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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, 1609 to 1610—Fire on West Flank

Smokejumper Mackey caught the firefighters hiking up the West Flank Fireline as they passed the Stump (about 1609). Using known values for walking speeds in rough terrain and distances along the fireline, we estimate that Mackey must have run to catch the last of the hotshots at this location. By this time the smokejumpers and hotshots were hiking in essentially one group, hereafter referred to as the West Flank Fireline Group. The group continued to follow the West Flank Fireline. They hiked over the Spur Ridge and then east up the fireline toward the Main Ridge.

West Flank Fireline—The fire moved onto the West Bench. It rapidly increased in size, burning across a wide front. It was spreading north up the West Drainage and upslope on a path parallel to the Lunch Spot Ridge (approximately 1608).

As Smokejumper Hipke reached the top of the Spur Ridge he looked back and saw Mackey at the rear of the group (approximately 1609) (Hipke 1995). Behind Mackey the fire burned in a wide front above and below the West Flank Fireline (fig. 27). Hipke states that due to the height of the Gambel oak and the drainage topography, the firefighters had only brief glimpses of the fire burning behind and below them.

Figure 26—Fire perimeter at 1607 as Smokejumper Hipke looked down canyon (southwest) from the Stump. Fire was burning on both sides of the West Drainage and below the West Flank Fireline.

The Tree—Firefighters Haugh and Erickson at the Tree could hear a loud roaring sound from the fire. They saw the first few smokejumpers in the group cresting the Spur Ridge and walking northeast along the West Flank Fireline toward them. They saw fire burning behind and below the West Flank Fireline Group. Erickson called Mackey and told him about the fire, Mackey did not respond (time, about 1610).

Main Ridge—The firefighters hiking along the Main Ridge neared the rocky outcropping north of H-1. They saw fire nearly all the way up the slope below and to the west of them (estimated time 1609). Several firefighters near the front of the group felt they could not make it to the safety zone at H-1 before the fire reached the top of the ridge. This was the same fire run Hipke saw from the Spur Ridge. The terrain was steep, the firefighters were fatigued, and spot fires on the Main Ridge between them and H-1 were actively burning (South Canyon Report; OSHA 1995). Hotshot Scholz told the Prineville firefighters to “Reverse and move”—meaning to return the way they had come (Scholz 1995). BLM Squad Boss Ryerson also told her crew to go to H-2. Both crews turned back and began walking and running north down the Main Ridge toward H-2.

Figure 27—Fire perimeter at 1609 as Smokejumper Hipke looked south from point where fireline crested the Spur Ridge. The fire had crossed the southern portion of the West Flank Fireline. It was burning up the West Flank Fireline, north up the West Bench, and east to the Main Ridge. Hipke estimates that at this time the fire burning east up the slope was about two-thirds of the distance up the slope below H-1.

Hotshot Crewmember Navarro, intending to maintain his place near the end of the line, let others pass him. As he was looking south toward H-1 he saw Hotshots Valentine and Robertson. It appeared as if “they came running right out of the fire” (South Canyon Report; OSHA 1995). The two firefighters ran through fire, but it consisted of scattered, relatively short flames along the Main Ridge Fireline. The fires burning along the top of the Main Ridge behind (south of) the firefighters were several times taller than a person and burning on both sides of the Main Ridge Fireline. These larger flames were caused by the main fire cresting the ridge between the Rocks and H-1.

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