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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, 1610 to 1611—Fire Below West Flank Fireline

Main Ridge—As BLM Firefighter Brixey and Smokejumpers Doehring and Archuleta, who were hiking up the fireline from the Tree, neared the Zero Point, the first members of the Main Ridge Group passed them, heading toward H-2. Joining the Main Ridge Group, Archuleta, Doehring, and Brixey continued about 110 feet north along the Main Ridge. At this point Archuleta and Doehring moved west about 10 feet off the Main Ridge to a location where they could see southwest diagonally down the slope toward the fireline and lower part of the Spur Ridge. We have designated this location the Photo Point (fig. 6 and 7).

West Flank Fireline—The West Flank Fireline group was approaching the Draw. Hipke stated that Thrash stepped off to the left of the fireline and said, “Shelter?” almost as a question and Roth stepped off to the right (estimated time 1610) (Hipke 1996). Hipke stepped past Thrash and Roth and continued a fast hike up the line.

Figure 28—Fire perimeter at 1610. The fire continued to spread up the West Drainage and east to the Main Ridge. Fire has reached top of Main Ridge near the Rocks. Smokejumper Erickson called Smokejumper Mackey to inform him of spot fire on north end of West Bench.

The Tree—Firefighters Haugh and Erickson remained at the Tree, shouting and waving at the West Flank Group to hurry. Erickson saw a spot fire on the West Bench. Later, Erickson identified the location of the spot fire to be about 1,000 feet in distance down the slope below the Tree and 190 feet above the bottom of the West Drainage (fig. 28). Erickson called to inform Mackey of the spot fire (South Canyon Report). Erickson stated, “The spot moved fast [north up the canyon]. I did not feel a perceptible change in winds. I could tell that they [the West Flank Fireline Group] were moving as fast as they could. At that time the lead guy and the group were 75 yards away. We were yelling at them to go faster. They looked tired and were not going fast. Thrash was in the lead and Mackey was second to last. They were in a close group.” Erickson asked Haugh to pull out his camera. As Erickson looked through the viewfinder (about 1611) he saw the last three firefighters in the group with fire everywhere behind them (South Canyon Report). Because Erickson’s camera was at the end of the roll of film, this attempted photograph had no film on which to be exposed.

Main Ridge—Archuleta and Doehring took four photographs from the Photo Point on the Main Ridge (fig. 29a-d). Their photos show the last three members of the West Flank Fireline Group coming over the top of the Spur Ridge (estimated time 1611). After taking the photographs, Doehring joined the firefighters heading north along the Main Ridge toward H-2.

Archuleta and Doehring’s photographs show the fire burning upslope toward the Main Ridge immediately south of the Spur Ridge. It was later determined that these photographs were taken at essentially the same time, angle, and view that Erickson tried to photograph (Erickson 1996). From near H-2 Blanco called for air support from Grand Junction.

West Flank Fireline—Approximately 100 feet beyond the point at which he had stepped past Roth and Thrash, Hipke looked back and saw the group following 20 to 30 feet behind him with Roth in the lead (1611). Ahead, through the brush, he could see Haugh and Erickson at the Tree waving for them to keep coming.

The Tree—Immediately after Erickson attempted to take the photo he turned to follow Haugh. Haugh had gone up the fireline toward the Main Ridge and was no longer in view. Erickson looked back over his right shoulder and saw a wall of fire coming up the hill below the fireline (South Canyon Report). Our analysis indicates that this fire was burning upslope on the south side of the Spur Ridge. Erickson did not see Hipke who was climbing the fireline below him.

Witness statements and the photos taken by Archuleta and Doehring indicate that fire extended from the West Bench 800 to 900 feet northwest of and below the Tree, then south around the base of the Spur Ridge 400 feet southwest of the firefighters, and up the south side of the Spur Ridge to the top of the Main Ridge (South Canyon Report). Figures 28 and 30 show the approximate position of the fire front.

Figure 29—Photographs taken at 1611 from Archuleta/Doehring Photo Point looking down (southwest) toward fireline and fire burning behind the Spur Ridge. The four photographs are arranged in chronological sequence.
Courtesy of S. Archuleta and S. Doehring

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