Colorado Firecamp - wildfire training wildland firefighter training Wildfire Blog Engine Boss Apprenticeship Location and Facility About Colorado Firecamp Frequently Asked Questions
Colorado Firecamp - wildland firefighter training

Fire Entrapments



Previous Studies of Vehicle Burnovers


Test Procedures and Methods

Test Results



About the Author

Appendix A - Vehicle Entrapment Study Plan

Appendix B - Characterizing Gases Generated in Vehicles and Fire Shelters

Appendix C - Insulated Boxes for Protecting Video Cameras

Also read about engine entrapment incidents:


Fire Entrapments
Comparing Conditions Inside
Vehicles and Fire Shelters

Richard Mangan
Program Leader

September 1997
7E62P87–Vehicle Entrapment

“Safety won't cost you anything...until you forget it.”
— Richard E. McArdie, Chief
Forest Service, 1953


Since early in the days of wildland fire suppression, mechanized equipment has played an increasingly important role. Engines have become especially popular, providing transportation, water (and now foam), and a wide range of equipment for ground firefighters. This dependence on motorized equipment is not unique to the United States. Australia, Spain, Portugal, and France are just a few of the countries where engines are an important part of the fire suppression arsenal.

As engines are more widely used, the risk that fire will burn over the engine increases. Protective clothing and equipment (such as the fire shelter) are well accepted in the fire community. A wide range of opinion has been expressed concerning the protection an engine might afford during a burnover.

In recent years firefighters have been entrapped in their engines during a number of incidents. They have been forced to make instantaneous decisions about their best chances for survival: in an engine, or in a fire shelter.

  • In 1958 on the Wandilo Fire in Australia, 11 firefighters were trapped in a fast-moving bushfire: three survived and eight died. Of the three survivors, one laid in the wheel rut on the sandy road, and the other two stayed in the engine cab until it caught fire.

  • In October 1985, three Santa Barbara County firefighters abandoned their engine when the plastic lights and gauges melted and the front and side windows cracked from the heat. They went into fire shelters and survived uninjured.

  • In 1987 on the Crank Fire in northern California, firefighters took shelter in their engines until the intense heat began melting components inside the cab. They left the engines and used their fire shelters as protective capes when they fled the burn area.

  • In 1990 on the Wenatchee Heights Fire in central Washington the local fire chief attempted to ride out a burnover in the cab of an engine. When the heat became so intense that it blew out the engine's front windshield, he was forced to leave the engine and run through open flames, suffering third-degree burns over much of his body.

  • In 1993 during a Santa Ana-condition firestorm in southern California, firefighters attempting to take shelter in their engines were burned because they were unable to get inside the engine quickly enough.

  • In 1995, a fast-moving grass/sagebrush fire near Boise, ID, trapped two rural volunteer firefighters in the cab of their engine. Neither firefighter had a fire shelter, and both died in the engine.

  • In 1995, many engines were destroyed by a fast-moving timber fire on Long Island, NY. All firefighters abandoned their engines and survived (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1-This engine burned during the 1995 fires on Long Island. Although many engines were destroyed, all firefighters escaped without injuries.

Figure 2-The cab interior of the same engine burned during the 1995 fires on Long Island.

  • In 1996 on the Calabasas Fire in southern California, firefighters seeking shelter in their engines were at risk when the flame front curled around the vehicle, reaching firefighters who were seeking shelter behind the engine.

In October 1995, the Missoula Technology and Development Center in Missoula, MT, began a 1-year study to compare conditions inside a fire shelter and inside an engine under identical fire conditions; cooperators in this study included the Florida Division of Forestry, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the Intermountain Fire Sciences Laboratory.

<<< continue reading—Surviving Fire Entrapments, Objectives >>>

Additional single copies of this document may be ordered from:

USDA Forest Service, MTDC
Building 1, Fort Missoula
Missoula, MT 59804-7294
Phone: (406) 329-3900
Fax: (406) 329-3719

An electronic copy of this document is available on the Forest Service's FSWeb intranet at:


The Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, has developed this infor-mation for the guidance of its employees, its contractors, and its cooperating Federal and State agencies, and is not responsible for the interpretation or use of this information by anyone except its own employees. The use of trade, firm, or corporation names in this publication is for the information and convenience of the reader, and does not constitute an endorsement by the Department of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in its programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication of program information (braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA's TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice or TDD). To file a complaint, write the Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 20250, or call 1-800-245-6340 (voice) or (202) 720-1127 (TDD). USDA is an equal employment opportunity employer.

<<< continue reading—Surviving Fire Entrapments, Objectives >>>


©2005 Colorado Firecamp, Inc. home scheduleblogENGBfacilityabout usFAQ's