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NIOSH Cedar Fire Report



Investigation & Medical Findings

Recommendations / Discussions


Glossary of Terms

Maps and Photographs

CDF Cedar Fire Report

Table of Contents

Review Team Process

Overview of Accident

Summary of Events

Sequence of Events


Causal Factors

Contributory Factors


Site Conditions

Graphics – List of Illustrations Table

Description of Supporting Data and Supplementary Information

Novato FPD Investigation Analysis

Table of Contents


CDF Green Sheet


Lessons Learned

Draft Standard Operating Procedures

Inaja Fire Tragedy




Investigation Analysis
of the
Cedar Fire Incident

Engine 6162 Crew Entrapment,
Fatality, and Burn Injuries
October 29, 2003

Draft Standard Operating Procedures

Title: Wildland Firing Operations Standard Operating Procedures


Firing operations are often critical operations in the fire management job. If planned and executed correctly, they can speed control of a fire and greatly reduce suppression costs. Conversely, if not done right, they can endanger personnel, extend control time, damage property and increase cost.


Firing operations must not jeopardize the safety of personnel or equipment or invalidate suppression action on adjacent Divisions/Groups. Confirmation of this is absolutely mandatory prior to firing. No backfiring action regardless of strategic importance or other critical factors is worth risking one human life! When in doubt choose another safe and appropriate tactic.



Backfiring operations are a method of indirect attack typically used against rapidly spreading fires. Safety considerations must be given first priority. Backfiring must be approved by the Incident Commander and should be performed by properly certified and qualified personnel.

The most successful backfiring is conducted from completed control lines. These are best located at a break in the terrain - the lee side of ridgetops is often best choice, canyon bottoms second choice and benches or roads in mid-slope third. The third choice is the most dangerous from the personnel safety standpoint and requires the most skill and understanding of fire behavior.

Backfiring is most often used to contain a rapidly spreading fire. Backfiring provides a wide defense perimeter, and may be further employed to change the force of the convection column. Backfiring is a tactic which makes possible a strategy of locating control lines at places where the fire can be fought safely on the firefighter's terms.

Except for rare circumstances meeting specified criteria, backfiring is executed on a command decision made through the ICS channels of authority. Occasionally a situation may develop requiring immediate action to backfire. Division/Group Supervisors, Initial Attack and Extended Attack Incident Commanders should be authorized to initiate backfiring provided:

  • The act does not jeopardize the safety of personnel or invalidate the actions of adjacent resources and personnel.

  • A change in weather or fire behavior requires this course of action to maintain control of the situation or control lines

  • It is taken to mitigate a safety situation such as creating a safety or deployment zone

One Certified and Qualified individual must be responsible for controlling and directing the backfiring operation. If a qualified individual is not available the operation should not be attempted. In addition to Certified and Qualified individuals it is also necessary to have available:

  • A sufficient number of skilled personnel assigned as a firing team

  • A sufficient number of resources and personnel assigned to hold the firing

Burning Out

Typically Novato Fire District personnel are not certified and qualified to conduct firing operations; however, they may support a back firing operation by a certified and qualified individual or team, if needed.

A Burn Out operation is the intentional burning of fuels inside the control line to strengthen the line. Burning out is almost always done as a part of line construction (direct attack/parallel attack); the control line is considered incomplete unless there is no fuel between the fire and the line. Burn Out operations are typically performed without the approval of the Incident Commander or direct supervisor however, a notification of both is essential to avoid confusion regarding observed fire behavior on the incident.


The following guidelines apply to all firing operations and you must assure that you:

  • Do not place fire fighting personnel or the public at risk

  • Do not put property at risk

  • Will be able to maintain control of the operation

  • Will not make the situation worse

  • Have a beginning point and an ending point (anchor points)

  • Will be able to complete your operation with the personnel and equipment on hand

    • Do not start an operation that in order to complete you must rely on resources that are not on scene, they may never arrive

  • Have considered all other options including the use of other tactics

  • Will not delay suppression activities by spending the time to gather resources,
    prepare and execute the firing operation

  • Coordinate with adjoining resources/personnel


If you can not unequivocally make meet the guidelines of this SOP in the time available, do not fire!

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