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Local Staff Ride Archive

Stand 4 - Deployment and Fatality Site

As the van drove north the IC talked with Air Attack to identify a good safety zone site. The IC selected the fourth possible site they considered as the best place he thought they could safely watch the fire pass by. It was characterized by extensive rock scree above and west of the road. The Chewach River and a sand bar were just east of the road. There was relatively sparse forest vegetation in the surrounding area. The scree slope consisted of a jumble of six-inch to six-foot diameter rocks interspersed with woody debris and duff.

The IC and the crewmembers unloaded and began to congregate on and above the road as they watched the fire. There was no formal briefing given concerning possible deployment. People began to wander around and take pictures of the advancing fire and growing smoke column. Squad Leader Taylor made a few suggestions about possible places to deploy and about having the sawyers cut down some trees, but the IC didn't think it was necessary. So instead Squad Leader Taylor went up onto the rockslide to see what he thought about using it for a deployment site. One of his crewmembers followed him.

They decided there was too much vegetation among the rocks and they turned to head back down to the road. They met five other crewmembers from the same Naches district that had also gone a little ways above the road into the rocks. Several times the IC tried to tell the people on the rocks to come down to the road, but only one person, crewmember Rebecca Welch, followed his directions.

At 17:00 and Air Attack reported that the fire is over 500 acres and moving up the east canyon slope. At about that same time, two civilians arrived at the entrapment site after having driven up the road earlier in the afternoon. At 17:24 the behavior of the fire changed dramatically. The crew was completely surprised as suddenly the fire was "coming very fast, roaring," towards them.

In spite of the lack of forest vegetation and brush in the immediate vicinity of the crew, the intensity of the fire overwhelmed the area and the crew. They were not in a heightened state of readiness. Shelter deployment was no longer optional. The IC directed the crewmembers to "get your shelters out and use against the ash" in order to protect them from falling embers. Very quickly after that he told the crewmembers on the road to deploy.

Click to see Thirtymile Fire Lessons Learned presentation from MTDC

Click to hear interview excerpts from Matthew Rutman, a crewmember on the Northwest Regular #6 Crew
(Requires a media player capable of playing MP3 audio. Click here to download the free Window Media Player)

Aerial view looking down the Chewuch River drainage at the entrapment site. Arrows indicate the two different locations where firefighters deployed their fire shelters.

Flame front approaching just below tree line on east side of Chewuch River. Note the numerous white exposure dots from the heavy ember shower. Photo was taken by a crewmember on NWR # 6 just prior to deployment.

Entiat Hotshot Superintendent and Squadleader (EMT) at the entrapment site during rescue operations. The road bed and the river sand bar below the road (to the left in this view) were the locations where surviving firefighters deployed their fire shelters.

This rock scree slope above the road was the location where the four firefighter fatalities occurred. Two other firefighters who were initially in the rocks moved down toward the road and river during the entrapment. Note the variable size of the rocks and the impact this could have on ability to move and ability to get into a fire shelter.

Thirtymile Fire Memorial located at entrapment site.