Point Fire, 1995
Island Fork Fire, 1999
Point Fire Case Study
Point Fire Accident Investigation
A. Point Fire Overview
D. Supporting Data
- Sequence of Events
- Organization Charts
- Site Investigation
- Fire Behavior Report
- Property Damage Report
- Witness Statements
- Outline of Kuna Wildland Training Provided by BLM
E. Records and Reports
- Preplanned Dispatch
- BLM Radio Transmission Log
- Ada County Dispatch Log
- Fire Incident Status Summary
- Escaped Fire Situation Analysis
- Wildland Fire Entrapment Report
- Technical Analysis of Personal Protective Equipment
- Vehicle Inspection
- Weather Reports
Island Fork Fire Accident Investigation
Point Fire — U.S. District Court Civil Case
Ruling on I.C.'s Decisions - Nov. 10, 1998
• Factual Background
• Legal Analysis
Ruling on BLM Liability - Feb. 19, 1999
• Legal Standards
Ruling on Public Safety Officer Benefits
Colorado Firecamp extends special thanks to Linda Perkins, BLM
Idaho State FOIA Coordinator, for her friendly assistance in gathering
the Point Fire documents. BLM FOIA Letter
A. Fire Behavior and Environmental Factors
The primary fuel type was cheatgrass and sagebrush. It most closely
correlates to Fuel Model 2.
Live fuel moisture levels (water content of foilage expressed as a
percentage of its oven-dry weight) in sagebrush was approximately 90-106%.
Dead fuel content (sagebrush) was about 25%.
The fuel types present coupled with their low moisture content caused
and extremely fast rate of fire spread when combined with the high winds
that prevailed on the fire at the time of the accident.
Greater than normal spring rains had created an abundance of cheatgrass,
exceeding 3,000 lbs. per acre.
The area encompassed by the fire was mostly flat, with gently rolling
terrain and few natural obstructions. This allowed an almost continuous
Afternoon temperatures on July 28 reached 100 degrees fahrenheit.
Relative humidity was about 15%.
The thunderstorm that approached the fire from the south contained
downdrafts and strong winds, estimated to be in excess of 40 mph.
The Boise BLM District Dispatch transmitted a red flag warning at
2022 on July 28 for the area included in the Point Fire.
A Haines Index of "6 high" was calculated for the area on
July 28. The Haines Index is a tool used to measure the contribution
of atmospheric stability to the growth potential of existing wildfires.
B. Incident Management
The control objective for the Point Fire area was influenced by its
location within the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation
Area. This area is classified as the second highest priority for the
Boise District for fire control. The BLM Boise District's Fire Management
Activity Plan (FMAP) objectives call for containment of fires at 50
acres or less in this area. Only the Boise Front area, with its numerous
residential areas and critical watershed, is classified as a higher
The Kuna RFD chief asked the BLM IC if assistance was needed in suppressing
the Point Fire. The BLM IC responded by requesting 1 engine and a water
tender from Kuna RFD.
A safety briefing specific to this fire was not done by BLM initial
attack crews upon arriving at the fire scene. The Kuna RFD firefighters
of Engines 620 and 622 received instructions from their command to stay
together and to fall in behind the BLM engines prior to beginning firefighting
Strategies and tactics used by the BLM IC were sound.
C. Control Mechanisms
Lack of common communication ability contributed to this incident.
The BLM IC could not monitor Kuna Command because the frequency was
not programmed into his radio.
Some Kuna crews had the capability to utilize the Boise District frequencies
while others did not. Kuna Command did not have complete radio communications
capability at all times with all the units.
While Kuna RFD Engines 620 and 621 had communication capabilities
with both BLM and Kuna Command, they could not communicate with Kuna
Command when they switched to the BLM frequency.
A critical lack of communication occurred when the crew of Kuna RFD
Engine 620 did not communicate its intention to leave the fire line.
The Salmon BLM crew (Engine 425), Kuna water tender 625, Kuna command
(6803) and the Ada County Dispatch Center did not hear the red flag
warning broadcast by BLM Boise District Dispatch.
10 Standard Fire Orders / 18 Situations That Shout “Watch
Eight of the ten standard fire orders were compromised on this fire
by one or more crews.
Eight of the 18 Situations That Shout “Watch Out” were
not recognized by one or more crews.
D. Involved Personnel
Team members reviewed all training records for the personnel involved
in the Point Fire. A full copy of training records is available in the
official investigative file.
Firefighters on the Point Fire had a variety of experience and training.
BLM firefighter experience ranged from 3 months to 29 seasons. Kuna
RFD firefighters' experience ranged from 2 months to 21 years.
While Kuna RFD personnel were well trained for fighting structure
fires, most firefighters on the Point Fire had only five hours of wildland
fire training in 1995. That training was requested by Kuna RFD in June
and July, and was provided by the BLM Boise District.
Kuna RFD Engine 622 had a combined experience of 31 years. Kuna RFD
Engine 620 had about 1.5 years of combined wildland experience. BLM
engine crews had an average of 8 seasons of experience. (A season equates
to 4 months.)
Kuna RFD engine personnel at times did not follow orders issued by
Kuna Command or the BLM IC. For example, the Chief directed Kuna RFD
Engines 620 and 622 to stay together on the fire and Kuna Command 6803
instructed both Kuna engines to fall in behind the BLM engines.
A relaxed attitude prevailed when the fire's spread was stopped. That
was evidenced by requests from both BLM and Kuna RFD to allow inexperienced
personnel to operate engines on the firelines.
A complacent attitude toward safety was displayed by some BLM firefighters,
particularly regarding the use of PPE. Agency standards regarding safety
were overlooked or ignored in several instances on the Point Fire.
No attempts were made to verify a safe location of all crews by BLM
or Kuna RFD when the blow-up occurred.
Kuna Command (6803) stayed on Swan Falls Road, where he could see
much of the fire activity. However, he had limited radio communication
with Kuna crews, and no communication with BLM during initial suppression
Two less experienced Kuna RFD firefighters occupied the same engine.
To compensate, however, Kuna Command ordered the two engines to stay
together on the fire and follow the BLM engines.
The BLM IC and Kuna Command 6803 did not make physical contact to
clarify details of the shared command process.
Kuna RFD had successfully participated with BLM on a previous wildland
fire on July 3, 1995, using the Unified Command approach outlined in
the Incident Command System.
The Boise District and Kuna RFD has no formal mutual aid fire protection
and suppression agreement that details radio frequencies to use, incident
command protocol and standard operating procedures, safety, personal
protective equipment requirements, training, and qualifications for
The Kuna RFD engine crews had personal protective equipment, including
bunker pants and structural (rubber) boots, and structural helmets.
They did not, however, have fire shelters.
Kuna RFD Engine 620 experienced mechanical problems (overheating)
earlier in the season and on the Point Fire prior to the blow up.
There were adequate resources (both equipment and personnel) to successfully
fight this fire in its initial stages.
Kuna RFD Engine 620 was reported by its crew as stalled just prior
to the burnover.
The crew of Kuna RFD Engine 620 did not have adequate means to spray
the vehicle, thus eliminating one possible way of protecting themselves
and the truck.
No maintenance records were kept for Kuna RFD Engine 620 to help
determine its reliability for fighting wildland fires.
It is not known exactly when or why the Kuna RFD Engine 620 crew left
the safety of the burned area and proceeded into the unburned area north
of the fireline at a time when the fire appeared to be stopped. The most
likely explanation is that the crew of Kuna RFD Engine 620 had run out
of water and believed that the water tender was located farther north
on Swan Falls Road. Kuna RFD Engine 620 may have left the safety of the
burned area when the fire's progress had been halted and embarked cross-country
in an attempt to save time. A definite explanation will never be known.
It is clear that the failure of their vehicle in dense fuels at the critical
time when the winds picked up placed the crew members in a perilous situation
from which they could not escape.