Additional information has been released about the entrapments that occurred on the Horse Park Fire May 27 in a remote area of Southwest Colorado. Earlier we posted two videos that were shot when firefighters hurriedly retreated as the fire advanced, plus information from a “72-hour report”.

Now a 56-page Facilitated Learning Analysis and a 12-minute video are available that break down the incident in even more detail.

To very briefly summarize what happened, while scouting a road for a potential burnout operation, a hotshot crew superintendent and foreman encounter a wall of flames and attempt to retreat. Their truck becomes stuck, forcing them to flee on foot, narrowly escaping the rapidly advancing fire front. Just as they reach safety, they learn that their crew lookout is missing. After nearly 40 agonizing minutes, the lead plane pilot locates her after she ignited an escape fire. It is a compelling story, which is pretty well summed up in this video.

The 56-page report only has one recommendation:Recommendation horse park fire

More information released about near miss on Horse Park Fire

Above: The truck that became stuck as the driver attempted to turn it around. The report describes it as “fire damaged”. Photo from the report.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have released more details about the near miss that occurred on the Horse Park Fire May 27 in a remote area of Southwest Colorado. The report disclosed that in addition to the two firefighters that had to flee from a stuck truck, a lookout in another location also fled on foot and ignited an escape fire at a potential fire shelter deployment site as the fire approached. According to the information released there were no injuries.

Below is the narrative from the “72 Hour Preliminary Report”:


“Two crew members were scouting a road for a potential burnout operation when their truck became stuck. They were unable to free the truck before the fire began to overtake them. The crewmembers made the decision to abandon the truck and take their gear with them. They fled back down the road and away from the fire. One crew member ran ahead and made it safely back to the other vehicles. The other crew member dropped his pack, keeping his fire shelter and radio with him. An additional crew member came up the road on a UTV to help him escape. The pair drove to the parking area where the other crew members were waiting in the vehicles.

“Meanwhile, the crew lookout was forced to flee from the lookout position by the same advance of the fire. Given the fire behavior, the lookout did not feel it was possible to outpace the fire and make it back to the vehicles, so instead moved down and away from the fire. The lookout dropped their pack, but kept the fire shelter, a tool, and radio. At some point during the escape, the lookout realized that the antennae was no longer attached to the radio and there was no way to communicate with the crew or other resources. After moving a considerable distance down a drainage, the lookout found a grassy spot that appeared suitable to deploy a shelter, and began lighting the fuels in the area. Before deployment was necessary, aerial resources located the lookout, who was picked up and flown back to the parking area to rejoin the crew.

“There were no injuries as a result of this incident. An Interagency FLA team, is in place and reviewing the incident.”

firefighter's burned pack Horse Park Fire
A firefighter’s burned pack. Photo from the report.

Videos recorded during the incident show firefighters hurriedly moving to safety while a radio conversation can be heard referring to the firefighters who escaped and the vehicle that was damaged.

All articles on Wildfire Today about the Horse Park Fire.

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

After action report completed for last year’s wildfires near Hutchinson, Kansas

Above: Wildfires detected by a satellite March 7, 2017 in the Hutchinson, KS and Enid, OK area. NASA.

Reno County in Kansas has completed an after action report (AAR) regarding the wildfires that occurred in March, 2017. One of the largest blazes was north of Hutchinson, which is about 40 air miles northwest of Wichita. While those fires were active, hundreds of thousands of acres were also burning around the Texas/Oklahoma panhandle/Kansas border area.

Before we get into the AAR, one thing to keep in mind about Kansas, which we covered April 2, 2017, is that according to the Wichita Eagle:

The state’s forest service is the smallest and lowest funded of any in the country – which puts people and property in danger. Consider the difference in resources and responses between Kansas and Oklahoma:
–The Kansas Forest Service budget in 2016 was about $3 million, with $1 million dedicated to fire service; Oklahoma’s budget was $15 million, with $8 million for fire service.
–The Kansas Forest Service has three trucks and four employees dedicated to firefighting and fire prevention; Oklahoma has 47 fire engines, 47 bulldozers and 84 firefighters.

The AAR was compiled by Deputy Fire Chief Doug Hanen, with the assistance of Emergency Management Director Adam Weishaar and Sheriff Randy Henderson. The 30-page report concluded that generally the work performed on the fires by numerous agencies was positive and commendable, but there was room for improvement.

Here are some of the highlights of the review:

  • There is a need for smaller fire apparatus that can get into areas not accessible by 6-by-6 military surplus engines.
  • A Polaris side-by-side UTV  holding 75 gallons was very useful for mop up, especially in wet areas. They hope to obtain at least one more.
  • On days with a Red Flag Warning, they will now immediately dispatch at least three brush engines.
  • In order to help manage the span of control, the Hutchinson Fire Department will organize resources into Task Forces comprised of three brush engines, one water tender, and a Task Force Leader.
  • The firefighters in Reno County for the last two years have increasingly used backfire and burnout tactics, and more engines are carrying drip torches.
  • The Hutchinson Fire Department became the first fully-paid department in Kansas to have all of their firefighters red carded. This will enable them to send resources out of the state, for example, to Colorado or California.
  • The Kansas State Incident Management Team provided assistance for a day, but they “seemed overwhelmed by a moving event,” were “inexperienced…in essential positions”, and lacked accountability. At the end of the day the Team left. The state has since reorganized the program, placing teams under the Kansas Department of Emergency Management enabling them to respond nationwide instead of just in Kansas.
  • Toward the end of the fire siege a Type 2 Incident Management Team was called in. The difference between that team and the previous State Team was “night and day”. Local officials learned a lot from the Type 2 Team, especially how to re-populate areas following an evacuation and in dealing with victims following an incident.
  • There are opportunities for better and more timely communication and coordination with the public and the media.
  • The report suggests better guidelines for managing length of first responders’ shifts on wildfires and their rehabilitation in order to reduce exhaustion.

After Action Review of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire

Chimney Tops 2 fire AAR report

An After Action Review has been released for the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that spread from Great Smoky Mountains National Park into the city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee a little over a year ago killing 14 people, forcing 14,000 to evacuate, destroying or damaging 2,500 structures, and burning 17,000 acres. The AAR, completed by ABS Group, was commissioned by Gatlinburg and Sevier County.

You can download the large pdf file (2.8 MB) HERE.

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