2018 WFSTAR: Shelter Deployment – Indians Fire

2018 WFSTAR: Shelter Deployment – Indians Fire

Intro music We were up at 6:00. I believe we were
a single resource at the time for the fire four wheel drive engine. And we went to briefing, got our division, got our assignments for the day. And we went up the road
a little bit to where we were going to make our
safety zone, and burn out that. And that’s where we started
our day, up the road. And we burn that, and then we moved on Del Venturi to the
Horseshoe where we are now. The fire was to my right up
quite a ways, a few slopes back. And their main goal was to save
the Horseshoe from burning. After that, we just waited for
our water tender to show up, to fill up with water, and
then once we got our water, we continued down Del Venturi
and waited for our burn show to start and to support the
crews while they burned. – [Man] It’s slowing
down. (background noise) – [Man 2] Bring them to the
hotshots (background noise) – The plan was to just to keep supporting the Fulton Hotshots and if
anything flared up too big, we would cool off the
area just so we didn’t get any spotting or anything into the green, and just continue down the
road and let our burn operation catch up to the fire so we
could hold it on this road. – Then we got a call over
the radio for a spot fire. That was way back towards
the base of that mountain and there’s a creek bed between
us and that, so we decided that it was unsafe for the
engine to go attack at that time. And then just shortly after that, we got all five by five spot
fire on the side of the road. So we decided to go and engage in the one right off the road. And Roberto, the captain,
took Sean and Chris, and they were just going to start walking their way over there. And they were going to
meet up with the engine, and I stayed back to
turn the engine around. Once I got it turned around,
I jumped up on the step of the engine, thought about jumping in, but I figured the rest of the
crew was walking over there so I’d go catch up with them. I took off down the road,
and I started hearing cracks and I looked over to the burn side and a branch was falling out of the
tree and took over the road. This one that’s on the side
of the road had fallen off the side of the tree and shattered me with all of its limbs that broke. I turned to see it and then
I kind of just went back and sheltered myself, crouched
down protecting the head. And when I did that, I noticed that this field is starting to
light up really easily. So at that time, I had the contemplation, “Do I go back to the engine
now that there’s fires breaking off our escape route
basically to the engine?” For a second I was thinking,
“Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.” So I took a step back and then
I looked up and saw the rest of the crew up there still
going towards the spot fire. – And that’s when I looked
back and I noticed Frank covering himself, right when
the limb fell and hit the road. So as soon as that tree came down, it had threw embers everywhere. Then this whole side seemed
like it was like area ignition, and everything just went, and
all the light, flashy fuels were all burning at once, same time. And that’s when all the
winds started picking up. And I remember looking around, turning and looking all around me. All I see was everything blowing around, and the limbs coming down. And that’s when I felt
all the heat first hit us. And at that time, the main thing was our breathing was the hardest part. I remember lifting up
my collars on my yellow and just covering myself and my ears, and just putting my mouth in my yellows just to get some clean air in, just cause it was so
hot and hard to breathe. – The unusual thing was the strong winds and branches that came flying over us. Rocks, embers, just a
big old burst of wind that came through and started tearing branches off the trees, and uprooting them, shrubs and
picking up rocks and embers and just rotating around us. – So I was continuing up the road, and then we had a dust devil
come right through here, right when I tied up for the crew. It just started throwing
really big rocks at us. So we started running down
the road away from the engine trying to get away from the dust devil. And we probably made it to
this oak tree right here, and started our walk back to the engine. “This isn’t good,” you know,
for sure definitely kicked in. It was definitely time to get out of here. And that’s when I saw the
rookie, Chris, he kept running. He pursuited down the road. He didn’t hear the captain
say, “Turn around.” And I grabbed the strap that’s
in the middle of the back on his pack, as he was
running away because he was running into another oak tree. And you could just hear them
just cracking and falling like this all over the place. So I grabbed him and told
him he needed to turn around. And that’s the last time I saw him because he turned around
and just kept running. – And so I finally got
straightened out on the road, and this is within seconds. All this stuff was happening
so fast, it was unreal. There’s a big limb that
pretty much got plucked right off the tree, landed in the road. and through – I counted them,
because you can’t mistake five spots – and little spots,
just right off the road. And then as I was going
towards where the guys were, I got on the radio and
tried to get a hold of Burt, and say “Hey, you got a spot behind you.” At that time I couldn’t
even hear myself talk. It was so windy, it was shaking the truck, rocks and everything,
limbs were flying around just hitting the truck and
I just proceeded going in. And then as I got to
the limb that fell over, I looked to the left
out in this field here and within seconds it
literally was area ignition. And I’ve only seen that once before and that was from a long ways away. And I never seen it before like that. So I proceeded past
the limb into the smoke and seen that I couldn’t see anything, it was so black and dark. Couldn’t hear anything
besides all the rumbling and stuff just flying
around hitting the truck. Just chaos in there. I wasn’t getting any response
back from Burt and all them so I didn’t know exactly where they were so I went down and tried to get them. I finally got to a point, it
was probably about 50-60 feet after the limb that was down back here, and that’s where I picked up
Chris, and I couldn’t see him. I almost ran him over. I couldn’t see him, he was
running out of the smoke because for some reason I
got a break in the smoke at that time and he was running out and he pretty much ran into
the bumper, looked at me, I could see him, he – drool everywhere, just he couldn’t barely breathe. And he ran to the passenger door and swung it open and jumped in, and as soon as he opened that door, it felt like someone
just turned the oven on. It was so hot, couldn’t
even even explain it. I told him to shut that door and lay down. And first things out of his mouth is, “Get the (mouths) out of here.” I just kind of looked at him
and is all, “Where’s the guys?” And he’s all, “I don’t
know. They’re back there.” And I was all, “How far?” And he’s all, “I don’t know.” Was all, “Where’d you leave them at?” “I don’t know. Let’s get out of here.” I was like, “Where’s the guys?” He didn’t want to answer
me after that, and so … I paused there for a
second and kind of looked, and in front of me it was like
driving through totally fog. Can’t see nothing. So I didn’t know what to do. I had another guy with me, I don’t know what’s in front of me, I don’t want nothing
with the limb behind me, and get me stuck where
it burns the truck up. And I can’t see the guys. I don’t know if they went the
opposite way that Chris did. I had no clue. So I just made a decision
there just to back out You know, it’s either I
back out and try to save one person at least and get out of there, or just try going in and
get the rest of the guys and not knowing which direction they went, it’s kinda hard to make
a decision like that. – When we were standing here
the first thought in my head was, it wasn’t really happening. I remember like I said,
spinning around just seeing fire and heat or just things
flying through the air. Just seeing limbs, and you can
hear them hitting the ground. We’re all standing looking
at each other not knowing what to do, and just trying to get out. When you started backing,
the winds were so hard that you couldn’t move. You try lifting up your foot,
it just dropped on the ground. It was so hard to move out of it. It was very noisy. I know all three of us at this time, were all just right next to each other. And I could look up at
Frank and our captain, but you couldn’t hear anything. I could see their lips moving, but you just couldn’t hear a thing. – I keep doing 360s, see which
– you know, turn one way, see if it was easier to breathe. Turn another, and it was all the same. I was just – the heat, it
was just intense in there. Our hands were burnt.
Felt embers on my neck. Looked at the pavement
and thought, you know, “I guess this is it. This is it for us.” What a present to the family, you know? And after that I just …
remembered my training, fire shelter training, and
starting breathing calmly and taking short breaths and … You know, the guys
couldn’t hear me and so … So I just pulled my fire shelter
out and showed it to them and they followed suit after that. – And that’s when I could
see our captain looking at us and he was saying something
but I couldn’t hear him from two feet away just
because it was so loud. And that’s when I saw
him grab his shelter, and I didn’t think twice
about it and just grabbed mine and I started deploying it. – We saw the captain pulling
out his shelter and we just reverted to our training,
got the calming effect, we trained really hard
with the practice shelters. At that point in time, leading up to that, it was kind of crazy with the
dust devil and everything, kind of like blown away
and panicking almost. And then once the shelter came out, everything was back to routine practice, what our training called for. – While I was opening
it, I thought to myself, “I can’t screw this up. I
know it is extremely windy, I just gotta take my time.” And I thought to myself, I
remember seeing both handles and saying “Right hand, left hand.” and I took my time just to grab
them so I wouldn’t lose it. It was so windy. I remember holding it and it
just was flying in the air. And it was like the hot dog
shape, it just wouldn’t open. I remember I had to go
and kind of peel the side before it kind of blew open. – I mean I came to the conclusion
that we weren’t going to deploy on the road because
during the day I seen all the traffic that was
coming up and down the road with water tenders, engines,
and other fire personnel. Just the stuff that was
coming down off them trees, plus it was smokey,
couldn’t see anything so. I didn’t feel that it was safe, you know? My idea was to get the
fire shelters, put them on, and just start walking out. – I was just holding on
for my life pretty much cause I was knew I was getting in it. Put it around me, once I got a hold of it, opened it up and started
proceeding with the captain in walking backwards. – And after that, it was a
big, big relief, you know? I was able to breathe, you know? Feel all that cool air
underneath that fire shelter. – I thought that, “We are
going to make it out now.” At first when it all happened,
and I had that thought through my head where “We’re
not going to make it.” It’s not right; it’s too
hot and we can’t breathe. But then as the shelter was
over our back, it was like, “Yeah I can breathe again,”
and we were getting out. We were able to move now,
so it was a lot easier, and had more confidence
and I knew we’d be okay. And just being right next to each other. I kept looking at Frank, and just … we’d look at each other,
and then keep moving. And same with Roberto. We’d
all look at each other. And we couldn’t hear anything,
but just knowing each other are right there, and you’re
not by yourself and you have someone right there with you. So that was a big help too, just knowing that you’re not doing it by yourself. – We probably made it
back through right in here before we were all thinking, “Okay, it’s time to get down,
it’s getting really bad.” I made it down to my knees
and I heard, “Get in.” So I quickly laid down, and then realized I didn’t recognize the voice. And it was the Division
Chief, and he picked us up. We ended up back at the
engine, found Chris was there. We were looking for him
as we were backing out. We were really glad to hear that he was at the engine once we got out. – And I seen them come out of the smoke and I was in total relief by then, because I seen all three
of them sitting in there. What scared me the most was
when they came around the truck and I can see that they were burned. I didn’t say anything to them, because I didn’t want to make them freak. And a couple of them jumped in the truck, then I seen Burt kind of
walk off a little bit. And then he asked me to take his gear off, so I took his gear off. Then that was it. We went and seen the medic,
the Line Medic that was right down the road here by a half mile, and then he told us to get to ICP, and we went down there
and they got treated and they took them away in an ambulance. And that was pretty much it.

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About the Author: Sam Caldwell


  1. Just saw this by way of Wildland Firefighter online magazine. When did this incident occur? The story is very compelling and would be improved with some details. Did anything change as a result of this incident in terms of training or tactics?

  2. What happened to the rookie that took off running after he got a strap grabbed the guy said that was the last I saw of them

  3. It odd. Maybe a part of the culture. It's in-grained I guess. As a former ranger and wildland FF. The speech patterns and verbiage. I have done it many times myself. At This Time… I was a fire dispatcher and did commo. Did not infer anything. Just the facts.

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