Last survivor of Mann Gulch Fire dies

Mann Gulch Fire
Investigators on the Mann Gulch Fire looking south from Foreman Dodge’s escape fire.

The last of the three firefighters who survived the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire died Monday. Robert Sallee passed away from complications following open heart surgery.

Mr. Sallee was 17 when he parachuted into the Helena National Forest (map) above the fire along with 14 other smokejumpers from Hale Field in Missoula, Montana. As the crew worked their way toward the bottom of the fire at the Missouri River, the winds changed causing the fire below them to blow up and begin moving in their direction. As the crew retreated up the steep slope, Foreman Wagner Dodge lit an escape fire in the light fuels and told the rest of the crew to join him in the burned area, but none of them did. Mr. Sallee and another crewman, Walter B. Rumsey, took a different route than the other smokejumpers, squirming their way through a narrow crevice in a rim rock, finding much better conditions in a rock scree on the other side of the ridge. Foreman Dodge, when the main fire caught up with his escape fire, eventually followed the other two where the three of them had to keep moving around in the rock scree as the fire burned around them. The blowup burned about 3,000 acres, claiming the lives of 12 of the smokejumpers and one former smokejumper who had been fighting the fire for 4 hours before the jumpers arrived.

Foreman Dodge died five years later from Hodgkin’s disease, and Mr. Rumsey died in an airplane crash in 1980.

Norman Maclean wrote Young Men and Fire, a book about the smokejumpers and their demise in Mann Gulch. His son, John N. Maclean helped to edit and make some of the finishing touches on the book which was published in 1992, two years after his father’s death. John said that Mr. Sallee became a companion for Norman while he was collecting information for the book, and in later years was very generous in telling his story about the fire. John said Mr. Sallee had abundant social skills and “was almost courtly in his personal manner”. John later wrote Fire on the Mountain about the 1994 South Canyon Fire that killed 14 firefighters in Colorado.

About eight years after the Mann Gulch fire the “Ten Standard Firefighting Orders”  were developed and incorporated into firefighter training.

Funeral arrangements are pending at Hazen and Jaeger Valley Funeral Home in Spokane, Washington.

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Jay, Dave, Steve, Chris, and Shaun.

Wildfire briefing, May 28, 2014

Air tanker pilot dies in Spain

Fire Aviation has more details about an AT-802 pilot that died in a crash while fighting a wildfire in Spain.

Smokejumpers’ clandestine missions for the CIA

Now that they are no longer required to remain quiet about their ties with the CIA, smokejumpers are talking about how they worked for the agency in the 1950s and 1960s. According to an article in the Missoulian, about 82 smokejumpers were recruited by the CIA to rig paracargo and serve on C-130s dropping commandos and cargo over Tibet.

An excerpt:

…The story begins when [Ray] Beasley, who was 29 and a laid-off smokejumper in McCall, Idaho, got a phone call in 1959.

“Would you like a job that pays $850 a month?” the caller asked.

Soon, Beasley and a cowboy by the name of Tommy “Shep” Johnson, who would later become one of his close friends, were on their way to the nation’s capitol.

They had been “referred” by an insider to “The Company,” the term they used for the CIA. That’s the only way you got into this line of work, Beasley said. This wasn’t a job that was advertised. They came looking for you.

Videos from Aussie fire conference

About a dozen videos of presentations at the Australian Community Engagement and Fire Awareness Conference run by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service are available for your viewing pleasure.

Martin Greenwood told us:

This conference brought together practitioners from all over Australia and NZ to look at community engagement and awareness to bushfire.
To get a good taste from the 2 days worth of videos I recommend the ‘be ready Warrandyte’ and the ‘Out of the Ashes’ videos.

 

This is a brilliant free resource, particularly those involved in engaging the wider community in relation to wildfire. Hopefully the accent barrier isn’t too big of a problem.

 

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Martin and Steve.

Disney studios spends three days filming at Redding Smokejumper Base

U.S. Forest Service smokejumper
U.S. Forest Service smokejumper Greg Fashano talks with Taryn Brooks and Golan Yosef of Disney Channel’s “Movie Surfers” after landing in a small meadow at Slate Creek on the Shasta Trinity National Forest in California. (U.S. Forest Service/Leo Kay)

Below is an excerpt from the U.S. Forest Service blog:

“The U.S. Forest Service and movies-goers have seen agency-managed lands as the backdrop for dozens of motion pictures over the years, but this year it is participating in the magic of Hollywood in a slightly different way – as a creative consultant for the soon-to-be-released “Planes: Fire and Rescue.”

Two film crews from Disney Studios descended on the agency’s Redding Smokejumper Base in northern California the first week of May. They were there to interview and take video footage of the Forest Service’s firefighters in advance of the movie’s release in July.

The plot of the second animated Planes movie revolves around the transition of Dusty Cropdropper – voiced by Dane Cook – into the dangerous yet exciting world of wildland firefighting after he learns he can no longer fly in races.

The Disney crews spent three days filming units suiting up, boarding aircraft and jumping into simulated wildfire zones and conducting water drops. That footage will be used in a Disney Channel special on the making of the movie and will also be included as behind-the-scenes extras when the film is released on DVD.

Soon after deciding on the general script for “Planes: Fire and Rescue,” Disney turned to the experts. The Forest Service, CAL FIRE – California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection – and the National Park Service are creative consultants on the world of wildland firefighting…”

smokejumpers
Luis Gomez runs a safety check to see how well Disney Channel’s “Movie Surfers” Golan Yosef and Taryn Brooks met the mark in their test to suit up in smokejumper gear within two minutes of getting the call to action. (U.S. Forest Service/Leo Kay)

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Fire Aviation has more information (and a trailer) about the movie “Planes: Fire & Rescue”. It is due for release this summer.

Serious injury to a Boise smokejumper

Secretary Jewell and smokejumpers
File photo of Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel (center, with green flight suit) with Boise smokejumpers, May 13, 2013. BLM photo.

(Originally posted at 12:16 p.m. MT, March 25, 2014; updated March 28, 2014)

A smokejumper for the Bureau of Land Management working out of Boise, Idaho suffered a serious injury on a training jump Monday. The patient was initially evaluated on scene by the other jumpers and then flown by Life Flight to a Boise hospital, arriving within 46 minutes, and received treatment, including surgery, for two fractured femurs.

According to Jennifer Smith, a spokesperson for the BLM, the injury resulted from the smokejumper’s landing. There was no parachute malfunction. Boise BLM smokejumpers conduct training jumps on a regular basis in the area where the accident occurred southeast of Emmett, 20 miles northwest of Boise.

An accident investigation team is being organized and is expected to begin work today.

(UPDATE March 28, 2014)

The BLM released a “72-hour report” yesterday. Below is an excerpt.

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Narrative:

A BLM Boise Great Basin smokejumper incurred two broken femurs when he experienced a hard landing during a routine refresher parachute jump. This was the second jump of the day at the same location. The jump spot was located along an open ridgeline in an area commonly used for training jumps. Life Flight was immediately contacted and smokejumper EMT’s on scene provided emergency medical care and prepared the injured jumper for transportation. Life Flight was able to land in close proximity to the patient, who was transported to a local Boise area hospital approximately 20 miles from the injury site, arriving within an hour of the accident.

Action Taken to Date:

An Interagency Accident Investigation Team has been assigned. The intent of the investigation is to determine the cause of the injury and provide recommendations to help prevent future occurrences.”

Wildfire briefing, February 7, 2014

Pioneer smokejumper laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery

Casey Walden smokejumper
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, talks to Lt. Col.
Roger Walden during a recognition ceremony at the Pentagon on March 25,
2010. (U.S. Army photo)

During World War II, a time when segregation was still a part of everyday life, a group of 17 brave men took the plunge to serve their country and become the first all African-American paratrooper unit known as the Triple Nickles.

The battalion’s original goal – to join the fight in Europe – was thwarted when military leaders in Europe feared racial tensions would disrupt operations. At about the same time, the U.S. Forest Service asked the military for help to minimize damage caused by balloon bombs launched by the Japanese across the Pacific Ocean with the intent to start forest fires in the western U.S. during World War II.

In the end, few of the incendiary devices reached U.S. soil, but the Triple Nickles were instrumental in helping the Forest Service fight naturally-caused fires. They became history’s first military smokejumpers who answered 36 fire calls and made more than 1,200 jumps that summer of 1945.

On Jan. 6, Lt. Col. Roger S. Walden, who passed away on Sept. 17, 2013, was remembered and given full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Walden holds a special place in U.S. Forest Service history. He will be remembered for his bravery, sacrifice and groundbreaking achievements in wildland firefighting. During a time of war and social prejudices, the commitment to serve his country through wildland firefighting was challenging and unique.

Casey Walden laid to rest
The body of Lt. Col. Roger Walden is unloaded from a caisson at Arlington
National Cemetery. (Photo by Donna Sinclair)

California PUC approves new rules to reduce fire hazards from power poles

Yesterday the California Public Utilities Commission approved dozens of new rules aimed at strengthening overhead power and communications poles.

San Diego Gas and Electric, SDG&E, whose power lines started three huge fires in southern California in 2007, agreed in 2009 to pay $686 million to insurance companies that paid claims to their customers for the Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires.

The PUC told us the new rules can be found here.

Yarnell Hill Fire survivor takes new job

Brendan McDonough is the lone surviving member of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew. He was serving as a lookout in another location when the other 19 men on the crew were killed as they were overrun by the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2014 in Arizona.

Brendan McDonough
Brendan McDonough, surviving member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Yarnell Hill Fire. Photo courtesy of Brendan’s father, who placed the photo on his Facebook page.

Since that day he has been on a leave of absence from the Prescott Fire Department, but he now has a new job working for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. He will be conducting fundraising and helping to raise awareness of how firefighters deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Below is an excerpt from KPHO:

McDonough says he is battling PTSD manifested in dreams.

Acting Prescott Fire Chief Eric Kriwer says McDonough left his city job in good standing, and McDonough says he still has strong bonds with department personnel and continues to live in Prescott.

Pete Wertheim, City of Prescott communications and public affairs manager, told CBS 5 News, “Brendan was a seasonal wildland firefighter and he left in good standing with the City. The City appreciates Brendan and his service to the community and we wish for him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”

 

Wildfire briefing, January 3, 2014

Drought Monitor

The Drought Monitor shows that most of California, Nevada, and southern Idaho are in either a severe or extreme drought. This could be an interesting winter fire season if it continues.

Drought Monitor 12-31-2013

Arizona State Forestry Division wants to almost double budget

The state organization responsible for managing the Yarnell Hill Fire is requesting a budget for the Arizona State Forestry Division that is nearly double what they received in the fiscal year that ends June 30. According to an article at Azcentral, State Forester Scott Hunt wants to add $6.2 million to this year’s budget of $7.3 million. The additional funds would be used to hire 15 additional staffers, replace firefighting and communications equipment, and allocate $2 million to remove hazardous vegetation on state and private lands. The budget request was filed in October, after 19 firefighters died on the Yarnell Hill Fire but before the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued their report on the fire and recommended a $550,000 fine be imposed on the Arizona State Forestry Division as a result of the fatalities on the fire.

Retired smokejumper interviewed on Montana Public Radio

Retired smokejumper Wayne Williams is featured in an interview on Montana Public Radio. In the 11-minute recording Mr. Williams speaks eloquently from his decades of experience. It is refreshing to hear someone interviewed about wildland fire in the media who knows the subject matter. The audio is HERE, and a short article with his photo is HERE.

Army attempts to prevent wildfires at Schofield Barracks

Raising the berm at Schofield Barracks
A soldier with 2nd Platoon, 523rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, uses a D7 bulldozer to increase the size of the berm so it is a 20 feet by 20 feet dimension. (U.S. Army photo by: 1st Lt. Lucian Myers, 2nd Platoon, 523rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command)

In October and November two wildfires started at a range used for controlled detonations to dispose of unexploded ordnance at Schofield Barracks west of Honolulu, Hawaii. The fire that started October 15 burned more than 250 acres. It was fought for five days, then two days later rekindled and was finally extinguished October 28. Another fire in November burned about 30 acres.

In order to reduce the chances of vegetation fires igniting from the explosions, soldiers are using dozers to increase the height of the dirt berm surrounding the range from 7 feet to 22 feet. During the project, which was conducted 24 hours a day between December 9 and 13, they moved 5,800 cubic yards of dirt.

Wildfire Tweets

Below are a couple of messages on Twitter that had photos of fires — at Valparaiso, Chile and Lake Tahoe, California (which may be a prescribed fire).

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Dick and Chris