Rollover of a trailer loaded with a dozer on Cougar Creek Fire

Above: A trailer loaded with a D-5 dozer rolled over on the Cougar Creek Fire in Idaho August 10, 2018. Incident Management Team photo.

(Updated at 8:55 a.m. PDT September 6, 2018)

A trailer loaded with a Caterpillar D-5H dozer rolled over while it was being relocated on the Cougar Creek Fire about 26 miles west of Chelan, Washington. A Peterbilt dump truck was pulling the triple-axle transport trailer as it travelled downhill on USFS Road 5700 near Pine Flats Campground.

About halfway down the grade the driver said the brakes failed on both the truck and the trailer. As the speed increased on the curvy one-lane road the driver attempted to slow down by driving off the edge of the road in soft dirt. After negotiating several curves the trailer climbed up a bank causing it to tip over onto its side. The truck and the trailer came to a stop on the road.

The report we saw did not indicate that the truck rolled over, but it had damage to the front end, bumper, headlights, and the rear trailer hitch. On the trailer the hitch was damaged and three tires were punctured. There was some damage to the dozer but the driver was not injured.

The preliminary report suggested to prevent similar accidents drivers should use lower gears and slower speeds when driving downhill to reduce overheating the brakes.

The accident occurred at 4:10 p.m. on August 10. We have an unconfirmed report that approximately 200 contractors and agency personnel were trapped due to the blocked road and had to remain without logistical support overnight at a drop point which did not qualify as a safety zone.  When the Rapid Lesson Sharing team arrived the next day at least some of the personnel refused to speak to them about the incident.

(This article was revised to clarify that the incident occurred on the Cougar Creek Fire, rather than the Cougar Fire.)

Dozer rollover on Holy Fire in SoCal

The operator was wearing a seat belt and was not injured. It happened August 12, 2018.

Dozer rollover, Holy Fire, 8-12-2018
Dozer rollover, Holy Fire, 8-12-2018.

A dozer rolled over while constructing fireline on the Holy Fire in Southern California on August 12, 2018. Below is the text from the Rapid Lesson Sharing report:

This day, August 12, was hot. I was part way through my shift as a dozer operator. My assignment for the day was putting in another blade of dozer line across the ridge and along the black in my Division. This was my second day working this piece of the line.

The terrain was rocky and steep. I was using the dozer to sidehill along the black. Due to dusty conditions working the dozer, visibility was marginal.

Around noon, I was working on a section of line that had a brush pile I was clearing out. The brush was pretty thick. I therefore didn’t realize that I was about to roll up onto a large boulder that was hidden under the brush pile.

Rolling up on this boulder made the dozer tip over on its side. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. There was no violent bounce. I was wearing my seatbelt which kept me in the cab during the rollover. I was able to remove myself from the cab. I realized that I had no injuries from this incident.

A Dozer Strike Team was able to upright my dozer back onto its track. Ground Support inspected the dozer and found no damage.


  • Use a swamper to scout for possible hazards ahead of dozer line construction.
  • When operating a dozer, don’t feel pressured to stay directly against the black when a “safer line” may pull away from the black for a little ways.

After demob, rental car rolls over

Driver suffered a broken right arm and left shoulder

Rental car rollover, Frisco, Colorado
Rental car rollover, Frisco, Colorado.

Vehicle rollovers on fire assignments are not restricted to trucks, water tenders and dozers.

Below is the text from a Rapid Lesson Sharing report about an accident that occurred on Interstate 70 near Frisco, Colorado on August 21, 2018.

A Public Information Officer trainee was traveling in a rental car from the Cabin Lake Fire to Denver for a demob flight the following day.

“While driving on I-70 near Frisco, Colorado, she became caught in a severe storm with heavy rainfall. Her vehicle began to hydroplane, went off the road, and overturned.

“She received a broken right arm and left shoulder, was treated at a local hospital, and kept overnight. When she returns home, she will require surgery.


  • “The State Trooper investigating this accident said that the tread levels on rental car’s rear tires were well below the allowable limits.
  • With all the mobilization that’s going on around the West right now, there are surely a lot of vehicles being rented from various sources.
  • We look for dents and dings when we pick up a rental vehicle, but rarely think to check for tire wear.”
    (end of report)

Almost a quarter of the wildland firefighter fatalities between 1990 and 2014 occurred in vehicle accidents.

Wildland firefighter fatalities 1990-2014

Truck rollover, Aragon Fire in New Mexico

Above: Photo of the truck after rolling over on the Aragon Fire, on the Santa Fe National Forest, in New Mexico; from the report.

In searching through the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned website looking for information about a dozer transport truck that rolled over while it was carrying a dozer on the Cougar Creek Fire in Washington, I ran across a few accidents we previously had not reported on. This is one of them.

On July 16, 2018 a four-door pickup truck slid off a rain-slicked road and rolled over. The accident occurred on the Aragon Fire, on the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico. Below is an excerpt from the Rapid Lesson Sharing report:

…Two District fire personnel were driving Truck #1168 from the Aragon Fire to the Staging Area.

[Road] NFSR 505 contains a narrow section where the road is elevated above the natural drainage. Erosion had created a depression on the right side of the road in this narrow section.

The driver steered the vehicle to the left side of the road here to miss the eroded area. The vehicle began to slide off the road and over the embankment. The vehicle rolled completely over, coming to rest upright in the bottom of the drainage.

Several Forest Service employees witnessed the vehicle rollover. The driver and passenger exited the vehicle under their own power. An EMT arrived on scene less than five minutes after the accident. The EMT examined the individuals. While neither had visible injuries, both individuals were shaken-up and complained of soreness in their neck area.

For precautionary reasons, these two went to a local hospital that evening to be examined. Both were released within two hours…

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.

Firefighter fatality on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park in California

We regret to have to report that a firefighter died this morning, July 14, on the Ferguson Fire west of Yosemite National Park. CAL FIRE announced this afternoon that Heavy Fire Equipment Operator Braden Varney was tragically killed while battling the fire. Mr Varney leaves behind a wife and two small children.

One of the firefighters on the fire reported this morning that he thought there was a dozer rollover, and just in case, he wanted to get medical help started to the scene. It turned out that the dozer had rolled several times and ended up in a location that was very difficult to access by foot or see from an aircraft.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Ferguson Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

Just after 1 p.m. local time CAL FIRE made the official announcement about the fatality.

We send out our sincere condolences to Mr. Varney’s family, coworkers, and friends.Varney fatality