Report released on Thomas Fire Fatality

Above: A map from the report showing the entrapment location. The red line was the firefighter’s path of travel. It leads from the black circle, which was the site of the first spot fires, to a drainage.

(Originally published at 6:25 p.m. MST January 8, 2018)

CAL FIRE has released a “Green Sheet” preliminary report for the line of duty death of CAL FIRE Fire Apparatus Engineer Cory Iverson of the CAL FIRE San Diego/San Diego County Fire Authority. Engineer Iverson was overrun by fire and killed December 14, 2017 while battling the Thomas Fire in Ventura County north of Fillmore, California.

While working with a hose lay along a dozer line he was attempting to suppress a  spot fire across the fireline. As one spot fire became multiple spot fires he attempted to escape but was not successful.

The entire 2.6MB report is here. The portion of the document that describes the entrapment is below. Fire Apparatus Engineer Iverson is “FAE1” in the report.

…FAE1 responded on the assigned tactical frequency, that he saw the spot fire. He engaged the spot fire that was on the edge of the dozer line with his hand tool.

Immediately after the report of the spot fire, a second spot fire was reported approximately 20 feet into the green.

At some point, before leaving the dozer line, FAE1 dropped a 100 foot length of hose from his hose pack on the dozer line. This action left 200 feet of hose still in his hose pack.

As FAE1 reached the second spot and began to take action, it erupted. At the same time, additional spot fires erupted along the dozer line west of the original spot fire. FF1 sprayed in the direction of the spot fires. The spot fires rapidly increased in size and the hose stream was ineffective. FAE1’s escape route back to dozer line was cut off. FAE1 began traveling southwest, paralleling the dozer line. Due to fire intensity, FAE1 turned and headed down slope to the south. FAE1 made a request, on the assigned tactical frequency, for immediate air support. This was the last confirmed radio transmission by FAE1. STL1 contacted HLCO for immediate air support. HLCO responded, he had additional copters coming in and they too would begin to work the area.

At approximately 9:25 AM, FC1 reported to FAE1 on the assigned tactical frequency, additional spots were below him and he told FAE1 to “Get out of there.”

The fire intensity increased in the green along the dozer line. FF1 and FF4 retreated along the dozer line, while FF2 and FF3 retreated along the dozer line and then up into the black, towards the mid-slope road. All four FF’s dropped their hose packs on the dozer line while retreating.

At approximately 9:27 AM, FC1 declared, on the assigned tactical frequency, “Mayday, we’ve got a firefighter down.” FC1 then clarified, “We have a firefighter trapped.” STL1 confirmed with DIVS X he copied the “Mayday” of a firefighter trapped. DIVS X acknowledged the traffic with STL1 and requested, through Thomas Communications, an ALS ambulance to the address of the staging area below the avocado orchard.

At 9:28 AM, the response from Ventura County Fire Station 27 was started.

Copter 1, and two CWN copters, continued working the area below the dozer line attempting to provide an escape route for FAE1. These copters saw FAE1 retreating down through the green.

At that time, two spots erupted down slope and south of FAE1, in his path, causing him to turn southwest and start down slope toward the eventual entrapment site.

FC1 saw FAE1 fall and lost sight of him. Copter 1 also saw FAE1 fall, but get back up and continue down slope toward the eventual entrapment site.

It was described by those who saw FAE1 moving through the vegetation that the height was chest to head high; and in some cases, all that could be seen was the top of his helmet.

Prior to the fire, the vegetation height and thickness masked the view of the deep gulch in the drainage, which was the location of the eventual entrapment site.

STL1 contacted HLCO, re-confirmed a firefighter was trapped, and was told by HLCO, six helicopters were enroute.

The additional CWN copters arrived and each copter began working the area where FAE1 was last seen. Those copters dropped retardant at first, and then switched to water due to a faster turnaround time.

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

Last year’s California wildfires, graphically

Some people learn or are stimulated most effectively by reading, or hearing someone talk about a subject. Others, like myself, respond better visually. For me, there is truth in the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. So I can appreciate well-thought-out graphics that tell a story.

Lauren Tierney started her job with the Washington Post’s graphics department in November and yesterday she had her first graphics story published. If you click on the image in the Tweet below, the perimeters of wildfires that burned last year in California will be superimposed around an outline of the District of Columbia.

The article at the Washington Post website has additional fire-related graphics. One shows all of the 2017 fires on a map of California, and another allows you to choose which city you’d like to compare to the Thomas Fire, which became the largest in the recorded history of the state.

Frankly, when a reporter compares the size of a fire to a city, like, “The XXX Fire is the larger than Pittsburgh”, that does not mean a lot to me. But these maps take it to a new level.

I had occasional problems getting all of the graphics to render properly using the Chrome web browser, but they worked fine with Firefox.

On Christmas Eve thousands of firefighters still battle the Thomas Fire

Above: Santa and Mrs. Claus greet firefighters during the Christmas Eve morning briefing on the Thomas Fire. Photo credit: Ventura County Fire Department.

(Originally published at 8:38 a.m. PST December 24, 2017)

Many veteran firefighters in California have stories about spending Thanksgiving on wildfires. Fewer have experienced Christmas on a large fire. But today, on Christmas Eve, over 2,500 are working on the Thomas Fire that has become the largest in the recorded history of California — 273,400 acres so far. It started in December and is only 78 percent contained.

Map of the Thomas Fire, December 23, 2017
Map of the north side of the Thomas Fire, December 23, 2017. The red line represents uncontrolled fire edge. Credit: Incident Management Team. Click to enlarge.

The southern boundary of the fire from Santa Barbara to Ventura is contained and secure. Thanks to shorter days and a lack of strong winds the Incident Management Team does not expect any additional significant spread of the fire, other than strategic burning to secure the fire edge.

The planned 20,000-acre firing operation that would have removed fuel and secured approximately 17 miles on the north side apparently was halted by the weather, including a few snow flurries. That area is still shown as uncontrolled on the Team’s map. But on Saturday firefighters conducted firing operations on the northern flank along Cherry Creek Road near Highway 33 to keep the fire from moving to the north.

All articles on Wildfire Today about the Thomas Fire are tagged “Thomas Fire”.

Santa and Mrs. Claus firefighters Thomas Fire
Santa and Mrs. Claus visit with firefighters on the Thomas Fire on Christmas Eve. Photo credit: Ventura County Fire Department.

The blaze would have been much larger if it had not burned into previous fires, including the 2009 Jesusita, 2007 Zaca, and 2006 Day Fires. If the weather had not changed, the 2002 Wolf Fire would have assisted in controlling it on the north side near Highway 33.

Saturday at 6:00 p.m. responsibilities were transferred to California Interagency Incident Management Team 3 under the leadership of Incident Commander Mark Von Tillow. Most fire suppression activity is now on National Forest System lands.

There are currently no mandatory evacuation orders in effect. Residents on Highway 33 between Rose Valley north to Hartman Ranch remain under a voluntary evacuation warning due to fire activity in the nearby areas.

Map of the Thomas Fire, December 23, 2017
Map of the Thomas Fire, December 23, 2017, by the Incident Management Team. Click to enlarge.

10 largest California wildfires

Thomas Fire Christmas Eve
Thomas Fire, Christmas Eve. Credit: Los Padres National Forest.

Three incidents in one night on the Thomas Fire

Four crews had to retreat, and four vehicles were damaged by the fire

On December 10 about six days after the Thomas Fire started it made a significant run to the west while pushed by strong Santa Ana winds. According to a “Blue Sheet” released by CAL FIRE, two strike teams of hand crews, which would normally be four crews of 12 to 20 persons each, had to retreat to a safer area. The report says they went to a “temporary refuge area”, TRA, which is a new term.  This is unlike a safety zone where firefighters could stage without a risk of fire impingement or the need for a fire shelter.

In this first incident one of the emergency crew transport (ECT) vehicles sustained minor heat damage when its route was blocked by another ECT.

In two other unrelated incidents on the fire that night involving staged equipment, a dozer and an all-terrain vehicle were damaged by the fire and an excavator was destroyed.

sheet thomas fire accident


Firefighters begin large firing operation on Thomas Fire

The backfire should take three to four days and could encompass at least 15,000 to 20,000 acres.

Above: The northernmost red perimeter area is the beginning of the firing operation that could cover 20,000 acres if successfully completed. Map by Incident Management Team.

(Originally published at 9:45 a.m. PST December 19, 2017)

On Monday firefighters on the 271,750-acre Thomas Fire in Southern California began a very large firing operation, or backfire, out ahead of the fire that will remove fuel and secure approximately 17 miles of the north side of the fire. It is one to three miles away from the current fire edge and will tie in with Highway 33. In the video below Operations Section Chief Brian Rhodes explains that it could continue east to Rose Valley.

All articles on Wildfire Today about the Thomas Fire are tagged “Thomas Fire”.

On Monday the fire was relatively quiet compared to activity during the previous 16 days, allowing firefighters to secure additional firelines. However the firing operation created a large smoke column on the north side. The threat to Fillmore has decreased with the completion of line from town to Devil’s Gate. Continued strengthening of control lines will help to further decrease threats. On the north and east flanks of the fire, the fire continues to progress further into the Matilija and Sespe Wilderness and toward the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. Fire suppression repair and damage inspection will continue as appropriate based on fire conditions. Repopulation will continue as threats in previously evacuated areas decreases.

Thomas Fire
Thomas Fire. Photo credit: Ventura County Fire Department.

Steep, rugged terrain on the Thomas Fire along Hwy. 33.

Rob Lowe had some firefighters over for dinner during the Thomas Fire

Dinner for new friends at our house.

A post shared by Rob Lowe (@robloweofficial) on

Rob Lowe showed appreciation for firefighters that helped protect his home and many others in the Montecito area on the Thomas Fire in Southern California.

Thank you to all the crews from all over the country who stood tall and saved my town. #respect #gratitude

A post shared by Rob Lowe (@robloweofficial) on