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Local Staff Ride Archive

Stand 4 - Tractor Plow Operator is Entrapped

The tractor plow operator continued to plow fireline to the east, creating a slightly indirect line on the north flank of the fire. It was approximately 1230 and he was working alone initially. The fuel type was dense sapling and pole size jack pine. The 6x6 followed behind the plow using a wetline sprayed at the base of the fire which was about 30 feet away from the engine as they progressed.

Both the 1000 gallon 6x6 engine and tractor plow were forced to stay away from the flamefront and not use direct suppression tactics. The tractor plow was slower than the 6x6 engine and was passed by the engine. The tractor plow operator and engine operator did not speak face to face or use the radio when this pass was made. They did make eye contact. From that point on the engine remained in front of the tractor plow with no communication between them. The fire then began to make a push to the north. The 6x6 engine radioed that they were being forced to disengage the fire and retreated to the north and to safety. No communication was heard from the tractor. The tractor plow operator realized at approximately the same time he was in trouble. He raised his plow and began to move north away from the fire. After only 110 feet he abandoned the tractor and ran to the northeast. The fire burned over him 276 feet from his tractor.


This is the area in which the tractor-plow operator picked up his plow line for the last time.

Approximate site where the burned-over tractor-plow was discovered after the fire had passed through.

The vegetation at the burnover site looks much today as it did in 1980, doghair thickets of 30-year-old jack pine that are very explosive and difficult to see through or maneuver through.

Looking north along the southwest flank during the Mack Lake Fire. Although the main fire spread was to the southeast when this photo was taken (left to right), the flames at this location are being driven to the southwest (right to left in the photo). The action of a horizontal roll vortex could account for this apparent anomaly.