Stand 6 - The Flag
At approximately 1315, the Happy Jack Hotshots had completed the lower burnout along the road. Unbeknownst to the Mormon Lake Hotshots, the fire was starting to work its way up into the 17th Bowl.
At about 1330, the Mormon Lake burnout crew was to burn out a 60 - 80' strip along the improved line on the main ridge. The burnout progressed slowly and was difficult to keep burning. The Crew Boss sent a burnout squad up the ridge to watch for spot fires. This left Crew Boss Tony Czak, Squad Boss John Gibson, and crewmembers Stephen Furey and Scott Nelson to finish the burn.
At 1400, the burn squad encountered dense oak brush which produced erratic fire behavior. During this same time period, the fire behavior in the 17th Bowl was increasing. Steepness of the slope ranged from 10% at the bottom near the road to 75% near the ridgeline.
At this time, the Sector Boss called Czak to move the Mormon Lake line improvement crew to the safety zone because of incoming air tankers. The crew moved off the ridgeline to the safety zone. The conditions began to become smoky. The two Squad Bosses had only the crew radio frequency. When the order to leave was made by the Sector Boss, only Czak heard it and had to relay the message to the Squad Bosses. The Sector Boss heard the report that all had made it to the safety zone and assumed that "all" included the members of the burnout squad.
However, the Mormon Lake burnout squad was separated by 100-200 yards from the rest of the crew with a wall of fire between them. The time was between 1425 and 1430. Unable to reach the safety zone, Crew Boss Czak radioed his Squad Boss who was in the safety zone and told him that they were trapped and unable to make it to the safety zone. Czak also radioed the Sector Boss with the same information and told him that the burnout squad would be moving back up the ridgeline toward the rock bluff. The time was now between 1430 and 1435.
At approximately 1440, the burnout squad was unable to go any further up the slope toward the rock bluff. After being given orders by the Crew Boss, the crew took off their canvas vests, wet down their vests, shirts and trousers and laid down on the fireline. At approximately 1440-1445, the fire roared over the burnout squad. During the burn over, at approximately 1448, crewmember Scott Nelson got up and ran down hill. Shortly after Nelson got up, Crew Boss Tony Czak got up and ran down the ridgeline in the direction of the safety zone and died approximately 1,000 feet away. At 1510, the Sector Boss arrived at the original burnover site and found Gibson and Furey still alive. Shortly after his arrival, Stephen Furey passed away. John Gibson was airlifted to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction and then on to a burn center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.