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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, 1600 to 1603—Fire Crosses West Drainage

Main Ridge—Short duration torching and runs through the vegetation canopy were occurring inside the fire perimeter. The BLM/U.S. Forest Service firefighter crew on the Main Ridge had been working to extinguish the spot fire located about 200 feet south along the Main Ridge from the Zero Point. The spot fire continued to burn on the east side of the Main Ridge Fireline (1600). The wind was strong enough that it blew Crewmember Byers hardhat off (South Canyon Report). Scholz called the Prineville crew members working on the Main Ridge Fireline near H-2 to move up (south) to help the BLM/U.S. Forest Service crew working on the spot fire.

Double Draws—A few minutes after the crown fire runs south of the Double Draws, Petrilli saw smoke coming from the bottom of the West Drainage (1602). Fire was starting to burn north up the east-facing slope across the drainage from him (South Canyon Report; Petrilli 1996). Petrilli radioed Mackey about the fire across the drainage. Then he and the smokejumpers with him started back toward the Lunch Spot. The fire in the West Drainage quickly developed into a running flaming front 50 yards wide burning diagonally up the east-facing slope and up the West Drainage (South Canyon Report) (fig. 24). Petrilli estimated that winds at his location were blowing 35 miles per hour (time 1603). Longanecker heard a call for retardant (he thought it came from Mackey). The person making the call stated, “We have a real bad situation here” (South Canyon Report). Longanecker began moving toward the Lunch Spot, which he had identified as a safe area.

July 6, 1603 to 1609—Fire Moves Up West Drainage

West Drainage—The winds blowing up the bottom of the West Drainage pushed the fire quickly through the fine fuels into the Bowl (about 350 feet north from the base of the Double Draws). Postfire inspection suggests that the Bowl contained a heavier concentration of vegetation than on the surrounding slopes. As the fire burned into the cured grasses, small shrubs, and standing live and dead trees in the bowl, the size and height of the smoke column over the fire increased.

Lunch Spot—The smokejumpers, who had been observing the fire in the Double Draws, continued back to the Lunch Spot (about 5 minutes walking time). The fire on the east-facing slope across from them ran 770 feet to the top of the ridge and continued to burn north along the slope. Smokejumper Petrilli estimated the upslope winds at his location were blowing about 45 miles per hour (Petrilli 1995).

West Flank Fireline—Smokejumper Hipke, who had been working on a hotspot about 100 feet north along the West Flank Fireline from the Lunch Spot, moved farther north around the hotshots in front of him and continued up the fireline (generally toward the northeast). He met Smokejumper

Figure 24—Topographical map showing fire south of Double Draws and starting to burn across the bottom of the West Drainage and toward the Bowl (approximate time, 1602). Red dots in West Drainage indicate approximate locations of inactive spot fires based on helicopter pilot Goods statements.

Thrash at about 1603. Within a minute, Thrash and Hipke were joined by Smokejumper Roth, who had come down the line carrying the two water containers Hotshot Scholz had left with him. About 1604, Smokejumpers Hipke, Roth, and Thrash, and Hotshot Hagen, who was nearby, noticed the smoke column building over the West Drainage. After a short discussion the four of them started hiking northeast up the West Flank Fireline toward the Main Ridge. It appeared to them that the area around the Double Draws and Lunch Spot would be overrun first, so moving north up the West Flank Fireline was the only alternative (Hipke 1995). At the same time, Hotshot Kelso, who was working on the West Flank Fireline between Thrash and the Lunch Spot, radioed Shepard to inform him that “a spot fire [had] crossed the draw [West Drainage] below them” (South Canyon Report). Shepard told them “to get out of there” and go to the designated safety zone at H-1 (Scholz 1995; South Canyon Report). Kelso and the other hotshots working on the fireline were also moving northeast up the fireline by the time the three smokejumpers and Hagen started out the fireline (about 1605).

Main Ridge—Noting the increased activity on the Main Ridge, the incoming helicopter, the strong winds, and Kelso’s call, Scholz commented, “Things are getting complicated.” Shepard and Blanco told the Main Ridge Group to go to H-1 (South Canyon Report; OSHA 1995). Hotshot Gray noted the time on his watch as 1604 and commented, “Remember this time” (South Canyon Report; Scholz 1995). Scholz told his group to wait for the incoming bucket drop (Scholz 1995). Many spot fires had developed on the Main Ridge. The firefighters who had been working on the Main Ridge abandoned their efforts to control them (Scholz 1995).

Helicopter Pilot Good estimates he was flying through westerly winds of 45 to 50 miles per hour on his return with the second bucket of water for the Main Ridge spot fire. Due to strong westerly winds, he had to circle around and approach the Main Ridge from the east. This time he hit the spot fire with the water drop (about 1605). The water cooled the spot fire sufficiently (fig. 25) for the firefighters to pass through it and move south, uphill toward H-1. As Good finished the water drop and started back to refill the bucket, he noted the large smoke column building over the Bowl. The smoke was blowing directly over his position above the Main Ridge. He was not able to see into the base of the column from his position. However, recognizing the change in the situation, he headed to the helibase at the Canyon Creek Estates subdivision to disconnect the bucket so he could return to ferry firefighters off the ridge (Good 1996).

Figure 25—Photograph taken shortly after the second water drop on Main Ridge at approximately 1601. Perspective is same as in figures 23a and b, looking south from top of knob north of H-2. Note column developing over West Drainage and significantly more smoke over west flank of fire than shown in photograph taken from same point approximately 10 minutes earlier.
Courtesy of T. Shepard

Lunch Spot—Mackey and the other smokejumpers who had been with Petrilli met on the Lunch Spot Ridge about 100 feet below the Lunch Spot. The smokejumpers were moving toward the Lunch Spot. Mackey told them there was a good “black” area farther up the Lunch Spot ridge and to go there. As the smokejumpers continued up the ridge, Mackey called to check on Longanecker’s position. Longanecker replied, “We’re in a safe zone” (1606) (South Canyon Report). After leaving the eight smokejumpers, Mackey continued across West Flank behind the hotshots and smokejumpers who were hiking up the West Flank Fireline to the Main Ridge.

West Flank Fireline—As Smokejumpers Hipke, Roth, and Thrash neared the Stump, Hipke looked back to the southwest and saw fire burning in the bottom and up both sides of the West Drainage, the fire front was advancing north and was forming a “U” shape in the bottom of the West Drainage (fig. 26) (Hipke 1994).

The Tree—Jumpers Doehring and Erickson met Smokejumper Archuleta near the Draw (450 feet below and west of the Zero Point). Archuleta had walked down the fireline from the Main Ridge. They moved up the fireline to the Tree located 200 feet below the Zero Point where BLM Firefighters Brixey and Haugh were working with a chain saw (1606). Brixey and Haugh shut off their saw. The three smokejumpers pointed out the smoke column over the West Drainage and relayed the message to move to the safety zone. Following a short discussion Archuleta, Doehring, and Brixey headed up the fireline toward the Main Ridge (1608). Erickson and Haugh remained at the Tree (South Canyon Report).

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