Update and photos of the White Draw fire in South Dakota

White Draw wildfire fire South Dakota

All of these photos, except the satellite image of course, were taken on the White Draw fire on June 29 a few miles northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota, between 7:54 p.m. and 9:41 p.m MT. They were taken by Bill Gabbert and are protected by ©opyright.

(We posted an update on the fire July 1, 2012.)

UPDATE at 6:30 p.m. MT, June 30, 2012:

We just talked with Brian Scott, a spokesperson for the fire, who told us that a thunderstorm dumped a small amount of rain on the fire in mid-afternoon, but far too little to have any long term effect. The fire was still active at 6:30 p.m., but with the higher humidity following the rain, not as active as it was early in the afternoon.

I checked the data at the Red Canyon weather station near the fire and it only recorded 0.03 inch of rain at around 3 p.m.

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UPDATE at 4:12 p.m. MT, June 30, 2012:

A Type 2 Incident Management Team, with Bob Fry as Incident Commander, will be reassigned from the Dakota fire near Sheridan Lake, to the White Draw fire

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UPDATE at 2:49 p.m., MT, June 30, 2012:

Brian Scott, a spokesperson for the fire, told us that the fire is very active this afternoon, and in the morning exhibited fire behavior that you would expect to see in mid-afternoon, when the humidity is lower and the temperature is higher. They have not had a chance to accurately map the fire perimeter from an aircraft, but he said they estimate the size at about 2,000 acres.

Two military MAFFS C-130 air tankers are working on the fire. Since the U.S. Forest Service Air Tanker base has not been approved for handling MAFFS C-130s, the two aircraft are flying to Billings, Montana, 290 miles away, to reload with retardant. Rapid City would have been a 57-mile hop.

Gordon Schaefer, the new Base Manager who just transferred into the position a few weeks ago, told Wildfire Today that until yesterday the Rapid City Air Tanker Base had not been inspected for MAFFS compatibility. The Air Force Lt. Col. who conducted the inspection said the physical layout and the ramp strength appeared to meet the specifications, but they require a written copy of the ramp specs which was not immediately available. Mr. Schaefer said that next week he hopes to supply the required paperwork to the Air Force, and then MAFFS air tankers should be able to reload at Rapid City.

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12:05 p.m MT, June 30, 2012

We talked with Cindy Super, an Information Officer for the Dakota fire, another fire in the Black Hills, who told us that a ball park estimate for the size of the White Draw fire is 1,000 acres, but they intend to fly the fire and map it to get a more accurate number. As of now, the aircraft working the fire will be about the same as yesterday, one single engine air tanker, four helicopters, and no large air tankers.

The Incident Commander of the fire is Jared Hohm. Ms. Super was not certain if a Type 3 Incident Management Team will be assigned to the fire, or if her Type 2 IMTeam, with Bob Fry as Incident Commander, will be reassigned to the White Draw fire. Fry’s team is already loaning some of their members to the White Draw fire.

Map, White Draw fire, Edgemont, Hot Springs, South Dakota, fire, wildfire,

The map above shows heat detected by a satellite at 12:19 p.m. MT, June 30, 2012. (MODIS/Google)

White Draw wildfire fire South Dakota

Here is what we wrote yesterday about the fire:

The White Draw fire started at about 4 p.m. Friday afternoon northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota after a motor home driving up the grade on Highway 18 toward Hot Springs caught on fire. I cruised out there and shot some photos. Here’s one, and I’ll post more over the next few days.

There were quite a few engines working on the fire from the local communities, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, the State of South Dakota, and the National Park Service. There were no large air tankers on the fire at any time as far as I know, but there was one Single Engine Air Tanker, plus two Type 3 Helicopters and a Blackhawk. When I left the fire at about 9:45 p.m. I could not see the entire fire, but I’m guessing it had burned hundreds of acres.

White Draw wildfire fire South Dakota

White Draw wildfire fire South Dakota

More photos are below.
Continue reading “Update and photos of the White Draw fire in South Dakota”

South Dakota: White Draw fire

Helicopter dropping on White Draw Fire
Helicopter dropping on White Draw Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert/Wildfire Today

UPDATE at noon, June 30, 2012: we posted many more pictures of the fire HERE as well as additional information about the fire.

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The White Draw fire started at about 4 p.m. Friday afternoon northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota after a motor home driving up the grade on Highway 18 toward Hot Springs caught on fire. I cruised out there and shot some photos. Here’s one, and I’ll post more over the next few days.

There were quite a few engines working on the fire from the local communities, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, the State of South Dakota, and the National Park Service. There were no large air tankers on the fire at any time as far as I know, but there was one Single Engine Air Tanker, plus two Type 3 Helicopters and a Blackhawk. When I left the fire at about 9:45 p.m. I could not see the entire fire, but I’m guessing it had burned hundreds of acres.

Fall River prescribed fire, revisited

On March 17 we photographed and shot video of a prescribed fire in the channel of the Fall River in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Today we hiked down to the river to see what it looks like six weeks later. The first photo was taken of the same area as the next two but from a different vantage point. The second was taken a few minutes after the burn, and the third was taken today.

Fall River Prescribed fire, during

Fall River Prescribed fire, during

Fall River Prescribed fire, after

The firefighters with the Hot Springs Fire Department did very well!

Report released for the fatal Coal Canyon Fire

Coal Canyon fire entrapment report, cover photos
Photos on the cover of the report. A portion of one of the photos was redacted.

The U.S. Forest Service has released the Serious Accident Investigation Report for the Coal Canyon Fire, on which firefighter Trampus Haskvitz of Hot Springs, South Dakota was killed August 11, 2011 in the Black Hills of South Dakota north of Edgemont. In addition to Trampus, two firefighters received serious burns and two others had minor burns. Two firefighters were entrapped in an engine. One, Trampus, remained entrapped and died; the other, K.C. Fees escaped. Austin Whitney who was outside the engine, was transported to a Greeley, Colorado Burn Center. The two firefighters who received minor burns during rescue efforts were treated at local hospitals and released. Mr. Haskvitz and Mr. Whitney both worked for the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division.

Coal Canyon fire entrapment site photo w-graphics
This photo looks down on the entrapment site. The fire spread according to the numbered arrows: along arrow 1 during E 2’s initial escape attempt, arrow 2 as they came around the corner, and arrow 3 during the entrapment itself. The fire remained too hot along paths 1 and 2 for them to escape. Photo by Travis Lunders, taken the day after the accident. The image is from the Google Earth version of the report.

You can download the report HERE.  You should read the entire report to get a clear understanding of the sequence of events, but here are some of the key points:

About 15 minutes after the first engine crews arrived at the scene of the fire, they said it was about 1.5 acres in size and estimated the flame lengths to be 0 to 3 feet. Their plan was to anchor near the fire’s origin and use direct fireline to pinch off the fire. Their escape route was down the road beyond the fire’s heel.

Coal Canyon fire entrapment 1350
The approximate location of the fire when the initial attack engines arrived, at 1:50 p.m. The image is from the Google Earth version of the report.

The engines were on a narrow dirt road. The fire was on a slope below them and also on the slope on the opposite side of the drainage. A spot fire occurred above the road, then the main fire spread up the slope to the road and crossed it.

Coal fire entrapment at 3:05 p.m.
The approximate location of the fire and the entrapped engine at 3:05 p.m. The image is from the Google Earth version of the report.

Other engines were able to leave the area before the worst of the fire hit the road. One engine tried to escape by driving forward but encountered a wall of fire crossing the road. They backed up in the heavy smoke, going less than 80 feet, and hit a cut bank. At that point truck’s engine died and the fire overran their location. Two firefighters, Haskvitz and Fees, were in the truck as it ignited and began to burn. They deployed one fire shelter inside the cab and tried to use it to protect them both, but the other person had difficulty deploying the second shelter in the cab of the truck. A helicopter heard their mayday calls and tried to drop water on the burning engine, but initially the pilot could not see it in the smoke.

Other firefighters made several heroic attempts to rescue the entrapped firefighters but were driven back by the heat. Fees took a deep breath and escaped from the burning engine, but Haskvitz did not make it out of the cab.

The report does not speculate why the truck’s engine stopped running, but it has happened before on fires when vehicles are in very heavy smoke and there is simply not enough oxygen in the air to support combustion of the fuel in the vehicle’s engine.

A third crewmember assigned to the engine was outside it to the rear when the engine with the two people tried to escape by driving away. As it departed a blast of heat hit him and he dropped to the ground with no time to deploy his fire shelter.

Below is an excerpt from the “Analysis and Conclusion” section of the report:

…Up until the accident, the firefighting professionals involved in the Coal Canyon Fire reasoned the risks of engaging and suppressing this fire to be relatively low and the benefits of direct suppression to be worth this low risk. After considerable review of the incident, including the leadership, qualifications, training, interagency cooperation, fuels, weather, the organization, and local policies, the SAI team has concluded that the judgments and decisions of the firefighters involved in the Coal Canyon Fire were appropriate.

Firefighters all performed within the leaders’ intent and scope of duty, as defined by their respective organizations. The team did not find any reckless actions or egregious violations of policy or protocol. In fact, the SAI Team found the actions of the firefighters involved with the Coal Canyon Fire to be fully consistent with local and national policy and meeting the intent of leadership expectations. Many decisions and actions on the Coal Canyon Fire were manifestly heroic, demonstrating the best of wildland fire professionalism.

The report has very little in the way of analysis and recommendations. Later the investigation team intends to produce separate documents focused on learning from this tragedy. Those documents will provide an Expanded Narrative and an in-depth Discussion and Analysis around human variability, risk management and resilience, as well as additional considerations and recommendations.

Wildfire Today covered the fire, the fatality, the severely burned firefighter, and Trampus’ funeral services, which were attended by approximately 1,700 firefighters and other mourners. A procession of over 130 fire department vehicles escorted Trampus to the cemetery. We recorded most of the procession on video.
An earlier version of this article misidentified one of the firefighters that was in the entrapped engine. Wildfire Today regrets the error.

Fund raiser for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation

WFFThe family that lost their son, Trampus Haskvitz, to a wildfire last year was so impressed with the support they received from the Wildland Firefighter Foundation that they are helping to organize a fund raiser for the organization. Here is a message from them and others asking for us to contribute.

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Dear Firefighters,

On August 11, 2011, South Dakota lost a brave Wildland Firefighter in the Coal Canyon Fire near Edgemont, South Dakota.

Trampus S. Haskvitz was a recent graduate of Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota and was in his fifth year of firefighting based out of Hot Springs, SD with the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division as a FFT I ICT 5. He was an Engine Boss when he tragically lost his life saving others from a wildfire.

In his memory and to honor all Wildland Firefighters, his family is planning the First Annual Trampus S. Haskvitz Golf Tournament in Hot Springs, South Dakota on June 2, 2012 to raise funds for the Wildland Firefighters Foundation (WFF) based in Boise, Idaho. All proceeds collected as a result of the golf tournament will go to the WFF.

To make the golf tournament as meaningful and successful for the Wildland Firefighters Foundation as possible, Trampus’ family is respectfully soliciting donations from the fire community. Any merchandise, gift certificates or cash will be gratefully accepted. Cash donations can be sent directly to the 1st Annual Trampus S Haskvitz Golf Tournament at Wells Fargo Bank in Hot Springs SD. Questions or concerns about merchandise and gift certificates, please contact Jim Stevens Chief of the Hot Springs VFD.

The mission of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation is to honor past, present, and future Wildland firefighters. The Foundation helps maintain and grow the national monument established for those who have lost their lives in Wildland fires and to operate a financial fund providing assistance to the families of fallen and injured Wildland firefighters. In addition, the Foundation partners with private and interagency organizations to educate the public about Wildland fires and to promote excellence and safety in firefighting.

Trampus’ family and his firefighting colleagues in Hot Springs would like to thank you in advance for any support you can provide this annual event. It promises to be an exciting and fun weekend in the Black Hills of South Dakota and you can make a very positive impact on the Wildland Firefighting Community with your support.

Compassion Spreads Like Wildfire.

Respectfully,

Trampus’ Family: Don, LuJean, Benjamin, Betsy and John Haskvitz

Jim Strain, Assistant Chief of Operations, South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire Suppression; Office Phone: 605-393-8114, for any questions or concerns.

Jim Stevens, Chief of the Hot Springs VFD; Cell #: 605-890-2124, for any questions concerning merchandise and gift certificates.

P.S. We will be putting the information to register for the 1st Annual Trampus S Haskvitz Golf Tournament on the internet soon and will inform you of the domain in the near future.

SEAT at Hot Springs, SD

Air Tanker 466 at Hot Springs
Pilot Jim Fournier with Air Tanker 466. Photo by Bill Gabbert

With South Dakota and other Northern Great Plains States suddenly coming into wildfire season a single engine air tanker has been positioned at the airport at Hot Springs, South Dakota. An air attack platform, a King Air, is also on standby at Rapid City and a Blackhawk helicopter is available from the National Guard base at the Rapid City airport.

We spent a few minutes at the Hot Springs air attack base today and talked with Base Manager Winston Cadotte and pilot Jim Fournier. Tanker 466 is under contract from New Frontier Aviation and is operated by Taylor Aviation.

UPDATE: earlier we identified the aircraft as an Air Tractor 802, but Scott in a comment said it is a Dromader, and we now believe he is right. It appears to be a M-18T Dromader. Sorry for the confusion.

Air Tanker at Hot Springs
Air Tanker 466 at Hot Springs. Photo by Bill Gabbert