The Thirtymile Fire Fatality Incident.

On July 10, 2001, four Forest Service fire suppression personnel were killed after they became entrapped and their fire shelter deployment site was burned over by the Thirtymile Fire, in the Chewuch River Canyon, about 30 miles north of Winthrop, Washington.

The area was enduring a lengthy drought and the moisture levels in large fuels were very low. Ladder fuels were abundant at the point of origin, on the east slope of canyon, and throughout the canyon floor. The day of the event, temperatures reached 94° F and relative humidity reached a low of 8% on the Chewuch River canyon floor. Slopes were steep (with slopes 70% to 100%) on both sides of the canyon. Fire conditions were potentially extreme.

Investigation Findings

The Investigation Team identified a large number of findings based on their review of the events that led to the Thirtymile Fire fatality incident, the findings have been organized into four subject categories:
  1. Environment of the location of the incident
  2. Equipment involved in, or contributing to, the incident
  3. People involved in, or contributing to, the incident
  4. Management issues or principles associated with the incident

Summary of Significant Findings

Although there were many findings identified for each of the four subject categories, the investigation team identified a smaller set of findings that were considered to be of significant importance to understanding the underlying causal factors that are associated with this incident.

Significant Environment Findings

Significant Equipment Findings

In spite of the ready availability of water, relatively little water was applied to the fire during the initial attack phase. This was largely due to operational problems with pumps and hoses, as well as delays in availability of a Type III helicopter.

Significant People Findings

Significant Management Findings

Additional findings noted below illustrate the fundamental finding that incident management was confusing and unclear.

10 Standard Fire Orders

All 10 Standard Fire Orders were violated or disregarded at one time or another during the course of the incident. The following are some examples of these situations.

2. Initiate all actions based on current and expected fire behavior.

4. Ensure that instructions are given and understood.

6. Remain in communication with your crew members, supervisors and adjoining forces.

9. Retain control at all times.

10. Stay alert, keep calm, think clearly, act decisively.

Watch Out Situations

Ten Watch Out Situations were present or disregarded at one time or another during the course of the incident. The following are some examples of these situations.

5. Uninformed about strategy tactics and hazards

6. Instructions and assignments not clear!

8. Constructing fire line without a safe anchor point

11. Unburned fuel between you and the fire

12. Cannot see main fire, not in contact with anyone who can.

Safety is an uncompromising master. Most people compromise safety routinely in their daily activities, usually with no consequences. But neglect of safety eventually leads to 'near misses', and 'near misses' lead to accidents, some with tragic consequences. Fire suppression can be a dangerous business, and it has a history of tragic deaths. Safety and fire suppression need not be mutually exclusive, and safety must come first.

All organizations involved in wildland fire suppression, and especially each individual, need to rededicate themselves to the fundamental principle that a choice for safety is the right choice -- every time.

The above 'extract' reprinted here courtesy of the USFS

Last updated 4 November 2014