BATTLEMENT CREEK FIRE
Fatalities & Injury
July 17, 1976
D. Origin and Initial Suppression Effort
The action leading up to the time of BLM's initial attack on July 15,
began 4 days earlier, July 12, on private land.
Sunday, July 11, a severe lightning storm struck the Morrisania area
late in the afternoon. Much of the lightning activity occurred in the
vicinity of the Eames Orchard. This lightning activity was followed by
what was described as a moderately heavy shower. Records indicated .06
rain fell in the town of Grand Junction, Colorado, approximately 40 miles
southwest of the mesa lying in the Colorado River valley. No fire was
reported at that time.
On July 12, at approximately 1330, a fire was reported in SE¼,
NW¼, Section 11, T7S, R95W, at Eames Orchard (fig. 8). This fire
was controlled by 1700 at 1/2 acre by the Grand Valley Volunteer Fire
Department. BLM air patrol (783) confirmed the fire was no longer smoking
Figure 8. Ownership
At 2130, a lightning strike was observed by a local citizen in approximately
the same vicinity which resulted in an immediate fire start. The Grand
Valley Volunteer Fire Department responded to this fire with five men
and a ground tanker. They contained the fire and returned home at 0300,
During the daylight hours of Tuesday and Wednesday, July 13-14, a smoke
surveillance was maintained of the area by the captain of the Grand Valley
Fire Department from his place of employment and by other members of the
department at varying times.
On Thursday, July 15, at approximately 1400, smoke was again noted in
the area by the residents of the Eames Orchard, and a call was placed
to the Grand Valley Fire Department. Two men from the Grand Valley Department
responded, arriving at the fire approximately 1430. They found the fire
was again in the same location they had taken action on twice the previous
Monday. The two men were just starting suppression action when an increase
in wind velocity was noted. The fire jumped about 20-30 feet to the south
and southeast into sage and cheatgrass fuels and spread rapidly. The pumper
was considered to be in danger and the men moved the vehicle and radioed
for assistance. The fire was gaining momentum and velocity; the men decided
to remain on the west side of the fire and wet down that area with the
water they had. The wind velocity kept increasing at this time.
At approximately 1430, the Grand Valley Fire Chief went to the north
of the area on a higher mesa some 5 miles distant and had the area in
observation. He reported observing a pattern of fire about 50 yards wide
moving rapidly southeast.
The Grand Valley Fire Captain reported observing a cloud of fire and
smoke erupt from the area at a time of 1500. His location was about 6
miles northeast of the fire.
Additional manpower and equipment were dispatched to the scene by the
Grand Valley Fire Department (time undetermined).
At 1510, July 15, Wayne Fisher, BLM, radioed Grand Junction Fire Dispatch
a location on the fire from his visual observations from some distance
Grand Junction District Fire Management Officer Roy Johnson initiated
BLM action at 1522 while on an aerial observation flight. The initial
order was for a retardant drop and two helitack crews. An additional retardant
drop was ordered almost immediately. At approximately 1600, the Fire Boss
Jack Haslem, a local district employee, was alerted and two 20-man crews
At 1548, BLM air tanker No. 59 was dispatched with an ETA of 15 minutes
and the county fire department had been advised to clear a drop zone.
The Grand Valley crew on the fire reported the first retardant drop at
1600. They had pulled back to the Eames Orchard prior to arrival of the
Several local pumper, volunteer, BLM and Forest Service crews continued
to work along parts of the fire the night of July 15. Three air tankers,
two 1,000-gallon B-26's and a 2,000-gallon C-119 worked hot spots until
dark. The pumper-crews patrolled the west side from midnight to 0600 July
16 to prevent the fire from crossing the road to the west.
From the beginning of suppression effort on July 15, the attack strategy
was designed to prevent western and southern spread of the fire. The presence
of natural gas lines and wells to the west and Project Rulison to the
south influenced this decision. Later, on July 16, the fatal crash of
an air tanker near the fire was also an unusual event.
Project Rulison - This program was sponsored by Austrol Oil of Houston,
Texas, and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratories under the supervision of
the Atomic Energy Commission. It was conducted to stimulate the natural
gas pockets and facilitate gas collection by underground nuclear explosions.
Remaining at the project site are two above-ground metal holding tanks
which contain some explosive vapors. Also contained in the tanks is a
small amount of material which presents a low-level radiation problem.
The well is closed with plugs at the bottom and also the top of the shaft.
The valves have been closed and chain locked.
Plans are to close the site in the near future by removing the tanks
and cementing the shaft closed.
Aircraft Accident - On Friday, July 16, 1 day before the crew accident,
a B-26 air tanker crashed on a retardant dropping mission on the Battlement
Creek fire. The accident occurred at 0856, approximately 1 mile south
of the fire. The pilot was killed.
The crash diverted the line boss and the Sawtooth interregional crew
for much of the day in controlling a fire at the crash site and removing
the pilot's remains.
Although this accident is not related directly to the crew fatalities
and injuries, it could be an indirect factor affecting overhead attitude
Although the line boss and one crew were diverted to the crash site July
16, there were, however, no direct actions taken on the Battlement Creek
fire as a result of this aircraft accident.
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Creek Fire, Fire Behavior and Burning Sequence on July 16 and 17, 1976