Point Fire, 1995
On April 6, 1999, two volunteer firefighters died of smoke inhalation on the Island Fork Fire. The Island Fork Fire was located near Cranston, Kentucky, northeast of Morehead, in Rowan County. The victims were constructing a fireline with a leaf blower and fire rake on a wildland fire site where the fuel was primarily hardwood leaf litter. Depth of the leaf litter varied from six inches to over two feet. There is a dominant hardwood canopy with occasional white pines. Average tree height is ninety feet, and there is very little mid-story vegetation.
The victims were part of a seven-person team. As the team was clearing the fireline with handtools, two spot fires occurred. Five team members attacked the spot fires on the north side of the drainage. The two victims proceeded to construct a handline and were approximately 250 feet ahead of the team leader when the leaf blower stopped. A call was made for gas for the leaf blower as it was placed in the drainage. This was the last time there was visual contact between the victims and the rest of the team.
Soon after, the winds increased dramatically with gusts of 35+ mph. The light fuels produced a wall of flames 14 to 20 feet high leaving bark char up to 50 feet high on the overstory trees. This blow-up separated the five team members from the two victims. This occurred in the same time frame in which the Incident Commander ordered all firefighters off the fireline due to wind increases. This sequence of events occurred in a very short time frame.
About this time, flames surrounded the victims. Two scouts from another fire department at the top of the drainage described the situation as a 40-foot wall of fire moving rapidly in a clockwise motion and so loud they could not hear each other. This description depicts a classic chimney effect fire.
The victims ran uphill to within 300 feet of the ridgetop. At this point, the victims reported they were on fire and were going to run into the black (an area where the fire had already burned). Soon after, a search was made, and the two victims were found approximately 500 feet below the ridgetop. The entire sequence of events from initial attack to location of the victims was less than one hour.
The investigation found that the significant causal factors of the fatalities were flame lengths, wind speeds, spot fires, and terrain. Standard Fire Orders 2 and 3 summarize the significant causal factors. See Appendix D.
Investigators recommend, with respect to the significant causal factors of the fatalities, that the Kentucky Division of Forestry (KDF) and fire departments engaged in wildland firefighting develop:
The following recommendations are not related to the significant causal factors of the fatalities:
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