Also read about engine entrapment incidents:
Comparing Conditions Inside
Vehicles and Fire Shelters
won't cost you anything...until you forget it.”
— Richard E. McArdie, Chief
Forest Service, 1953
Since early in the days of wildland fire suppression, mechanized equipment
has played an increasingly important role. Engines have become especially
popular, providing transportation, water (and now foam), and a wide range
of equipment for ground firefighters. This dependence on motorized equipment
is not unique to the United States. Australia, Spain, Portugal, and France
are just a few of the countries where engines are an important part of
the fire suppression arsenal.
As engines are more widely used, the risk that fire will burn over the
engine increases. Protective clothing and equipment (such as the fire
shelter) are well accepted in the fire community. A wide range of opinion
has been expressed concerning the protection an engine might afford during
In recent years firefighters have been entrapped in their engines during
a number of incidents. They have been forced to make instantaneous decisions
about their best chances for survival: in an engine, or in a fire shelter.
In 1958 on the Wandilo Fire in Australia, 11 firefighters were trapped
in a fast-moving bushfire: three survived and eight died. Of the three
survivors, one laid in the wheel rut on the sandy road, and the other
two stayed in the engine cab until it caught fire.
In October 1985, three Santa Barbara County firefighters abandoned
their engine when the plastic lights and gauges melted and the front
and side windows cracked from the heat. They went into fire shelters
and survived uninjured.
In 1987 on the Crank Fire in northern California, firefighters took
shelter in their engines until the intense heat began melting components
inside the cab. They left the engines and used their fire shelters as
protective capes when they fled the burn area.
In 1990 on the Wenatchee Heights Fire in central Washington the local
fire chief attempted to ride out a burnover in the cab of an engine.
When the heat became so intense that it blew out the engine's front
windshield, he was forced to leave the engine and run through open flames,
suffering third-degree burns over much of his body.
In 1993 during a Santa Ana-condition firestorm in southern California,
firefighters attempting to take shelter in their engines were burned
because they were unable to get inside the engine quickly enough.
In 1995, a fast-moving grass/sagebrush fire near Boise, ID, trapped
two rural volunteer firefighters in the cab of their engine. Neither
firefighter had a fire shelter, and both died in the engine.
In 1995, many engines were destroyed by a fast-moving timber fire
on Long Island, NY. All firefighters abandoned their engines and survived
(Figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1-This engine burned during the 1995 fires on Long Island. Although
many engines were destroyed, all firefighters escaped without injuries.
Figure 2-The cab interior
of the same engine burned during the 1995 fires on Long Island.
- In 1996 on the Calabasas Fire in southern California, firefighters
seeking shelter in their engines were at risk when the flame front curled
around the vehicle, reaching firefighters who were seeking shelter behind
In October 1995, the Missoula Technology and Development Center in Missoula,
MT, began a 1-year study to compare conditions inside a fire shelter and
inside an engine under identical fire conditions; cooperators in this
study included the Florida Division of Forestry, Los Angeles County Fire
Department, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation,
and the Intermountain Fire Sciences Laboratory.
reading—Surviving Fire Entrapments, Objectives >>>
Additional single copies of this document may be ordered from:
USDA Forest Service, MTDC
Building 1, Fort Missoula
Missoula, MT 59804-7294
Phone: (406) 329-3900
Fax: (406) 329-3719
An electronic copy of this document is available on the Forest Service's
FSWeb intranet at:
The Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, has developed
this infor-mation for the guidance of its employees, its contractors,
and its cooperating Federal and State agencies, and is not responsible
for the interpretation or use of this information by anyone except its
own employees. The use of trade, firm, or corporation names in this
publication is for the information and convenience of the reader, and
does not constitute an endorsement by the Department of any product
or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. The United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in
its programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion,
age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status.
(Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities
who require alternative means of communication of program information
(braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA's TARGET
Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice or TDD). To file a complaint, write
the Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington,
D.C. 20250, or call 1-800-245-6340 (voice) or (202) 720-1127 (TDD).
USDA is an equal employment opportunity employer.
reading—Surviving Fire Entrapments, Objectives >>>