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Colorado Firecamp - wildland firefighter training

Colorado Firecamp has bundled S-230, Crew Boss with S-231, Engine Boss, offering both classes as a single session including meals and lodging. Our next S-230/231 classes are:

  • Apr. 6-9, 2017
    (8:00 am Thur.  5:00 pm Fri.)

Cost: $525 includes tuition, meals & lodging.


Pre-course Assignments

Safe Practices Under Blow-up Conditions — a Training Outline for the Fire Crew Boss — Fire Control Notes, 1958


Basics of Fire Suppression — Lynn Biddison, 1982


Thirtymile Criminal Complaint, 2006

United States District Court

EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON

FILED IN THE U.S DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON
DEC 19 2006
JAMES R. LARSEN. CLERK
______________DEPUTY
SPOKANE, WASHINGTON

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
V.
ELLREESE N. DANIELS

CRIMINAL COMPLAINT

CASE NUMBER: MJ-06-308


Overview of the Thirtymile Fire

In early July of 2001, a year of severe drought, numerous wildfires were burning in Washington. On the afternoon of July 10, 2001, four Forest Service firefighters died while participating in an operation to suppress a wildfire in the Chewuch River drainage within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The drainage was a box canyon, which contained a single road in to a campground near the north end of the canyon. There were no houses, businesses, or Forest Service buildings in the drainage.

The wildfire, which was designated the Thirtymile Fire, had started the previous day as a result of an abandoned camp fire. The fire burned generally northeast, up the canyon, from the point of origin. During the early morning hours of July 10th, the fire was only about five acres and was burning slowly in a riparian area adjacent to the river. According to the Okanogan National Forest Dispatch Log, the Entiat Interagency Hotshot crew arrived at the fire at approximately 1:30 a.m. The Hotshot crew worked to build a line around the fire. The vegetation was dense, making the work to cut a control line arduous.

The 21-member Northwest Regular #6 Type 2 crew (NWR #6) relieved the Hotshots about 9:30 a.m. NWR #6 consisted of a Crew Boss Trainer, who was Ellreese N. Daniels; a Crew Boss Trainee, who was Pete Kampen; and three squads of firefighters. Each squad had a squad boss. Approximately half of the crew members were rookies.

Upon arriving at the fire, Mr. Daniels, the Crew Boss Trainer, and Mr. Kampen, the Crew Boss Trainee, obtained a briefing and a walk-through with the Hotshot Superintendent, who was Marshall Brown, and the Assistant Superintendent, who was Kyle Cannon. Mr. Kampen then briefed the crew. NWR #6 actually starting working on the fire at about 11:00 a.m. The Hotshots went down the road to a camping area to eat and get some sleep.

The day was hot and the relative humidity was dropping. The active fire was on the east side of the Chewuch River, which itself was east of the road. Mr. Daniels and Mr. Kampen had NWR #6 cross the river and set up two pumps to support firefighting efforts. The crew was largely unsuccessful, apparently as a result of inexperience, in operating two water pumps. The vegetation was dense, making hand-line construction slow and hard. Several hand tools broke. The intensity of the fire increased, single trees began to torch, and extensive spotting occurred. The spots started to jump the control line. The fire started to move out of the riparian area, into drier material, toward the east wall of the canyon.

According to the Okanogan National Forest Dispatch Log (Dispatch Log), Mr. Daniels asked at 12:08 p.m. for Helicopter 13N to launch for the purpose of dropping buckets of water on the fire. The helicopter was delayed until about 2:30 p.m. because of an issue about available dip sites. The Dispatch Log reflects that at 12:30 p.m., Mr. Daniels asked for one or two additional crews. At 12:40 p.m., the Dispatch Center arranged for an Air Attack aircraft, a single engine plane with a pilot and a passenger who would coordinate air resources to include air tankers and helicopters. Forest Service employee Gabe Jasso was the passenger1 coordinator in Air Attack. The Dispatch Log reflects that at 12:46 p.m., Mr. Daniels stated that they did not need an air tanker at this time. A few minutes later, the Dispatch Log shows that Mr. Daniels decided to send a runner to wake up the Hotshots and to ask them to return to the fire.

According to the Dispatch Log, Air Attack reported at 1:38 p.m. that the fire was getting active and had grown in the last half hour. Five minutes later, through Air Attack, Mr. Daniels repeated his request for two more crews and also asked for a small air tanker.

Mr. Daniels and Mr. Kampen disengaged the fire at around 2:00 p.m. and withdrew their crew across the river to the "lunch spot," which was along the road just north of the point of origin. They indicated to the crew that they had lost the fire and that it would be an "air show." Crew members ate, and some slept while others worked on their tools. The first air tanker drop was unsuccessful in slowing the fire's advance up the east slope.

According to the Dispatch Log, at 2:27 p.m., Gabe Jasso in Air Attack arranged for two fire engines to travel to the Thirtymile Fire. At about 2:45 p.m., Helicopter 13N arrived with a 135-gallon bucket. I interviewed the helicopter pilot, Paul Walters. He told me that he had expected to work in coordination with NWR #6, but the crew, to his surprise, was further up canyon. Mr. Walters could not see the crew at the lunch spot, let alone up canyon beyond the first tree line as a result of smoke. After consulting with Mr. Daniels and Air Attack, Mr. Walters made bucket drops along the east flank of the fire, first on the slope (ineffective) and then south of the lunch spot along the road. Helicopter 13N could not fly further into the canyon because Mr. Walters could not see as a result of the smoke. The helicopter was a non-factor in the events of the afternoon.

Air Attack left to refuel at 254 p.m. Lead 65, piloted by Gregory House, replaced Air Attack as the aerial platform for the fire. Mr. House, who was a former air tanker pilot, had as his primary responsibility, guiding air tankers on their runs. Lead 65 made contact with Mr. Daniels and remained over the fire until Air Attack returned at approximately 4:24 p.m.

According to the Dispatch Log, Engine 701 arrived at the fire at 3:24 p.m. and Engine 704 arrived at 3:27 p.m. Harry Dunn, the foreman of Engine 701, which was the larger of the two engines, stopped the engine at the lunch spot and checked in with Mr. Daniels. As the Incident Commander, Mr. Daniels had responsibility for managing the use of the engines. Mr. Dunn told Mr. Daniels that he would take the engines up canyon to patrol the road for spot fires in an effort to keep the fire on the east side of the road. At this point, the fire was burning up the east slope of the canyon and along the river.

Mr. Dunn, with Engine 701, drove a couple miles up (north) the canyon road and turned around. On the way back down the canyon (south), Engine 701 encountered a spot fire on the east side of the road (but west of the river). Mr. Dunn and his crew sprayed the spot fire, which was about 100 feet in diameter and had four-foot flame lengths. He then called for a hand crew to come up canyon to dig a line around a spot that his engine had hosed down. Mr. Daniels and Mr. Kampen, without scouting the fire, without notifying the aerial platform, and without posting a lookout, took two of the three squads of NWR #6 up canyon.

Members of the squads saw that they passed a couple spot fires as they drove up canyon. In fact, Engine 704 was putting out one of those spot fires on the west side of the road. One of the squads stopped to ask Engine 704 if it needed assistance. Engine 704 declined the offer, and the squad continued up canyon to Engine 701. I interviewed Mr. Dunn. He told me that Mr. Daniels informed him, upon arriving at Engine 701's location, that there were a couple of spot fires below them. At 4:34 p.m., the fire burned across the road, north of the lunch spot and south of the two squads. Engine 701 had just left the spot fire to get more water and was able to drive south of the fire. Mr. Kampen had left the spot fire earlier to pick up and transport the third squad up the canyon. He and the third squad, together with the Entiat Hotshot crew, were on the south side of the fire.

The wildfire trapped two squads of the relatively inexperienced fire crew and two hikers in the box canyon. Mr. Daniels had his 14-member team retreat north to a location on the road, parallel to the Chewuch River. The river was on the east and a scree slope was to the immediate west of the road. The two civilians, heading south from the campground, joined the fire crew at this location.

Mr. Daniels and the two squads were at the location for over a half an hour before the fire reached them. Mr. Daniels repeatedly told crew members to stay calm and he expressed his belief that the fire would bum around them. His plan was to let the fire burn by to the north, up canyon, and then to drive south on the road and out of the canyon. He took no steps to prepare the site or the crew for a possible deployment of individual fire shelters. Even though an entrapment is viewed by firefighting agencies as a highly unusual and undesirable development, Mr. Daniels did not notify Dispatch of the entrapment. Instead, he spent his time in radio communication with Gabe Jasso in Air Attack monitoring the progress of the fire. Heavy smoke inhibited Air Attack's ability to see the fire. Members of the crew did not remain together on the road. Instead, Squad Leader Tom Taylor climbed up the scree slope to get a better look at the progress of the fire. Squad Boss Tom Craven and several firefighters walked up the scree slope a short distance and sat on some large rocks.

At 5:24 p.m., the fire jumped the river with great intensity and burned over the two squads of NWR #6 and the two civilians. The crew members deployed their fire shelters, eight on the road and six on the uneven scree slope. A courageous rookie firefighter, Rebecca Welch, on the road placed herself at personal risk by having the two civilians share her shelter. All four fatalities occurred on the slope. Squad Boss Tom Craven and rookie firefighters Karen Fitzpatrick, Jessica Johnson, and Devin Weaver inhaled superheated air that had entered their shelters, apparently through openings on the uneven ground. They were asphyxiated. Firefighter Jason Emhoff, who also deployed on the scree slope, sustained serious burns.

I have attached to this affidavit as Attachment A an aerial view of the Chewuch River drainage that shows the locations of the fire's point of origin; a point where some crew members of NWR #6 crossed the river when initially fighting the fire on the east side of the river; the point where the fire crossed the road, entrapping two squads of NWR #6; the point where Engine 701 and the two squads had been suppressing a spot fire immediately before the entrapment; and the deployment site. I have attached to this affidavit as Attachments B, C, and D diagrams that reflect the progression of the fire, both up the east slope of the canyon wall and up the floor of the canyon, between approximately 3:20 p.m., just before the two engines arrived at the fire, and approximately 5:30 p.m., just after the entrapped crew members deployed their fire shelters. I obtained these documents from the Safety & Accident Investigation Team's report.


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