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South Canyon Fire

William Teie Report to OSHA — 1994

6 Minutes for Safety — 2009

Fire Behavior Report, 1998

Cover & Dedication

Executive Summary & About the Authors

Preface & Contents


Fire Behavior Overview

Fire Environment

Fire Chronology

Fire Behavior Discussion



Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Report of the South Canyon Fire Accident Investigation Team, August 17, 1994

USFS shield logoFire Behavior Associated with the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain, Colorado

Fire Chronology (continued)

July 6, 1530 to 1600—Double Draw Crown Fire Runs and Spot Fire on Main Ridge

West Flank Fireline—At about 1530 Smokejumper Mackey commented on the erratic winds. He sent Smokejumpers Erickson and Doehring to patrol the West Flank Fireline for rolling material and hotspots. The winds were increasing in speed (South Canyon Report). Mackey called the hotshots who were working near the Lunch Spot and told them to hold the line and improve the cup trench on the West Flank Fireline.

Main Ridge—Hotshot Scholz left the Main Ridge and started down the West Flank Fireline carrying two 5 gallon containers of water (time, 1530). He noted that while winds were strong and gusty on the Main Ridge, they were relatively calm on the West Flank Fireline (Scholz 1995).

West Flank Fireline—Jumper Hipke had left the Lunch Spot to work on the West Flank Fireline. The Prineville Hotshots and Smokejumpers Hipke, Thrash, Erickson, and Doehring were all working north of the point where the fireline drops off the Lunch Spot Ridge. We estimate that this group was spread along the fireline, approximately 1,450 to 1,880 feet down the fireline from the Zero Point (time, 1530).

Scholz, who was carrying the water containers down the line, met Roth at the Stump. Scholz helped Roth move a log off the line (about 1539). They talked, and then a few minutes later, Scholz headed back up the fireline toward the Main Ridge leaving the water containers for Roth to carry to the firefighters working farther southwest along the fireline (time, 1545). There was little wind, and the previously cloudy sky was clearing (Scholz 1995).

Erickson and Doehring hiked north along the fireline looking for hotspots. They met Roth at the Stump (approximately 1555).

Double Draws—After the helicopter dropped water on a flareup in the Double Draws, Smokejumpers Petrilli, Thomas, and Shelton contoured southeast along the slope from the Lunch Spot (approximately 1545). Another five smokejumpers were scattered between the Lunch Spot and Petrilli, who stopped about 630 feet south and east of the Lunch Spot. A few minutes later Longanecker asked the incoming helicopter to drop another bucket of water on the flareup. At this time a flareup that had occurred on the Main Ridge fireline about 200 feet south of the Zero Point was spotting across the fireline. It was agreed that the next bucket of water should go to the Main Ridge (South Canyon Report; OSHA 1995).

Several of the smokejumpers had gathered near what we have designated the Petrilli Photo Point (fig. 21). From this location they could look southwest into the Double Draws and see the area where Longanecker was working. While the smokejumpers were at the Petrilli Photo Point, individual trees began to torch, and a narrow crown fire started burning up the slope located directly south across the Double Draws from them. This fire burned through the previously underburned Douglas-fir, pinyon, and juniper with estimated flame heights greater than 100 feet (about 1555). The smokejumpers stopped moving downhill (South Canyon Report). Three separate runs occurred in rapid succession (Petrilli 1996). Petrilli indicated that he and the others with him were surprised at the speed of these runs. Petrilli photographed this fire activity from his position (fig. 22). The photograph shows the crown fire run and smoke over the entire area.

Figure 21—Topographical map with crown fire runs in Double Draws identified by heavy red lines (time, 1555). Vectors show general wind flow over fire area.

Main Ridge—When Scholz reached the Main Ridge, after leaving Roth, he noted that winds were strong, approximately 45 miles per hour (time, 1553). The sky was clear over the fire, but clouds were located over Storm King Mountain. Fire spotted across the Main Ridge Fireline at about 1554 (fig. 23a). When Helicopter Pilot Good attempted to drop water on the spot fire burning on the Main Ridge (around 1555), the winds caused the water drop to miss the fire (fig. 23b). The pilot later estimated the winds were blowing 35 miles per hour. As the pilot flew back to refill the water bucket he noticed fire activity increasing throughout the area (as demonstrated by increased flaming and smoking) and saw scattered inactive spot fires on the east-facing slope across the West Drainage north of the Lunch Spot Ridge. We believe that the spot fires seen by Good were near the bottom of the West Drainage west of the West Bench (fig. 24). Hearing firefighters over the radio talking about spot fires, Good did not report those he had seen (Good 1996).

Figure 22—Photograph of smoke in West Drainage near Double Draws at approximately 1555. Perspective is looking southwest from Petrilli Photo Point. Smokejumper Longanecker is identified. Note flames from crown fires burning in conifers south of the Double Draws.
Courtesy of T. Petrilli

Figure 23—(A) Photograph of spot fire burning on the Main Ridge south of the Zero Point at approximately 1553. Perspective is looking south from knob north of H-2. (B) Photograph of helicopter dropping first bucket of water on spot fire near Main Ridge at approximately 1555. Perspective is looking south from knob north of H-2. Note smoke on right side of picture over Double Draws, and winds blowing smoke and water to the left (east).
Both courtesy of T. Shepard

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