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Staff Ride to the Cart Creek Fire

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On July 16, 1977, flames overran initial attack firefighters on the Cart Creek Fire causing the death of three firefighters near Flaming Gorge Dam on the Ashley National Forest in Utah.

At about noon on July 16, 1977, lightning started a fire on a grassy flat between Spruce Creek and Cart Creek. Firefighters from the Ashley National Forest were dispatched and the first forces on scene arrived by helicopter to find a 1 acre fire. The strategy was to start building direct line and continue bringing additional firefighters in via helicopter. During the two hours after the first attack, the fire out-flanked the initial piece of handline and had reached almost 50 acres in size. As the last of the initial attack firefighters arrived, the fire suddenly intensified and changed direction. Three firefighters were unable to escape. By nightfall, over 800 acres were burned, the fire was eventually contained at 1,500 acres.

The Cart Creek Fire has been the only fatality fire on the Ashley National Forest. The knowledge gained from the Cart Creek Fire played an important role in changing the basic fire training program within the Great Basin area. The Cart Creek Fire was also one of six multi-fatality fires in flashy fuels that occurred in a three-year span (1976-1979). This rash of fatality fires spurred the implementation of a national standard for the use of fire shelters and flame-resistant clothing on wildland fires.

Project team members were:

  • Jim Cook - U.S. Forest Service - National Interagency Fire Center
  • Ivan Erskine - U.S. Forest Service - Ashley National Forest
  • Steve Holdsambeck - U.S. Forest Service - Intermountain Regional Office
  • Bob Kambitsch - Bureau of Land Management - National Interagency Fire Center
  • Blaine Moriarty - U.S. Forest Service - Boise National Forest
  • Val Norman - Retired U.S. Forest Service
  • Kim Osborn - U.S. Forest Service - Intermountain Regional Office
  • Lisa Ross - U.S. Forest Service - Ashley National Forest
  • Nina Walker - Bureau of Land Management - National Interagency Fire Center