One Death is too many …


I have begun to do some research into this very dangerous job people take on — what works, and what doesn’t. It started with Cal-Fire’s recommendation regarding the Thirtymile Fire in 2001 up in Washington State which took the lives of 4 firefighters. Here, we were very lucky. No one died. No serious injuries were reported. Despite the extreme nature of the fire, and the houses lost, we were lucky.

The USFS conducted a full investigation of the Thirtymile fire, and among those investigating were Jeanne Pincha-Tulley. The report issued was a mind-opener. When I googled the Thirtymile fire, one report that came up had material for inter-agency usage. That of course got me interested. I read all 50 plus pages, plus appendixes, of this report that explained what went wrong, causing the death of these firefighters. So many factors played a roll, but one thing is clear, these men and women do not get enough time to recover. They are on alert for hours, and days at a time, leading to poor choices. Exhaustion can be critical in the decision making process. Command confusion is clearly another, equipment inadequacies or unavailability are another, and of course, underestimating the enemy is always a factor. Also, I just found this on http://www.wildlandfire.com:

“I just read that Judge Van Sickle will sentence Ellreese Daniels on August 18, 2008.”

Ellreese Daniels was the IC, a squad boss, and the first one ever criminally prosecuted for the death of firefighters at a wildfire. If you would really like to understand some of the things these wildland firefighters face, read this report. It can be found here:
http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/safety/investigations/30mile/30mile_report.pdf

Now, I’d like to find the report for the Esparanza fire of 2006 which caused the death of 5 firefighters and share it with you. These reports may open your eyes. In the Thirtymile fire, firefighters were not trying to save structures. They were simply trying to put out a wildfire.

It is easy to criticize the IC on the Basin Complex Fire, and I do think he made mistakes, and my discussions with Cal-Fire bear that out, but if you had lost your personnel, as Dietrich did in the Esparanza fire, would you have played it any differently? When you have thousands of tired men and women out in the field, fighting these fires up-close-and personal, would your decisions have placed lives at risk? Don’t get me wrong, there is still the issue of the mandatory evacuations, and the treatment of those who stayed behind to protect their properties; but these are separate issues.

We were lucky. No one died. Remember that. It is important.

8/4 BSMAAC meeting

Last night’s meeting was well worth the time. More people turned out than I had ever seen at one of our Big Sur Multi-Agency Advisory Council Meetings — a HUGE turn-out, in fact. SRO, with people lined up against all the walls and standing outside. I got to see north coast neighbors I had not seen since the fire began. Many hugs from many people. I am so very blessed to be a part of this extraordinary community that exhibits such compassion and heartfelt care for one another. Big Sur, as a community and as a voice, shined her brightest last night. I am honored to have been present.

The meeting was taped by a number of television stations and KUSP. You can see a photo of the crowd at life in the fire lane blog (on my blog roll) and download an audio of the meeting at: http://web.me.com/kellyeo/Life_in_the_Fire_Lane/Life_in_the_Fire_Lane_Downloads.html
Although there was some anger, the meeting was respectful, orderly, and enlightening. It was one of the best meetings I have attended in a long time. We shared stories of what happened in each of our respective corners of the world, some were absolutely amazing. I loved Frank Hathaway’s story about evacuating a SECOND time, only to later receive a phone call from Frank Pinney, our BSVFB Chief, telling him he was calling from Hathaway’s phone, inside Hathaway’s house, and that it was saved. Sula Nichols and Don Case were both there, both lost their houses, but neither spoke. Micah and Ross Curtis were both there from Apple Pie Ridge, and we got to hear their perspectives, particularly Micha’s, who was grandly applauded. Don McQueen also spoke about his experience, working with Blaze Engineering to build dozer lines, deal with the mandatory evacuation, and the sheriff’s response. Too many stories to repeat, but all well received, all applauded, and all heartfelt.

(Wile E. Coyote found on the side of Highway One on the way to meeting)

It would seem that the MCSO threatened many people with arrest for leaving their property during the emergency, while actually only arresting one, Ross Curtis. Others were handcuffed and then released. The one consistent theme, was, first, the FACT of the mandatory evacuation, which had never happened before, as far as anyone can remember, and second, the MCSO’s response to it. Neighbors weren’t allowed to help neighbor. That’s one of the best things about this community, neighbors DO help neighbors. This is not the big city, where one doesn’t know one’s neighbors. This is like most rural communities, where people still help one another. Telling us we could not, does not sit well.

Besides our Congressman, Sam Farr, our Supervisor, Dave Potter, and a representative from State Senator Laird’s Office, as well as various other County Officials, there was quite a presence by the Monterey Sheriff’s Office, but not the Sheriff, Kanalakis, himself. His presence is being “requested” by Dave and Sam for our next meeting on August 12th. Now, that ought to be interesting.

In the mean time, I hope to see some of you once again at the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Gala on August 9th at 6 pm, at the Monterey Conference Center to raise money for the fire brigades and the Big Sur Relief fund.