Report released for entrapment of firefighters on the Valley Fire

Valley fire entrapment site
Entrapment site of firefighters on the Valley Fire. Photo from the CAL FIRE report. (click to enlarge)

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has released a report for an entrapment with injuries that occurred on the Valley Fire September 12, 2015. The fire burned 76,000 acres 62 miles north of San Francisco.

Four firefighters from a helitack crew that had arrived at the fire via helicopter were on the ground fighting the fire with hand tools when they were surrounded by the fire during initial attack operations and suffered serious burn injuries. Below is an excerpt from the report.


“…FC1 directed FF3, FF4 and FF5 to get into the goat pen, which was clear to bare mineral soil. While in the goat pen they observed the fire behavior changing. There was an increase in the wind speed, and an increased number of spot fires in the pine needle duff and leaf litter surrounding them. FF3 saw fire sheeting and swirling across the dirt driveway on the northwest side of the goat pen; several pines torched on the west side of the steel garage.

From the location of RES2, FF2 observed increased fire behavior advancing toward Helitack A’s location. FF2 communicated the increased fire behavior using the radio; FC1 acknowledged FF2’s observation.

At approximately 1402 hours, the brush covered slope to their east completely torched into a wall of flame. The wall of flame sent a significant wave of radiant heat through the goat pen and onto the firefighters. They could feel their faces burning from the radiant heat and all four firefighters ran to the fence, climbed over, and ran towards the steel garage. At the steel garage Helitack A started to deploy their fire shelters.

“May-Day” was transmitted from FC1 and was heard over the radio. From the location of a third residence (RES3), FC2 could hear FC1 say over the radio, “Four have deployed their shelters, near a barn on the right flank.” FF4 had difficulty opening the fire shelter case from the Chainsaw Pack; the clear plastic covering of the fire shelter was soft and melted. FF4 had to remove the gloves to tear the plastic away from the aluminum shell of the fire shelter. FF3 couldn’t get the fire shelter out of the case because the clear plastic cover was melted to the white plastic protective sleeve. FF3 looked up and saw FF4 at the north side (D) of the steel garage. FF3 dropped the fire shelter on the ground and ran to FF4’s location. FF3 and FF4 shared FF4’s fire shelter and stayed together in a crouched position. FC1 and FF5 deployed their fire shelters on the east side (A) of the steel garage. The heat in front of the steel garage was too intense so they moved to the north side (D) of the steel garage with FF3 and FF4 where the atmosphere seemed to be cooler.

Helitack A huddled together shielding the heat away from their already burned faces and hands; each of them could see the visible burns to one another’s faces and hands. FC1 continued to use the radio requesting bucket drops from C1 on their deployment location to cool the atmosphere. FF5 attempted to drink the water from the hydration pack but the water from the mouth piece was too hot to drink. While crouched in their fire shelters next to the steel garage, Helitack A suddenly heard explosions coming from inside the now burning structure. As a group, Helitack A moved a safe distance from the structure. Helitack A eventually crouched along the dirt driveway, separating the dirt garden and the goat pen.

From the driveways of RES3 and a fourth residence (RES4), FC2 directed C1 to make bucket drops into Helitack A’s location at the top of the ridge. C1 orbiting above and was unable to get near their location at the top of the ridge due to the thick column of smoke convecting straight up into the atmosphere…”



  • FC1 suffered second and third degree burns to the head, face, ears, neck, back, arms, hands, legs and feet and has had several surgeries. FC1 remains in critical condition and is under the continued care of UCD Burn Center.
  • FF4 suffered first and second degree burns to the face, head, ears, arms and hands and is under the continued care of UCD Medical Center.
  • FF5 suffered first and second degree burns to the face, head, ears, arms, foot and hands and is under the continued care of UCD Medical Center.
  • FF3 suffered first and second degree burns to the face, head, ears, arms and hands and is under the continued care of UCD Medical Center.”

The report lists 13 “Safety issues for review and lessons learned”. Here are the first five:

  • “Crews must utilize L.C.E.S [lookouts, communications, escape routes, safety zones] when engaged in firefighting operations.
  • ALL Ten Standard Fire Orders MUST be obeyed at ALL TIMES.
  • Personnel MUST wear ALL CAL FIRE APPROVED PPE when engaged in firefighting operation.
  • Modifying Personal Protective Equipment can alter the protective properties.
  • Practice and prepare for shelter deployment in adverse and extreme conditions.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to John.

Remains found of a fourth person killed in the Valley Fire

fatality valley fire
This NASA image shows in red the areas detected by a satellite has having burned in the 76,000-acre Valley Fire 62 miles north of San Francisco.

On Tuesday the Lake County Sheriff’s office announced that the body of a fourth person killed in the fire was discovered.

Damage assessment update: two recent California fires have each burned almost 900 structures

California damaging fires

Updated damage assessments for two recent large wildfires in California revealed that a total of 1,770 structures burned on the two fires, including 888 on the Valley Fire south of Clearlake, and 882 on the Butte Fire south of Jackson.

For the purposes of this report, “structures” includes residences, outbuildings, and commercial properties.

Search teams find the remains of two more people in the Valley Fire

Search teams using cadaver dogs found the remains of two more people in the Valley fire, which as burned over 73,000 acres 62 miles north of San Francisco. The Lake County Sheriff’s office announced that on September 16 the remains were discovered in the Hidden Valley and Anderson Springs areas.

Based on the locations, reports about missing persons, and evidence found, the Sheriff’s office has tentatively identified the remains, but has not yet obtained positive identification.

This brings the total number of people killed in the Valley Fire to three. Earlier, the body of 72-year-old Barbara McWilliams, a retired teacher, was found. She had multiple sclerosis and was apparently unable to escape her home as the fire approached. There was a report that a neighbor offered to help her evacuate, but she refused.

On September 16 Kevin Ragio, the Calaveras County Coroner, confirmed that two bodies were found in another fire in California, the Butte Fire, which has burned over 70,000 acres south of Jackson, California. Both of the people killed were in Mountain Ranch.

Our main article about the Butte Fire
Our main article about the Valley Fire

The emergence of Periscope and Twitter as a source for breaking news

In the last few years Twitter emerged as a source for obtaining information about breaking news. Then it was followed by Instagram and in the last few months, Periscope. And of course Facebook belongs in the list as well. In case you’re not familiar with Periscope, it is an app, or program, that can be installed on smart phones that makes it possible to very easily broadcast live video and audio from any location that has good, fast cell phone service. Viewers can interact with the photographer by texting questions that appear on the screen, and can indicate they appreciate the broadcast by tapping the screen which displays heart icons that float up and then off the screen. Some videographers answer the questions verbally.

Periscope has only been around since early this year. It was first available on Android devices in March after the app was acquired by Twitter for $100 million. We have seen some wildfire organizations use it, including CAL FIRE (“CAL FIRE PIO Berlant”) for daily situation reports, and the Sacramento Fire Department (“Sacfire Pio”) which routinely transmits live from incident scenes. But yesterday it came of age — even though it is only a few months old. A fire photographer, EPN564, broadcast live six times from the Valley Fire, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. The high quality video that showed active fire, including homes burning, was striking. There were probably other journalists who also provided video from the fire.

Social media is not a perfect source for news, of course. Citizen “journalists” do not have fact checkers, and occasionally misinformation gets distributed. And there will be those that criticize real-time video of burning homes, but when a news helicopter transmits live video of the same scene, you rarely hear anyone saying that it should be censored.

Below is an excerpt from an article published today at Holistic Marketing Concepts. The author appears to be Tiffany Ann Brown, writing about the revolution in how we are obtaining breaking news, and specifically, news from the devastating Valley Fire last night:


“I had quite an interesting night, watching live coverage of a massive fire unfolding in Lake County, California … which also happens to be my husband’s hometown. But rather than seeing anything at all about it on the evening news, I received nearly 100% of my information from Twitter and Periscope. While watching the live coverage on Periscope, I finally experienced firsthand what so many in both business and marketing circles have been talking about for so long: digital (or social) darwinism in action.

It was indeed a defining moment for me, catching live video streams on Periscope, with some of those streams coming directly from various firefighters’ iPhones. Meanwhile, I found it delightful that the general public (and various people tuning in from around the globe) were encouraging them along every step of the way with words of support and concern as these periscopers did their best to share what was happening with viewers live and in real time. In one case, we watched a stream as the number of viewers started at below 100, and within a few minutes grew to over 1,500 viewers.

Not only was this in-the-moment, informative news that I wasn’t getting from any mainstream media sites, but rather than instilling a sense of fear and drama (as is often the case with front-line news reporting), the overall feeling evoked a sense of realism, as well as support, encouragement, and care from the community based on the sentiment of the comments that were filtering through the live chat. ..”


Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Barbara.

Firefighters on the Valley Fire aided by the weather

(UPDATE at 9:05 a.m. PT, September 17, 2015)

The Lake County Sheriff’s office announced today that the remains of two more people were discovered in the Hidden Valley and Anderson Springs areas. More information.

On Wednesday the weather station in Calistoga south of the fire recorded 0.77 inch of rain. Some areas on the fire received more than 0.50″, according to CAL FIRE. However, they warn that a warming trend is in the forecast with temperatures expected to exceed 90 degrees over the weekend.

Some areas in Lake and Napa counties are still under evacuation orders. For more evacuation information, call (707) 967-4207).

The fire has burned 73,700 acres and CAL FIRE is calling it 35 percent contained.


(UPDATE at 10:47 a.m. PT, September 15, 2015)

Firefighters on the Valley Fire burning out Sept. 14, 2015 near Highway 29 south of Lower Lake. Photo by SLOSTRNGER used with permission.
Firefighters on the Valley Fire burning out Sept. 13, 2015 near Highway 29 south of Lower Lake. Photo by SLOSTRNGER used with permission.

On Monday the spread of the 67,000-acre Valley fire 62 miles north of San Francisco was slowed by temperatures in the low 60s, relative humidity above 80 percent, and 0.01″ of rain that fell in the late afternoon, according to data from a weather station south of the fire in Calistoga.

CAL FIRE reported Tuesday morning that their latest damage assessment shows that 585 homes and hundreds of other structures have been destroyed. The surveys are continuing and the numbers will likely change in the coming days. Approximately 9,000 structures are threatened. Evacuations are still in place, affecting 23,000 people.

In addition to the homes that burned in Middletown and Cobb, a geothermal plant that produces electricity, The Geysers, was damaged. Five of the 14 plants were affected, including power lines and wooden cooling towers.

Air tankers have not worked the fire since Saturday, grounded by poor visibility caused by smoke and clouds. Tuesday’s weather is expected to make it possible to use them again. The forecast calls for a 35 percent cloud cover, a high temperature of 73 degrees, relative humidity in the 40s, and winds out of the west at 8 to 13 mph.

The video below was aired by a San Francisco television station and uploaded to YouTube September 14, 2015..

Valley Fire Jefferson CT
Jefferson Court in Middletown after the Valley Fire. Photo Sept. 13, 2015 by SLOSTRINGER, used with permission.


(UPDATE at 1:47 p.m. PT, September 14, 2015)

The Lake County Sheriff’s office have confirmed they have found the body of a civilian that died in the Valley Fire, which has burned 61,000 acres 62 miles north of San Francisco. They don’t yet have an official identification from the Coroner, but it is believed to be an elderly, disabled woman who was not able to self-evacuate.

According to the Lake County Press Democrat the Sheriff’s office received a phone call at 7:12 p.m. on Saturday, about six hours after the fire started. At 7:20 deputies and officers responded to the area but were unable to reach the subdivision because it had already been engulfed in flames, according to Lt. Steve Brooks.

Dispatch lines were flooded with requests from people asking for help evacuating and family members asking authorities to check on their relatives.
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