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Point Fire, 1995
Island Fork Fire, 1999

Point Fire Case Study

Point Fire Accident Investigation

A. Point Fire Overview

B. Investigation

C. Recommendations

D. Supporting Data

  • Sequence of Events
  • Organization Charts
  • Site Investigation
  • Fire Behavior Report
  • Property Damage Report
  • Witness Statements
  • Outline of Kuna Wildland Training Provided by BLM

E. Records and Reports

  • Preplanned Dispatch
  • BLM Radio Transmission Log
  • Ada County Dispatch Log
  • Fire Incident Status Summary
  • Escaped Fire Situation Analysis
  • Wildland Fire Entrapment Report
  • Technical Analysis of Personal Protective Equipment
  • Vehicle Inspection
  • Weather Reports

F. Glossary


Island Fork Fire Accident Investigation


Island Fork Fire, NIOSH Report

Point Fire — U.S. District Court Civil Case

Ruling on I.C.'s Decisions - Nov. 10, 1998
 • Factual Background
 • Legal Analysis

Ruling on BLM Liability - Feb. 19, 1999
Findings of Fact
 • Legal Standards
 • Analysis

Ruling on Public Safety Officer Benefits (PSOB)


Surviving Fire Entrapments


Colorado Firecamp extends special thanks to Linda Perkins, BLM Idaho State FOIA Coordinator, for her friendly assistance in gathering the Point Fire documents. BLM FOIA Letter




A. Fire Behavior and Environmental Factors

  1. The primary fuel type was cheatgrass and sagebrush. It most closely correlates to Fuel Model 2.

  2. Live fuel moisture levels (water content of foilage expressed as a percentage of its oven-dry weight) in sagebrush was approximately 90-106%.

  3. Dead fuel content (sagebrush) was about 25%.

  4. The fuel types present coupled with their low moisture content caused and extremely fast rate of fire spread when combined with the high winds that prevailed on the fire at the time of the accident.

  5. Greater than normal spring rains had created an abundance of cheatgrass, exceeding 3,000 lbs. per acre.

  6. The area encompassed by the fire was mostly flat, with gently rolling terrain and few natural obstructions. This allowed an almost continuous fuel bed.

  7. Afternoon temperatures on July 28 reached 100 degrees fahrenheit. Relative humidity was about 15%.

  8. The thunderstorm that approached the fire from the south contained downdrafts and strong winds, estimated to be in excess of 40 mph.

  9. The Boise BLM District Dispatch transmitted a red flag warning at 2022 on July 28 for the area included in the Point Fire.

  10. A Haines Index of "6 high" was calculated for the area on July 28. The Haines Index is a tool used to measure the contribution of atmospheric stability to the growth potential of existing wildfires.

B. Incident Management

  1. The control objective for the Point Fire area was influenced by its location within the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. This area is classified as the second highest priority for the Boise District for fire control. The BLM Boise District's Fire Management Activity Plan (FMAP) objectives call for containment of fires at 50 acres or less in this area. Only the Boise Front area, with its numerous residential areas and critical watershed, is classified as a higher priority.

  2. The Kuna RFD chief asked the BLM IC if assistance was needed in suppressing the Point Fire. The BLM IC responded by requesting 1 engine and a water tender from Kuna RFD.

  3. A safety briefing specific to this fire was not done by BLM initial attack crews upon arriving at the fire scene. The Kuna RFD firefighters of Engines 620 and 622 received instructions from their command to stay together and to fall in behind the BLM engines prior to beginning firefighting activity.

  4. Strategies and tactics used by the BLM IC were sound.

C. Control Mechanisms


  1. Lack of common communication ability contributed to this incident. The BLM IC could not monitor Kuna Command because the frequency was not programmed into his radio.

  2. Some Kuna crews had the capability to utilize the Boise District frequencies while others did not. Kuna Command did not have complete radio communications capability at all times with all the units.

    While Kuna RFD Engines 620 and 621 had communication capabilities with both BLM and Kuna Command, they could not communicate with Kuna Command when they switched to the BLM frequency.

  3. A critical lack of communication occurred when the crew of Kuna RFD Engine 620 did not communicate its intention to leave the fire line.

  4. The Salmon BLM crew (Engine 425), Kuna water tender 625, Kuna command (6803) and the Ada County Dispatch Center did not hear the red flag warning broadcast by BLM Boise District Dispatch.

10 Standard Fire Orders / 18 Situations That Shout “Watch Out”

  1. Eight of the ten standard fire orders were compromised on this fire by one or more crews.

  2. Eight of the 18 Situations That Shout “Watch Out” were not recognized by one or more crews.

D. Involved Personnel


Team members reviewed all training records for the personnel involved in the Point Fire. A full copy of training records is available in the official investigative file.

  1. Firefighters on the Point Fire had a variety of experience and training. BLM firefighter experience ranged from 3 months to 29 seasons. Kuna RFD firefighters' experience ranged from 2 months to 21 years.

  2. While Kuna RFD personnel were well trained for fighting structure fires, most firefighters on the Point Fire had only five hours of wildland fire training in 1995. That training was requested by Kuna RFD in June and July, and was provided by the BLM Boise District.

  3. Kuna RFD Engine 622 had a combined experience of 31 years. Kuna RFD Engine 620 had about 1.5 years of combined wildland experience. BLM engine crews had an average of 8 seasons of experience. (A season equates to 4 months.)


  1. Kuna RFD engine personnel at times did not follow orders issued by Kuna Command or the BLM IC. For example, the Chief directed Kuna RFD Engines 620 and 622 to stay together on the fire and Kuna Command 6803 instructed both Kuna engines to fall in behind the BLM engines.

  2. A relaxed attitude prevailed when the fire's spread was stopped. That was evidenced by requests from both BLM and Kuna RFD to allow inexperienced personnel to operate engines on the firelines.

  3. A complacent attitude toward safety was displayed by some BLM firefighters, particularly regarding the use of PPE. Agency standards regarding safety were overlooked or ignored in several instances on the Point Fire.

  4. No attempts were made to verify a safe location of all crews by BLM or Kuna RFD when the blow-up occurred.


  1. Kuna Command (6803) stayed on Swan Falls Road, where he could see much of the fire activity. However, he had limited radio communication with Kuna crews, and no communication with BLM during initial suppression efforts.

  2. Two less experienced Kuna RFD firefighters occupied the same engine. To compensate, however, Kuna Command ordered the two engines to stay together on the fire and follow the BLM engines.

  3. The BLM IC and Kuna Command 6803 did not make physical contact to clarify details of the shared command process.

  4. Kuna RFD had successfully participated with BLM on a previous wildland fire on July 3, 1995, using the Unified Command approach outlined in the Incident Command System.

  5. The Boise District and Kuna RFD has no formal mutual aid fire protection and suppression agreement that details radio frequencies to use, incident command protocol and standard operating procedures, safety, personal protective equipment requirements, training, and qualifications for firefighters.

E. Equipment

  1. The Kuna RFD engine crews had personal protective equipment, including bunker pants and structural (rubber) boots, and structural helmets. They did not, however, have fire shelters.

  2. Kuna RFD Engine 620 experienced mechanical problems (overheating) earlier in the season and on the Point Fire prior to the blow up.

  3. There were adequate resources (both equipment and personnel) to successfully fight this fire in its initial stages.

  4. Kuna RFD Engine 620 was reported by its crew as stalled just prior to the burnover.

  5. The crew of Kuna RFD Engine 620 did not have adequate means to spray the vehicle, thus eliminating one possible way of protecting themselves and the truck.

  6. No maintenance records were kept for Kuna RFD Engine 620 to help determine its reliability for fighting wildland fires.

It is not known exactly when or why the Kuna RFD Engine 620 crew left the safety of the burned area and proceeded into the unburned area north of the fireline at a time when the fire appeared to be stopped. The most likely explanation is that the crew of Kuna RFD Engine 620 had run out of water and believed that the water tender was located farther north on Swan Falls Road. Kuna RFD Engine 620 may have left the safety of the burned area when the fire's progress had been halted and embarked cross-country in an attempt to save time. A definite explanation will never be known. It is clear that the failure of their vehicle in dense fuels at the critical time when the winds picked up placed the crew members in a perilous situation from which they could not escape.


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