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The Granite Mountain Hotshots and the Yarnell Hill Fire
July 2, 2013 5:51 PM   Subscribe

On Friday June 28, 2013 a wildfire broke out in Yarnell, Arizona. Of several hundred firefighters sent to the scene, 20 were from the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew out of nearby Prescott. A thunderstorm on Sunday produced lightning and high winds, causing the wildfire to explode from 200 to 2,000 acres in the matter of hours. By Sunday night, 19 of the Granite Mountain hotshots had died, trapped in the fire by rapidly shifting winds.

Hotshots are elite wildland firefighters who often fight with little more than the tools in their pack. Kyle Dickman, editor of Outside magazine and former hotshot, embedded with the Tahoe Hotshots last year fighting the Mill Fire, giving a glimpse of what the life of a hotshot is like.

With wildfires on the rise, the risks for firefighters have grown even greater.

Cronkite News profiled the Granite Mountain crew last year during a training session where they practiced deploying fire shelters.

A photo gallery of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew fighting a fire in New Mexico last year.

Dickman responds to the recent tragedy.

The United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association has created a website and fund for the 19 fallen firefighters.

The Yarnell Hill Fire falls on the heels of the anniversary of the South Canyon Fire - also known as the Storm King Fire - of 1994. Shifting winds had also trapped firefighters, killing 14 hotshots and smokejumpers.

Previous Metafilter posts on smokejumpers, 1949 Mann Gulch fire
posted by mlo (70 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I used to be a State of CA certified brushfire and flood fighter. Spent some time on the grade as a first hook. (Blood hook, mostly.) Talk to about any urban firefighter, they seemed to think us insane. (Feeling tends to be mutual.) But one thing we agreed on - Any fire can turn bad on you at any time.

.
posted by Samizdata at 5:55 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is an excellent post. Really well done.

Also .
posted by elsietheeel at 5:55 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


great post, thank you. so gut-wrenchingly tragic. a close friend of mine's from prescott and knew some of those guys. she just told us the westboro baptist church has officially arrived in town. never a surprise, but still. those fuckers.

.
posted by changeling at 5:57 PM on July 2, 2013


Except the photo album is TOTALLY wrong. You don't cut line with a Pulaski.

You have your first hook, cutting a line at top speed, followed by the second and third hooks, who are staggered behind you in a semi-triangular formation. Then come the Pulaskis, which are working out things like roots and junk wood like manzanita. Then came the MacLeods to cut stuff down to dirt and move it out of the way.

Looks something like this -

H
H H
PPPPPPPPPPP
MMMMMMMM

Roughly. See the first letter of the tools for the legend.


And, speaking of fires, someone needs to visit the Westboro folks and their sign arsenal.

If I can answer any questions (it was about 20 years ago), let me know.

PROTIP - When the aerial tankers come over, lay COMPLETELY flat on the ground. Or else. Also, Nomax breathes NOT AT ALL and I swear it is 20 degrees F higher inside than the outside temp. I remember having to pull my goggles off once as they were so full of sweat I was having trouble seeing.
posted by Samizdata at 6:01 PM on July 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


Thanks for putting this post together.

. for the nineteen brave men lost, and for their families, especially their children (and soon to be born children) who will grow up only knowing their stories.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:01 PM on July 2, 2013


And, I NEVER get text diagrams to work here.
posted by Samizdata at 6:03 PM on July 2, 2013


Samizdata, thanks for the insight! Nomex was introduced in the 1960's, has there been any further development to improve upon it? Also, what is blood hook?
posted by mlo at 6:29 PM on July 2, 2013


No justice to have those 19 guys perish & the WBC jerks be hale and hearty.

Am always amazed at the people who do that sort of wilderness fire fighting - so dangerous, so underpaid and so needed. True heroes all.
posted by leslies at 6:29 PM on July 2, 2013


100 Club of Arizona is taking donations for the families of the firefighters.

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posted by Joey Michaels at 6:32 PM on July 2, 2013


What a horrific loss.

.
posted by skycrashesdown at 6:35 PM on July 2, 2013


Wildland firefighters are a different breed. I met a hotshot from out west a few years ago at the gym; she struck up a conversation with me after seeing my St. Florian tattoo. After we established that she was wildland and I was structural, we kind of gave the other a "man, she's crazy" look, there was an aura of respect.

I can jump out a window if it hits the fan.

.x19
posted by sara is disenchanted at 6:39 PM on July 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


mlo: "Samizdata, thanks for the insight! Nomex was introduced in the 1960's, has there been any further development to improve upon it? Also, what is blood hook?"

Well, when I wore it in the late 80's, I think not. It was really, really fireproof and really, really a mobile sweatbox. At least what we referred to as a blood hook was basically an axe handle that had a one foot blade that, at the end of the axe handle, curled back towards the user. With blood hooks the blade was sharpened, and the hook was not. You would sink the sharpened blade into the brushwood and pull. What, you're still standing there? Get going!
posted by Samizdata at 6:41 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


sara is disenchanted: "Wildland firefighters are a different breed. I met a hotshot from out west a few years ago at the gym; she struck up a conversation with me after seeing my St. Florian tattoo. After we established that she was wildland and I was structural, we kind of gave the other a "man, she's crazy" look, there was an aura of respect.

I can jump out a window if it hits the fan.

.x19
"

Just what I said above about urban and brush firefighters. Heh.
posted by Samizdata at 6:42 PM on July 2, 2013


.
posted by theora55 at 6:49 PM on July 2, 2013


.

My cousin is a hotshot in Colorado, and has just been sent to Yarnell as part of a "mass influx of resources" to help fight the fire there. Hopefully they can contain it quickly and safely.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:50 PM on July 2, 2013


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posted by newdaddy at 6:52 PM on July 2, 2013


Just what I said above about urban and brush firefighters. Heh.

Samizdata, I think we can both agree that the ARFF guys are the real slackers..."let me just sit in this huge truck with 8000 gal and point this nozzle...my recliner will still be warm..."
posted by sara is disenchanted at 6:59 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lazlo Hollyfeld: ".

My cousin is a hotshot in Colorado, and has just been sent to Yarnell as part of a "mass influx of resources" to help fight the fire there. Hopefully they can contain it quickly and safely.
"

I hope they stamp it right out like an ignored cigarette butt and everyone goes home disappointed at how easy it was.
posted by Samizdata at 6:59 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this post.
posted by rtha at 7:01 PM on July 2, 2013


My heart just aches for the families, so many left behind.

.
posted by fellion at 7:12 PM on July 2, 2013


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posted by mollywas at 7:35 PM on July 2, 2013


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posted by csox at 7:36 PM on July 2, 2013


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posted by BlueHorse at 7:38 PM on July 2, 2013


Fucking tragedy. But you can point to a few sources. What do people expect when you defund wildfire management (thus decreasing preventative measures that limit wildfire's intensity), refuse to take steps to address climate change, thus leading to increasingly hot and dry weather in the Southwest, and refuse to implement land management programs that would limit suburban sprawl into heavily wooded areas?

People will talk about what a terrible tragedy this is but will stay blind to the ways we can reduce the probability of it happening.

(oh, and let's not forget the number of states looking to remove benefits from civil employees like firefighters.)
posted by schroedinger at 7:40 PM on July 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


...................
posted by JoeXIII007 at 7:42 PM on July 2, 2013


Unbelievably heartbreaking. I went in to work this morning, and told my boss that if WBC was going to show up, I was going to need the day off to be part of the human wall against WBC. It's not something that I want to do, but it is something I feel I have to do. Luckily, there's a law that will keep them at least 300 feet away, for an hour before, during, and an hour after. If they show up, and I hear in time, I'll still be there. I didn't know any of the 19, and it breaks my heart that I'm older than many of them. I never met them, but have had the chance in the past to meet other Hot Shot crews, and to a man, they were all intelligent, hard working, and pleasant to be around. My heart goes out to all of the families and friends directly effected.
posted by csox at 7:44 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


What really got me was hearing about how all of their personal cars are still just sitting in a parking lot, with flowers and cards piling up on the fence. The owners not returning.
posted by planetesimal at 7:46 PM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


From a shelter deployment incident report linked in the post:

Lakes as Safety Zones
For radiant heat firefighters need to be more than four to five times flame
height distance away from the flames. Also, when a crown fire occurred along
the lake shore, flame heights were 100 feet in height. Firefighters should stay
400 to 500 feet from the shore.


Jesus. I would have thought 40 feet from shore in a lake would protect anyone from a fire and that all you'd have to worry about would be trees falling, pruny skin, and maybe hypothermia if you were there long enough.

Simply. Terrifying.

Giants among men. Thanks, and I'm not even in the west where most of the action seems to center...
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:52 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is so horrifically sad, all so young.

I cannot imagine what life will be like for the lone survivor - my god.

mlo, thanks fro a fine post - it's a good tribute.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:58 PM on July 2, 2013


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posted by lord_wolf at 8:16 PM on July 2, 2013


The LA Times has a photo essay with audio of a 2008 fire shelter deployment. All of the firefighters survived, but the surprise in the voice of the dispatcher at 1:15 when he confirms they're going to do a shelter deployment is chilling.

Also, this was surprising:

""Around here, the hotshots [is] a way into the fire department, so it's young guys with young kids. That's what makes it hurt...."

I'd have figured hotshot teams were already experienced members of a fire department. Is that not always the case?
posted by mediareport at 8:16 PM on July 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Urban fire departments -- often union, with good pay (sometimes twice as much as nearby small towns) and benefits -- are coveted jobs, and turnover is low. Competition for those jobs is really intense, despite the size of the departments. It's not unusual for guys to get experience in a variety of ways that would make them more attractive to big city FDs. (This is also true of police departments.) Think of it as military pilots going into commercial aviation ... The military pilots ARE specialists and highly trained, but competition for commercial pilot jobs is intense; the jobs pay pretty well, are often union, and are more predictable and conducive to family life.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:27 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


My dad sent me this book: Ghosts of the Fireground about wildfire fighting a few years ago. The author's description about what it's like to be inside one of these fires has stuck with me. (There's sadly not as much in the bookabout the Great Peshtigo Fire mentioned in the subtitle as one would like, but what is there is riveting.)

.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:29 PM on July 2, 2013


God, Dickman's description of what it's like inside one of those aluminum wrap things (calling them "shelters" seems way too generous) is gripping and awful:

It’s hard to overstate just how horrific the next moments must have been. Inside the small shelters temperatures can quickly climb above 200 degrees; outside, winds can blow in excess of 60 miles per hour, spiking temperatures above 1,000 degrees. Survivors of such burnovers describe the experience in the bleakest of terms: there are moments when removing the shelter and surrendering to the flames seems preferable to being slow-cooked inside. Some of the bodies of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were found outside their shelters. Did these firefighters shuck the shelters off their backs, a phenomenon documented in previous wildland fires? Or were the winds so strong the shelters were torn from their hands?

It may never be known. What is known is that that fire shelters aren’t designed to withstand direct flames. If the fire burns too close, the shelter’s aluminum exterior is singed, the glue that keeps the heat shield intact melts, and the shelters crumble. Deploying the tents is a last-ditch attempt at survival. We learn early in our training that relying on them may mean it’s too late.


He also doesn't pull any punches in his initial speculation about the deaths:

As with any job where power is transferred from one group to another, there are always kinks in communications, logistics, operations. Wildfire fatalities have often corresponded with this transition period, when lapses in communication can have deadly consequences.

How much the change in fire leadership had to do with the firefighter deaths is yet to be known. So is how the presence of houses affected the hotshots’ decision-making on the ground...Was Granite Mountain’s supervisor, the field general in charge of making calls on the ground, more willing to expose his crew to risk because houses were at stake?

...I simply cannot reconcile the loss of these 19 young men to save something as ephemeral as a house. I pray that we never see such a tragic waste again.

posted by mediareport at 8:34 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


The loss of firefighters is always tragic. The deaths Sunday of 19 firefighters are appalling.

All wildland firefighters are trained to do what is inherently a very dangerous job while keeping focused on safety. What starts as entry level training on the 10 Standard Fire Orders and 18 Watch Out Situations and LCES are repeated again and again throughout a firefighters career. Unfortunately awful tragedies still occur.

Here’s a link from the online magazine Wildfire Today. Scrolling down the page will provide a lot of information about the Yarnell, AZ wildland fire fatalities. If you look through the articles you will find a link to weather data from a RAWS (current data) with temperature, wind speed and direction data. The weather data table runs backward in time from 1800 to 0600 on the 29th. You can see that the wind shifted 180 degrees and increased significantly in speed between 1600 and 1700. Also note the abrupt decrease in solar radiation. That indicates that the shift in wind blew the smoke column over the RAWS, blocking sunlight at that location.

Further down the page there is information on a prior wildland fire fatality incident in Arizona. The Yarnell fatalities occurred 23 years and 6 days after the Dude fire fatalities. I fear that the findings in the official investigation report of the Dude fire will be repeated in the final investigation report of the Yarnell fire fatalities.
posted by X4ster at 8:46 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


RolandOfEld: "From a shelter deployment incident report linked in the post:

Lakes as Safety Zones
For radiant heat firefighters need to be more than four to five times flame
height distance away from the flames. Also, when a crown fire occurred along
the lake shore, flame heights were 100 feet in height. Firefighters should stay
400 to 500 feet from the shore.


Jesus. I would have thought 40 feet from shore in a lake would protect anyone from a fire and that all you'd have to worry about would be trees falling, pruny skin, and maybe hypothermia if you were there long enough.

Simply. Terrifying.

Giants among men. Thanks, and I'm not even in the west where most of the action seems to center...
"

Worse than that. When they mentioned crown fires?

How would you feel walking into a clearing in the woods and suddenly discover there's no oxygen because it's all getting sucked up to the tops of the burning trees? No, we were NOT issued oxy rigs.
posted by Samizdata at 9:00 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's haunting imagining those last moments in the shelters. We did basic wildland fire training in AmeriCorps, and the part on shelter deployment boiled down to: keep your face down and pray, meditate, repeat a mantra, talk to each other - whatever will keep you from giving up and lifting your head for a breath of deadly hot air.

.
posted by domnit at 9:00 PM on July 2, 2013


I was never a hotshot. I did fill in on the crew when they were short a member for some reason. My stock description of the job is; Fire's present the greatest threat to valued resources on the hottest, driest and windiest days of the year. Under those conditions the firefighter is expected to get as close to the fire as possible, work as hard as possible for as long as possible with some jackass yelling, 'Hurry up, go faster." Yes, at times I was the jackass yelling "Bump up", the call to move forward.

Western state's hotshot crews gave up brush hooks in the mid to late '70's. In chaparral or other brush or timber the crew work order was with saw teams leading out followed by the designated "hot shovel" then pulaskis, shovels and McLeods. The last person in line controlled the speed of the advance. If the cleared line wasn't sufficient to hold and prevent fire from crossing it the crew wasn't safe from entrapment. The saw teams were 2 people, a sawyer and a puller - the person who pulled the cut brush out of the way so the crew could continue clearing.
posted by X4ster at 9:00 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


X4ster: "I was never a hotshot. I did fill in on the crew when they were short a member for some reason. My stock description of the job is; Fire's present the greatest threat to valued resources on the hottest, driest and windiest days of the year. Under those conditions the firefighter is expected to get as close to the fire as possible, work as hard as possible for as long as possible with some jackass yelling, 'Hurry up, go faster." Yes, at times I was the jackass yelling "Bump up", the call to move forward.

Western state's hotshot crews gave up brush hooks in the mid to late '70's. In chaparral or other brush or timber the crew work order was with saw teams leading out followed by the designated "hot shovel" then pulaskis, shovels and McLeods. The last person in line controlled the speed of the advance. If the cleared line wasn't sufficient to hold and prevent fire from crossing it the crew wasn't safe from entrapment. The saw teams were 2 people, a sawyer and a puller - the person who pulled the cut brush out of the way so the crew could continue clearing.
"

Maybe in your region, but I was in California in 86-87 running hooks. We didn't do saws. With the hooks, we relied on the people behind us to do the clearing. Which state was this?
posted by Samizdata at 9:02 PM on July 2, 2013


Samizdata USFS Region 5, Angeles and Los Padres NF. Specifically the Los Prietos Hot Shots, now known as the Los Padres Hotshots.

We even did the initial field trials of liner explosives for line construction.
posted by X4ster at 9:06 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Around here, the hotshots [is] a way into the fire department, so it's young guys with young kids. That's what makes it hurt...."

I'd have figured hotshot teams were already experienced members of a fire department. Is that not always the case?


I work in wildland fire management, and was once a hotshot.

Working as a seasonal wildland firefighter is considered an excellent way to build your resume to help land a permanent position with a structural fire department. It is a great way to differentiate yourself in the extremely competitive process of trying to get a job with a structure fire department.

It is rare for hotshot crews to be sponsored by a city fire department. A little over a hundred hotshot crews exist in the United States, and the majority of them are federal interagency hotshot crews (or IHC) sponsored by a single agency.

In order to become a hotshot, firefighters must meet an extremely rigorous standard in terms of physical fitness and experience. Many members of hotshot crews work for several seasons on a Type 2 handcrew or engine before they make it onto a hotshot crew.
posted by RachelSmith at 9:12 PM on July 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


My first 'campaign' fire was the Romero (1971) in the mountains between Santa Barbara and Carpenteria. There were 4 fatalities on that fire. The WFTC at McClellan CA has training rooms named for wildland fire disasters that led to a change in policy or procedures. One of those rooms is named 'Romero'. The policy change that was made as result of that incident, in an effort to prevent future similar incidents was the standardizing of position qualifications. That led to the task books and standard qualifications on your Red Card.
posted by X4ster at 9:19 PM on July 2, 2013


I'm glad somebody re-did this post, this is definitely tragic.

I worked with the Prescott hot-shot team for a couple of months many years ago- I was sort of a temp, and frankly I wasn't badass enough to get in the kind of shape I would have needed to be to come back the next season and do it full-time. (And even if did, I wouldn't have been badass enough to be a sawyer.) I didn't know that interagency crews were even a thing - the Prescott crew, at least at the time, were all Forest Service employees.

I worked on a couple of biggish fires- one huge one (20,000 acres maybe?) and one probably smaller than this, though it was spread over a lot of near-vertical terrain in NV. We did a little bit of protecting houses that some well-off peeps had built on the edge of extremely-flammable National Forest, and it always seemed a little bit weird to me. It's not like regular fire-fighting- you're not fighting to contain/extinguish a fire in a dwelling place, you're (obviously risking your life) trying to protect a dwelling place from maybe several square, raging miles of one of nature's scariest forces.

You'd better believe that guys on the crews talk about situations like this one - the thing is, fire is so unpredictable and fast that this sort of thing can just *happen*, w/ maybe seconds of warning, and yeah you have shelters but. Not saying this was or wasn't anybody's fault, but to the best of my knowledge, it doesn't have to be, it can definitely just happen.

The main thing I learned about wildland firefighters is that most of them I met, on some level, loved fire itself. I mean, it's fucking gorgeous, and unpredictable, and damned near supernatural, alive, and malevolent. It's near impossible to respect it enough. And everybody knows that this (or a whole bunch of less-dramatic but equally lethal things) could kill them out there, but still, I can't even imagine how awful this must have been, and - as mentioned above- must be for the survivor.

Can't leave enough dots for this.
posted by hap_hazard at 9:19 PM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


^by interagency- I knew there were mixed crews involving the BLM etc, but not ones partnered w/ city fire departments. But like I sd, I was only there for a minute.
posted by hap_hazard at 9:22 PM on July 2, 2013


Yes, wildland fire experience is a stepping stone to municipal fire departments. The county of Los Angeles has several hotshot crews. LA Co. is one of only 4 CA counties that don't contract with CALFIRE for fire services. CALFIRE make great use of inmate hotshot crews. Some of which were excellent and some weren't. It all depended on their leadership.
posted by X4ster at 9:23 PM on July 2, 2013


hap_hazard, You're spot on. I never could quite understand the true Hotshot psychology. The career hotshots were a breed apart - compelled to drive themselves the upper limits of endurance. They were my first reference for adrenaline junkies.
posted by X4ster at 9:29 PM on July 2, 2013


hap_hazard:
We did a little bit of protecting houses that some well-off peeps had built on the edge of extremely-flammable National Forest, and it always seemed a little bit weird to me. It's not like regular fire-fighting- you're not fighting to contain/extinguish a fire in a dwelling place, you're (obviously risking your life) trying to protect a dwelling place from maybe several square, raging miles of one of nature's scariest forces.

I came across this NYT artcle about people building houses on the edge of forests for the view, but being totally stupid about the risks. Wanted to work it into the post, but didn't make it. Reading it enraged me; not only are these homeowners diverting most Forest Service funds into fighting fires, but putting firefighters lives at risk just to protect their vacation home.
posted by mlo at 9:31 PM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


X4ster and Samizdata, it sounds like wildland firefighting techniques and tools vary from region to region but how varied does it get?
posted by mlo at 9:36 PM on July 2, 2013


This has already been a tough season for the wildland firefighting community. In addition to the loss of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain crew Sunday, two wildland firefighters from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests died Friday in a motor vehicle accident, a smokejumper from Redding lost his life on June 10th while suppressing the Saddle Back Fire, and a firefighter and Afghanistan veteran died May 5th while doing project work.

A nonprofit organization called the Wildland Firefighter Foundation provides emergency support services to the families of firefighters killed in the line of duty, as well as helps injured firefighters. It is a tremendous organization that does great work on a shoestring budget. If you've been touched by this tragedy, please consider supporting the WFF, donating to the fund established by the Phoenix Firefighters' Union, or participating in one of the many fundraisers being held by hotshots and the fire community around the country.
posted by RachelSmith at 9:41 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


For me the bottom line tragedy of the Yarnell fire is the fear that when the investigation is complete the findings will be essentially the same as the findings of the Dude fire fatality investigation. Seven of ten Standard Fire Orders were not followed. Eight of 18 Watch Outs were overlooked. It was a failure or breakdown of sense making and decision making.

As an FS engine captain way back in the 20th century I was given a structure protection assignment. We were on two homes at the crest of a drainage. There was about a quarter acre of clearing - probably more than enough if things went bad. The fire was boiling up and looked pretty scary. I made a decision that I continue to look back on, wondering if it was the right choice. I told my crew to saddle up, we're getting out of here. We went into the previously burned area that was our safety zone and left the homes to burn.
posted by X4ster at 9:42 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is no fucking building worth the lives of 19 young people.

.x19
posted by j_curiouser at 9:48 PM on July 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


mlo, Pretty varied. It depends a lot on the terrain and the fuels (wildland firefighters look at all of the plant material covering the landscape as potential fuel) The common theme is creating a barrier to keep the fire from advancing. Directly putting out the fire by water spray or drops from aircraft is generally impossible. The ecological zones determine how the fire is contained and controlled. In the southeastern US tractor plows are the primary tool used along with hand crew support. In the northwest where timber on steep mountain sides dominates logging dozers with straight blades support hand crew fireline construction. In the southwest fire engines are essential for structure protection. Everywhere fire is used against fire and water or retardant aircraft are used.
posted by X4ster at 9:53 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


What does #18 of the 18 Watch Outs mean? Taking a nap?
posted by lazaruslong at 10:05 PM on July 2, 2013


#18 originally read, 'You feel like taking a nap near equipment' with a picture of a sleeping firefighter laying in the path of a dozer. There was more than one firefighter killed as a result of being driven over by a truck or some piece of equipment.
posted by X4ster at 10:23 PM on July 2, 2013


The 10 Standards and 18 Watch Outs have one thing in common with the NFPA fire codes, including NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code. Each and every one of them were developed as a direct result of a loss of life.
posted by X4ster at 10:27 PM on July 2, 2013


Often when there's a major wildland fire in Southern California someone will write to one of the newspapers saying that the firefighters should just put up big agricultural pumps and sprinklers to put out the fire

Why not just pump lots of water and put the fire out that way? I think that it's theoretically possible to calculate the amount of water necessary to remove the heat that sustains a fire. You need to know what the heat energy release per time is for the given heat source. For ordinary combustibles like wood or plant mater that is around 8,000 BTU/lb. Given the latent heat of vaporization for water all you need (in addition to conversions to SI units) is the rate of heat release per unit of time. If there is 50 tons of available fuel on an acre of ground and the heat from that acre is released by burning in 5 minutes that's 16 million BTU per minute. So would it be possible to pump enough water to extinguish the fire, even if you had the Pacific ocean as a water source? .
posted by X4ster at 10:54 PM on July 2, 2013



posted by Cranberry at 11:57 PM on July 2, 2013


It's hard to believe how young these kids were. If anybody knows of a way to donate to the families, please post a link.
posted by phaedon at 2:21 AM on July 3, 2013


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posted by hydropsyche at 3:33 AM on July 3, 2013


Thank you for this very thoughtful post on an incredibly tragic topic, mlo.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:21 AM on July 3, 2013


I believe it's come up here before but Young Men and Fire is must-read if you're interested in wildland firefighting.

I've been a volunteer firefighter for over 30 years. While structural firefighting is dangerous, it pales in comparison to wildland firefighting. If things get too difficult we can usually just come out of the building and fight it from the outside. Very different from trying to escape a fire that can move at 60 mph.
posted by tommasz at 5:23 AM on July 3, 2013


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posted by Gelatin at 5:55 AM on July 3, 2013


What does #18 of the 18 Watch Outs mean? Taking a nap?

I thought it was a warning of symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
posted by echo target at 9:08 AM on July 3, 2013


I went to the Hinckley Fire Museum when I was a little kid, and just the video they show about the fire scared me badly.

The only people who lived in that fire were the ones who drove a locomotive out onto a stretch of track that crossed a lake or swamp. Unbelievable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Hinckley_Fire
posted by wenestvedt at 10:20 AM on July 3, 2013


wenestvedt, I was just around Hinckley the other week camping at St Croix State Park. I haven't heard of the Great Hinckley Fire, I'll have to stop at the museum next time I'm up there. Thanks for sharing.
posted by mlo at 12:09 PM on July 3, 2013


mlo, thank you for posting something infinitely better crafted than my one-link FPP that got yanked. Quality and quantity over rapid reaction...
posted by IAmBroom at 2:18 PM on July 3, 2013


Charles Pierce: Death In Yarnell Hill
posted by homunculus at 12:10 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Historian Timothy Egan, author of The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, in the NYT last week:

But these homeowners should not expect good people to die protecting those houses. And so in Arizona this week, among the grieving, we heard variations of a theme that always comes up after these tragedies: a structure is replaceable, a life is not.

That sentiment, which is supposed to be the guiding philosophy of fighting wildfires, too often gets tossed aside. In a panic, homeowners rage and scream: do something! They rage and scream at their member of Congress, often an anti-government zealot, who then rages and screams at the federal agencies: do something!

...They know the elements — timber, grass, brush, wind, heat, lightning — and the difficult terrain mean that shiny fire trucks cannot arrive at their smoking doorstep on a minute’s notice. They’ve made a pact with combustible nature, a gamble. And yet, once a galloping afternoon wind transforms a smolder into a sprint of flames, these homeowners expect the best of the best to be on the scene...

After the Big Burn of 1910, which consumed three million acres in a weekend, the Forest Service became the fire service — a protector of woods and cabins rather than a mere steward of the great public land domain. Now almost 40 percent of the Forest Service budget is given over to firefighting. Decisions on which fires to battle often come down to how many homes are in a given area...

posted by mediareport at 3:41 AM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Excellent point, mediareport. I've been wondering since the news of the 19 broke what in fact they were dying for...

I'd be OK with a federal policy that firefighters be required to establish a 2nd, safer "tier" of firefighting strategies when the risks to human life are considered over. It needn't have specific details; it would just provide a legal defense to firefighter chiefs and planning officials against retributions when property goes poof!
posted by IAmBroom at 10:45 AM on July 7, 2013


The AZ Central says "never again" but I can't be so hopeful. The whole story and everything behind it (lack of proper funding, lack of proper policy, overvaluation of material goods, undervaluation of human lives, mismanagement of our wilderness, the political refusal to deal with our warming planet) is such a microcosm of our fucked-up u.s. governance right now.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:21 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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