HRO Review of the Rattle Fire Snag Incident
September 10, 2008
(download PDF report, 11 pages, 345 kb)
<<< read previous — Rattle Fire Snag Incident,
In their own words: IHC 1 >>>
Environment: The incident occurred in the Pine Bench area of the Boulder Creek Wilderness on the Umpqua National Forest. This area had previously burned in 1996 and was heavily congested with hazard snags from that fire. The weather was clear and winds were projected to be 15 mph from the NE.
Background: Concerns for firefighter safety, exposure to hazards, and risk management were recognized and considered by the Forest and Incident Management Teams and were incorporated into the strategies. The fire was burning in heavy dead and down fuels resulting from the Spring Fire of 1996 where fuel load estimates ranged from 30 to 50 tons per acre. Snag quantity varied but ranged up to 125 snags per acre. Steep slopes, cliffs and rocky bluffs in a remote and inaccessible area contributed to hazardous conditions. Direct attack options were limited while indirect attack options continued to present obstacles and expose fire fighters to additional risks.
Strategy: A long term suppression plan was completed for the Rattle Fire on August 30 and was validated on September 9. The initial strategy was to protect the greatest values at risk (private lands south and west and power transmission and distribution lines south). The intent was to contain the fire within the wilderness area and prevent spread of fire to the south and west by preparing indirect lines on Pine Bench and Eagle Ridge. There was a very low probability that fire would spread north and east. The strategy changed from going primarily indirect to going direct in some areas once the fire crossed Boulder Creek to the east, burned onto Pine Flat, and crossed Highway 138 to the south. The strategy then became containing the fire south of the river using dozer lines, hand lines and roads, checking western spread north of the river using Eagle Ridge and roads, and checking eastern spread north of the river using dozer line, hand lines and roads. Boulder Creek Trail was initially opened for access and as a contingency. When fire crossed onto Pine Flat, the teams used the opened trail as part of the fire line for burning out and also constructed additional line. Snags would be felled by qualified fallers only when they posed a threat to safety.
What Was Planned? Three Interagency Hotshot Crews were to construct a fire line from the 011 Road through the Pine Bench area to prepare for a firing operation and burnout. Portions of the fire line along Pine Bench included snag patches. All snags that had the potential to catch fire, fall, and breach the fire line were to be removed. Firing operations were expected to begin as close to 1730 as possible and the burnout was to be completed by end of shift. The intent was to keep the fire in check and prevent it from spreading to the south and west. The tree that was being cut when the incident occurred was one of three trees that IHC-2 had left to fall before firing operations on Pine Bench were to begin. There was general agreement that the strategy could be implemented safely using appropriate mitigation measures, but there were differences of opinion on the tactics.
What Happened? IHC-2 was working in Division-A with IHC-2 and IHC-3 to build a line from the 011 road to Pine Bench in order to conduct the burnout operation. The timeframe was tight for completing line construction in order to begin firing operations as close to 1730 as possible.
The increasing numbers of snags occurring along the Pine Bench fire line were discussed with the Division Supervisor and the line location was changed and considered viable. The use of professional fallers for falling snags was also discussed, however, under the intended timeframe, there was not enough time for professional fallers to get to the site and be used effectively.
IHC-2 faller (Faller-2) and swamper (Swamper-2) were on one of the last three trees that the crew had identified as having the potential to breach the fire line once the burnout operations on Pine Bench began. They sized up the tree three times. The tree was located between the fire line a few feet to the west and the fire edge about 20 feet to the east. They had scouted the area and were aware of several other snags near the control line but within the fire area that were weakened and/or burning.
During the size up a crew member met up with the saw team. Swamper-2 asked the crew member to bump back up the line to act as a trail guard. The crew member went approximately 75 yards south of the saw operations to where the trail and handline connected. Once the crew member was in position, he radioed Swamper-2 that it was clear to begin saw operations. Faller-2 sized up the tree one more time.
Swamper-2 said he retreated back about 20 - 30 feet and the faller began to cut. As soon as the tree started to go over, Faller-2 escaped the stump to the location of Swamper-2. As the tree fell, it brushed against another tree and broke branches off both trees. The faller and swamper said they waited for 60 - 90 seconds until the debris had stopped falling till they went back to the stump.
Faller-2 started toward the stump with swamper-2 about 3 feet behind. As they reached the stumped swamper-2 looked down to give the all clear on the radio and before the swamper-2 could key his radio, he looked up and saw a snag fall, landing directly on top of the faller-2 and only missing the swamper by about a foot. Faller-2 was not hit by the tree he was cutting, he was hit by a small snag from approximately 40 feet within the interior of the fire.
Faller-2 was hit on his left side, he remained standing for a brief period of time and then collapsed. He landed on top of his saw with his head resting on the snag that had hit him. He was within a foot or two from the stump. Swamper-2 immediately got on the radio and asked for the two crew EMTs to respond. Swamper-2 reported that the faller was unconscious and bleeding from his head.
Faller-2 was evacuated via helicopter to Roseburg and suffered injuries to the left-side head/temple area as well as 6 fractured ribs.
It is not known why the snag fell, but in the previous weeks snags were falling due to vibration from work in the area, winds, etc.
reading — Rattle Fire Snag Incident,
In Their Own Words: IHC 2 >>>