The Thirtymile Fire began when a picnic cooking fire was abandoned and spread to the surrounding forest. The fire was located in the Chewuch River Canyon, about 30 miles north of Winthrop, Washington.
The Northwest Regulars #6, a 21-person Type 2 crew from the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, was dispatched to the fire in the early morning hours of July 10, 2001. The crew arrived at the fire at approximately 9:00 a.m. After a safety briefing, the crew went to work at 11:00 a.m.
The crews worked until approximately 3:00 p.m. when they stopped to eat, rest, and sharpen their tools. About 4:00 p.m., they responded to a request for help from another crew in the area; two of the three squads were sent to assist. The fire began to develop quickly, and the decision was made to leave the area. The road to safety was cut off by fire progress.
The incident commander selected a site near the river that was rocky and had less vegetation than other areas in the canyon. Although several firefighters congregated above the road to monitor the fire, they were not prepared for the suddenness with which it arrived. Six firefighters, including the four that died, deployed their fire shelters above the road.
After the fire passed, it was learned that Squad Boss Craven and Firefighters Fitzpatrick, Johnson, and Weaver had been killed. The cause of death for all four firefighters was asphyxia due to inhalation of superheated products of combustion.
The Forest Service conducted a detailed assessment of the incident. The major findings of the report were:
· The combination of weather and fuel conditions created extraordinary circumstances for fire growth on July 10th.
· Potential fire behavior was consistently underestimated throughout the incident.
· In spite of the readily available water, relatively little water was applied to the fire during the initial attack phase. This was largely due to operational problems with pumps and hoses, as well as delays in availability of a Type III helicopter.
· The fatalities and injuries all occurred during fire shelter deployment. Failure to adequately anticipate the severity and timing of the burnover, and failure to utilize the best location and proper deployment techniques contributed to the fatalities and injuries.
· Leadership, management, and command and control were all ineffective due to a variety of factors, such as the lack of communications and miscommunications, fatigue, lack of situational awareness, indecisiveness, and confusion about who was in control.
· Two civilians were involved in the entrapment due to a failure to properly close a potentially hazardous area.
· All 10 Standard Fire Orders were violated or disregarded at some time during the course of the incident.
· Ten of the eighteen Watch Out Situations were present or disregarded at some time during the course of the incident.
· Records indicated that personnel on the Thirtymile Fire had very little sleep prior to their assignments, and mental fatigue affected vigilance and decision-making.
· District fire management personnel did not assume incident command when the size and complexity of the fire exceeded the capacity of the Northwest Regulars #6.
· The Northwest Regulars #6 crew commander served both as incident commander and crew boss. Command roles on the Thirtymile Fire were unclear and confusing to those in command of the incident, to the rest of the crew, and to others associated with the fire.
The complete report is available on-line at https://www.fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee/fire/thirtymile-reports.html