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Thread: Washington Forest Fire Kills Four Firefighters

  1. #1
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    Jan 2002

    Washington Forest Fire Kills Four Firefighters

    Washington Forest Fire Kills Four Firefighters
    Victims Caught As 10-Acre Fire 'Explodes' Into 2,500 Acres

    TWISP, Wash., 10:19 a.m. EDT July 11, 2001 --

    A small wildfire in the rugged forest of the North Cascades exploded to 2,500 acres in a matter of hours, killing four firefighters and leaving another in serious condition.

    U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Debbie Kelly confirmed the four deaths Tuesday night. She said that the four firefighters had been missing since an explosive burst of flames overran a group of 40 firefighters Tuesday evening.

    The identities and hometowns of the dead firefighters were not immediately released.

    Stoked by high temperatures and strong wind gusts, the blaze grew from less than 10 acres early Tuesday to 2,500 acres by late afternoon, Kelly said.

    Extremely dry weather, low humidity and dry underbrush made conditions in steep, heavily forested terrain of north-central Washington especially dangerous, Kelly said. She said the crews thought they had the situation well in hand until the wind picked up and the fire began spreading fast.

    Some of the firefighters took shelter in foil-like emergency tents designed to protect them from heat and flames, she said.

    One firefighter, identified as a 21-year-old from Yakima, was flown to a Seattle hospital with severe burns and was in serious condition Tuesday night. Four others were taken to other hospitals with burns or smoke inhalation.

    One of the injured, Tom Taylor of Leavenworth, Wash., suffered first- and second-degree burns, said his mother, Gayle Ray.

    "I'm not sure where he was, but at one point he was able to run down a hill and jump in a river," she said, adding that Taylor called her from the ambulance.

    A search party sent out when at least two firefighters couldn't be reached by radio after the flare-up found the dead firefighters. A national investigative team was flying to the scene.

    Tuesday's deaths occurred seven years almost to the day when 14 firefighters died fighting a forest fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo. Their deaths, on July 6, 1994, led to changes in the way forest fires are handled, in an effort to prevent any future deaths.

    The wildfire near Twisp was one of at least three burning on the eastern side of the Cascade Range. Another wildfire burning about 10 miles to the south, near Carlton, grew to 1,200 acres Tuesday night, officials said. A third fire had burned at least 70 acres near Grand Coulee Dam.

    Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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    Four Firefighters Killed in Wildfire Near Winthrop

    King - Seattle, WA

    CARLTON -- Four firefighters were killed and one was in serious condition after battling a wildfire in a rugged area of the North Cascades Tuesday evening.

    U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Debbie Kelly confirmed the deaths late Tuesday night, and said they had been missing since an explosive burst in the 30-Mile Fire overran a group of firefighters, injuring some others.

    The identities and hometowns of the dead firefighters were not immediately released. A national investigative team is flying in to try to determine the cause of the fatalities.

    A search party had been deployed Tuesday night for the four firefighters who could not be reached by radio. Their bodies were found late Tuesday in a fire shelter.

    One firefighter was flown to a Seattle hospital with severe burns and several others were taken to hospitals for burns or smoke inhalation after a 100-acre wildfire blew up to more than 2,500 acres in the space of a few hours, fire officials said.

    The most severely injured firefighter was being flown to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, which has the region's main burn-treatment center.

    Stoked by high temperatures and high winds, the 30-Mile Fire grew from less than 10 acres early Tuesday to 100 acres by late afternoon and 2,500 acres by 7 p.m., Kelly said.

    The fire was burning on steep, heavily forested terrain about 22 miles north of Winthrop in north-central Washington, she said.

    The firefighters were believed to have been injured when the fire whipped back over them sometime early Tuesday evening. Some took shelter in foil-like tents that deflect the heat.

    The 30-Mile Fire was northeast of another blaze

  3. #3
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    Jan 2002

    Methow wildfire kills four: Fast-growing blaze turns against firefighters

    Methow wildfire kills four: Fast-growing blaze turns against firefighters

    By Chris Solomon, Craig Welch and Ray Rivera
    Seattle Times staff reporter

    WINTHROP, Okanogan County - Wind-whipped flames from a 4,000-acre wildfire trapped and killed four firefighters - two of them in their late teens - last night, and injured several firefighters and civilians.

    After firefighters had partly contained the summer's first blaze 22 miles south of here at Libby Creek, another fire exploded in the Andrews Creek area of the Okanogan National Forest, catching crews off guard. "They thought they had it under control," said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Debbie Kelly. But the volatile blaze, called the 30-Mile fire, grew from less than 10 acres early yesterday to 4,000 in just a few hours.

    "Due to the heavy fuels, the rugged terrain and high winds, the fire just blew up," Kelly said.

    The Forest Service identified the dead this morning as Tom L. Craven, 30, of Ellensburg, Karen L. FitzPatrick, 18, of Yakima, Devin A. Weaver, 21, of Yakima, and Jessica L. Johnson, 19, of Yakima.

    When the fire turned against them yesterday, blowing back over them, several were forced to deploy their heat-deflecting foil tent shelters, which are estimated to be able to withstand temperatures of about 600 degrees.

    The shelters, which are called "baked potatoes" by firefighters because of their appearance, are intended for use by one person. It appears, though, that several people who had shelters shared them yesterday with those who did not have them.

    Injured firefighter Tom Taylor was expected to be headed home to Leavenworth after doctors X-rayed his lungs. He suffered first and second-degree burns on knee, elbow, nose and buttock.

    His mother, Gayle Ray, said this morning that Taylor had deployed his shelter when he realized it was time to run. He sprinted downhill, over a 40-inch tree stump, dodging bowling-ball size fireballs.

    He made it to a nearby river and stayed there two hours, with only his nose sticking out. "He said he could either stay under that tarp and die or get up and run," Ray said.

    "He was in the river for two hours," she added. "That's how his nose got burned. But you've got to remember if he hadn't jumped in the river, he'd be in much worse shape."

    One severely burned firefighter was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He was identified this morning as Jason Emhoff, 21, of Yakima.

    Emhoff, an Eagle Scout, emergency medical technician and a firefighter with the Forest Service the past two years, was in serious but stable condition at Harborview with burns over 25 percent of his body, mostly on his hands, thighs and face, said his father, Steve Emhoff.

    In an interview from the hospital, Steve Emhoff told the Associated Press that his son was leading a crew of five firefighters who suddenly found themselves trapped by flames in a valley. As the fire raced toward them, the five ran downhill toward the Chewack River before crawling under their emergency fire shelters as the flames overran them.

    "He was the only one who made it out," Steve Emhoff said of his son. "He knew what he was up against. I think he handled himself quite well." It was unclear if the four fatalities were in Emhoff's crew.

    Others were treated at Winthrop-area clinics for burns or smoke inhalation. An unknown number of campers also were injured.

    The crews were a mix of elite hotshots and Forest Service firefighters. A national fire management team was expected to arrive this afternoon around 2 p.m. to assume control of the 30-Mile fire. It was being watched and monitored today, but not actively fought, according to officials with the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests.

    "No form of control right now is effective," said Art Tasker, a fire-information officer in Winthrop who called the 30-Mile fire "extremely volatile."

    Burnovers are the leading cause of death in wildland fires, followed by aircraft accidents, heart attacks, and vehicle accidents. Burnovers were responsible for 29 percent of all fatalities between 1990 and 1998, or 39 out of 133 deaths, according to the Forest Service.

    Twelve firefighters, including those who died yesterday, have been killed fighting Washington wildland fires since 1990, according to Forest Service statistics.

    Temperatures near 100 degrees and increasing winds yesterday afternoon meant fire crews could not shift their attention from the Libby South fire, the 1,240-acre blaze south of Libby Creek that began Monday.

    The Libby Creek area is among 600,000 acres in the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests in need of brush-clearing, said Paul Hart, a spokesman for the forests.

    The Libby Creek fire was 30 percent contained this morning, having spread over 1,880 acres. Crews expected to have it contained by Friday. Cost to fight that fire is expected to total $2.8 million.

    Officials don't know the cause of either fire, and no homes were threatened in the fire north of Winthrop.

    Two helicopters dangling 250-gallon buckets dumped water on one flank of the fire off Highway 153 near Carlton, while three air tankers dropped water or retardant on a ridge above Libby Creek.

    Almost 600 people worked to protect about 50 threatened homes, dug firebreaks or managed the camp set up around the headquarters of the local high school.

    Temperatures today are expected in the 90s with a possibility of thunderstorms.

    Winter's light snowfall has made the scorching heat and drying winds of the season even more frightening to firefighters and homeowners.

    Large downed trees known as "1,000-hour fuels" now have 10 to 12 percent moisture content. They usually have a few percentage points more, said James Agee, a University of Washington professor of forest ecology and expert in forest-fire ecology.

    "They're probably kind of mid-August conditions right now," he said of Eastern Washington. As a result, "we are getting fires that are jumping out a little bit larger than they usually do this time of year."


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    U.S. Memorializes Four Firefighters

    U.S. Memorializes Four Firefighters

    Associated Press Writer

    WINTHROP, Wash. (AP) -- One year after a wildfire claimed the lives of four firefighters, the U.S. Forest Service on Thursday dedicated a memorial to them in the river canyon where they died.

    The etched stone portraits of Tom Craven, Devin Weaver, Jessica Johnson and Karen FitzPatrick are framed by a rock wall. Small bronze markers on a steep rock slope mark the spots where each body was found.

    "Let me assure you, the Forest Service and the entire wildland firefighting community have been working hard to learn what lessons we can from what happened at Thirty Mile,'' Joel Holtrop, a Forest Service deputy chief, told nearly 200 people at the dedication ceremony Thursday.

    "May this memorial be a place of remembrance, a place of healing.''

    The 10,000-acre Thirty Mile fire was started by an abandoned campfire in the Okanogan National Forest.

    On July 10, 2001, the fire exploded, trapping 14 Forest Service firefighters and two campers in the narrow canyon. Craven, Weaver, Johnson and FitzPatrick died in their emergency fire shelters.

    Virginia Craven said she hopes the memorial will remind people that her son paid for someone's carelessness with his life.

    "I'm hoping there is enough information that when people go out camping in the woods, they will be a little more careful and put out their campfires,'' she said. "I hope something good comes of this, so he didn't die in vain.''

    A Forest Service investigation showed the deaths had been preventable, and that fire bosses broke every basic rule of firefighting safety and ignored most of the warning signs of danger.

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