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:
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.