been to a fatality fire site before? I try to visit them whenever I'm
near one. Just seeing the actual site helps me understand a lot better
what really happened. This South Canyon Fire site is definitely one worth
does this type of thing as formal training. They'll go to the site of
a battle, and analyze it, and study what happened, and figure out what
factors affected the outcome. Historic battles are considered valuable
learning tools. We need to do more of that in the fire management business.
of our business is full of battles we've lost and lessons to be learned.
even have a history until the 1910 fires in northern Idaho. 78 firefighters
lost their lives in those fires. That's when the federal government finally
started to develop a fire suppression policy and budget some money to
battle forest fires.
fire started they'd just hire people off logging crews, ranches or right
off the streets of the nearest town. If wasn't until the 1930's that the
Civilian Conservation Corps started the first organized crews. They were
hard workers, but they didn't have any formalized fire training like we
the 1933 fire at Griffith Park in California and the 1937 Blackwater Fire
in Wyoming, 40 more firefighters died and over a hundred others were injured.
That's when we started to develop specialized fire training for the Civilian
is not an easy thing to understand. One of the reasons I come
to places like
this is to try to figure out why a fire burned the way it did.
the 1940's smokejumpers and hotshots crews started showing up on the scene,
but they didn't understand much more than the CCC boys did about how a
fire burns. And because they didn't understand fully all the factors that
make some fires just get up and run, 13 firefighters died at the 1949
Mann Gulch Fire up in Montana. It was after that, we started to do a lot
of research and gather piles of data on fire behavior. See, we thought
if we could anticipate the way a fire was gonna behave, we could increase
safety on the fireline.
we were still losing battles. Right on the heels of Mann Gulch,
two more major fatality fires in California. In 1953, 15 firefighters
died on the Rattlesnake fire, and in '56, 11 more died on the Inaja
becoming pretty clear to us that we needed to do a lot more to help out
the people pounding the ground. So, a standard list of do's and don'ts
was developed. That's where we came up with our 10 Standard Firefighting
Orders and the 13 Situations that Shout Watchout.
time went on, we figured we were starting to get a handle on most
of our major
safety concerns. Then along came the Loop Fire in '66 and the Canyon
Fire in '68 — both in southern California and both nearly
carbon copies of the Inaja Fire. Once again, we disregarded lessons
from the past and 19 firefighter
paid for it with their lives.
end of the 60's, smokejumpers and hotshots had been around for over 20
years. But as these fires proved, all that special training didn't make
them immune from ignoring the past. So, we developed even more do's and
don'ts, and that became our Downhill Line Construction Checklist.
in my career, we've lost way too many battles by simply not paying
attention to what's gone on in the past. Four firefighters died
in the 1971 Romero Fire in California. That started a nation-wide
push for a radio cache system and a fireline qualification system.
in 1976, just five years later, the Battlement Creek Fire — about
20 miles down the valley right over here — claimed
another three firefighters. That's when it became mandatory to
carry fire shelters onto the fireline, and more special guidelines
were developed in the form of the Common Denominators.
1980's brought a rash of fire shelter deployments. Then in 1990,
six more firefighters were killed on the Dude Fire in Arizona.
It was obvious that modern technology alone was not going to eliminate
fatality fires, and we began to move toward more simplified safety
guidelines using the LCES system.
these were just the dramatic fires — the ones that cost a
lot of lives and caused the fire organizations to react in some
pretty dramatic ways. We need
to remember that there were literally hundreds of other fatality
fires involving one or two lives that have been forgotten along
the way: fires where the same safety guidelines were disregarded,
over and over again.
can we keep forgetting?
we are at South Canyon, where another 14 firefighters lost their
lives in 1994. Once again, elite firefighters. Once again, repeated
mistakes. Once again, calls for change. Once again, quickly forgotten.
know, the South Canyon Fire isn't any more tragic than any of
these other fires I've mentioned — it's just more recent.
The one thing we need to remember is to use the lessons from the
past, so we don't have to keep re-learning them the hard way.