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Doug Campbell (RiP) Did the PFD GMHS Know or Ignore his Tried-and-True Campbell Prediction System? 4

This preferred Title replaces the Wix website size constraints version - "Doug Campbell (RiP) Did the Prescott FD Granite Mountain Hot Shots (GMHS) Even Know, Train In, or Ignore his Tried-and-True Campbell Prediction System leading up to and including their detriment on June 30, 2013? Part 4 of 4"


Views expressed to "the public at large” and "of public concern"

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Abbreviations used below: Wildland Firefighters (WFs) - Firefighters (FFs).

The author took the liberty of correcting some of the minor spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors in the sources provided; and also provided select links and/or hyperlinks as well throughout this post to the best of the author's abilities. They will show up in an underlined, somewhat faded appearance. Clicking on the link twice will reveal a blue link above, which will take you to the source after clicking on it.


Carried over from Part One and Part Two - Doug Campbell passed away in Ojai, CA on July 13, 2021. This is a tribute to our self-avowed Politically Incorrect Hot Shot Friend and Brother, Mentor, Leader, Visionary, and Creator of the Campbell Prediction System (CPS). Doug Campbell (RiP) was truly a remarkable man with a wide range of wildland fire interests in fire behavior, leadership, and human factors; enhanced by always being grounded by family, friends, loved ones, and colleagues. Whatever he did, he did it with eagerness, enthusiasm, and enjoyment. He was always respectful and always logical. He was at ease "speaking truth to power" for the benefit of all WFs and FFs.

He taught us to think of the predicted fire behavior intuitively, in terms of logic. Doug was truly blessed with an incredibly brilliant mind, equipped to reach the highest intellect, and yet still able to identify with and relate the simple aspects of reading a wildfire's signature to discern what it was telling us. He died, much too soon. However, many of us were blessed to have attended his lectures and read and researched, and then applied his works. And this is what was to eventually become the Campbell Prediction System (CPS). We promise to pass this "Old School" work on to others. Thank you. We will miss you.


The Narrow Way

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7: 13-14 (NKJV)


Eight years later. Still doing our best to explain - to understand - the YH Fire and GMHS debacle. These are some quotes that often come to mind:

If not us, who? If not now, when? - attributed to Hillel the Elder (c. 50 B.C.) It is meant to inspire people to take action now rather than wait for someone else to step up.

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

“If you don't know where you are going any road can take you there” Lewis Carroll


Figure 1. Campbell Prediction System "Learn From The Past. Predict The Future" graph of fuel temperature, time of day, air temperature, and aspect. Source: LA County Firefighters Association

The Collapse of Decisionmaking and Organizational Structure on Storm King Mountain

Ted Putnam, Ph.D., Protective Clothing and Equipment Specialist, Missoula Technology and Development Center, May 1996

"Stress, fear, and panic predictably lead to the collapse of clear thinking and organizational structure. While these psychological and social processes have been well studied by the military and the aircraft industry (Cockpit Resource Management) (Weick 1990 and Wiener, Kanki, and Helmrich 1993), the wildland fire community has not supported similar research for the fireline. The fatal wildland fire entrapments of recent memory have a tragic common denominatorhuman error. The lesson is clear: studying the human side of fatal wildland fire accidents is overdue.

Historically, wildland fire fatality investigations focus on external factors like fire behavior, fuels, weather, and equipment. Human and organizational failures are seldom discussed. When individual firefighters and support personnel are singled out, it's often to fix blame in the same way we blame fire behavior or fuels. This is wrong-headed and dangerous[] because it ignores what I think is an underlying cause of firefighter deaths— the difficulty individuals have to consistently make good decisions under stress.

There's no question individuals must be held accountable for their performance. But the fire community must begin determining at psychological and social levels why failures occur. The goal should not be to fix blame. Rather, it should be to give people a better understanding of how stress, fear, and panic combine to erode rational thinking and how to counter this process. Over the years, we've made substantial progress in modeling and understanding the external factors in wildland fire suppression, and too little in improving thinking, leadership, and crew interactions.

Decisionmaking—A Telling Model

Human thinking and decision-making have been studied and modeled. The decision process is essentially additive: A+B+C. For example, a decision to build fireline may be characterized by firefighters (FFa, FFb, FFc, FFd) basing their choice on these factors:

FB—fire behavior




P—personnel, experience, skill


M—expectations of management

Numerous studies show no matter how many factors are important, the human mind normally can handle only about seven factors (e.g., seven-digit telephone numbers). People differ both as to how many factors they use and the value placed on these factors. In this modeling, the first factor is the one each firefighter pays the most attention to with the other factors added in decreasing level of importance.

So the decision-making processing leading to fireline building could be modeled:


FFb = S+P+M+FB

FFc = FB+P+E

FFd = P+E+S+FB+W

Although their decisions were the same, they arrived at them through quite different factor evaluations.

However, in situations that create stress, fear, and panic, minds regress toward simpler, more habitual thinking. This regression could be modeled:

FFa = M+W (Get the work done, weather permitting)

FFb = S (Safety first)

FFc = FB (Fire behavior most important)

FFd = P+E (People and equipment dominant)

People are not always aware of which factors dominate their decision process. Although we say "safety first," this does not mean it's necessarily first in actual decisions. Also, people are seldom aware of the few factors they actually are processing, so they tend to be overconfident in their decision-making ability. ... [computer technology portion intentionally omitted]

So when fireline conditions are routine, most people would reach similar decisions because they are more aware and take more information into account. When fireline conditions worsen, decisions are more at the mercy of the one or two factors individuals are still processing and their level of experience. In the example above, under stressful conditions even though each firefighter's main factors differ, if they readily communicate as a crew, most of the factors are still present. Although individual decisions are additive, where good communications exist, the group decision can approach the better interactive process.

Studies also show that our linear thinking tends to underestimate hazards, particularly if the hazard is increasing at a logarithmic or exponential rate as can happen on the fireline. ... People would tend to underestimate the rate of spread and have difficulty deciding on an appropriate course of action. And so it is important to understand the limits of how we process information and the common types of errors that can occur. The extreme afternoon fire behavior on June 30, 2013, was most definitely exponential growth.

Leadership and Group Behavior

Stress, fear, and panic take their toll at all levels of the wildland firefighting organization. Under stress, leadership becomes more dogmatic and self-centered. It regresses toward more habituated behavior. Groups tend to fragment under stress into smaller units or to stick together and follow their leader without joining the decision-making process. Either way, most of the information available for the best decisions is not utilized.

An extensive 12-year study of Forest Service field crews conducted by sociologist Jon Driessen (1990) showed there is an inverse correlation between crew cohesion and accident rates. The study also identified factors fostering cohesion. Driessen found it takes about 6 weeks for good crew cohesion to take effect. So firefighting crews are predisposed toward accidents until they become cohesive units. Unfortunately, this type of information is not normally considered even when sending crews to riskier fires.

An excellent case study of leadership under stress on a smaller scale is Dr. Karl E. Weick's The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster (Weick 1993). Although the leadership and organizational structure discussed are based on Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire, Weick's analysis is thought-provoking. It is also haunting because the South Canyon Fire Investigation report shows the human and organizational failures on Storm King Mountain are similar to those he hypothesizes happened at Mann Gulch 45 years earlier.

Risk-Taking in Wildland Firefighting

First, wildland fires cannot be fought without risk. Making decisions while at risk assumes firefighters can evaluate the likelihoods of various states of nature. On larger fires, with structured incident management teams (IMT), specialists, and portable weather stations, etc., the likelihoods are more objective and outcomes are better predicted. An excellent study of leadership under stress on a larger (IMT) scale is Taynor, Klein, and Thordsen's 1987 article, Distributed Decisionmaking in Wildland Firefighting. They describe the IMT as a very robust organization due to lengthy experience levels, the common experience of working together, excellent communication structure, and well-defined, well-practiced roles. In contrast, on smaller fires, the likelihoods are more subjective, based on skill and experience rather than instruments. When small fires grow larger and more complex, such subjective estimates become less accurate, and decision-making regresses to a reliance on fewer and fewer factors. The result is a failure to keep up with rapidly changing conditions, and people on the fireline are put at greater risk.


Their IMT assessments may have been true back in their day, however, this author takes umbrage with their conclusion, and has found the opposite to be true regarding IMT's. Their communications structure, alleged working together, and such has morphed into a perverse Team Player mentality. Go Along to Get Along and Don't Rock the Boat. Groupthink. In contrast, the Type 4 and Type 3 Organizations, with few exceptions, seem to be more adept, efficient, flexible, and safely productive. Indeed, the conspicuous exception is the June 30, 2013, YH Fire and Granite Mountain HS Crew debacle.


Second, risk-taking is subject to perceived and actual rewards and punishments. When we attach a stigma to deploying a fire shelter, we bias firefighters into taking more risks to escape. If there's a stigma associated with dropping packs and tools, firefighters will carry everything while trying to outrun a fire. If a stigma is attached to abandoning a fire or the fireline, firefighters will take more risks to control a fire. The various payoffs associated with risk-taking are not necessarily those managers claim are operating. We need professionals specializing in the study of decision-making under stress to interview managers and firefighters, so we can begin to better understand actual risk-taking on the fireline.


The general consensus in the WF realm, especially among Hot Shot Crews, is that if you deploy your fire shelter, then someone really screwed up.


Collapse of Decisionmaking on Storm King Mountain

On the South Canyon Fire[,] the first decision failures occurred at the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) district level. Although the fire started July 2 in a fire exclusion zone, resources did not reach the fire until July 5. It was the worst fire season in years and local resources were stressed. Holding costs down and making do with local resources dominated decision-making. From our earlier analysis, we can predict a tendency to fall back on habituated tactics, such as letting the fire go until a local crew is available. Although many crews were available nationally, the district did not request help until July 5. The longer initial attack was delayed, the greater the risk the firefighters faced.

An incident commander (IC) from the local BLM district arrived on the fire the morning of July 5. But because of mechanical problems with their chain saws, the IC and crew left the fire that evening as a load of smokejumpers were dropped onto a nearby ridge. The first person out the door of the jumper aircraft became the jumper-in-charge (JIC). Via radio the IC turned the fire over to the JIC. This situation raises two immediate leadership questions: Why did the IC leave the fire? Was [the] first experienced person out the door the best way to choose the JIC?

The jumpers fought the fire most of the night as it continued to grow in size. In response, the JIC ordered two more Type I crews. The IC returned with his crew the morning of July 6. By 10:30 a.m., a second load of jumpers arrived, and the JIC of that plane load became the line scout (LS). The IC and his crew stayed on top of the ridge building fireline, while the jumpers began constructing fireline downhill on the west flank. At 12:30 p.m., 10 members of the Prineville Hotshots (PHS), including their superintendent, arrived at the fire. The IC, JIC, and PHS superintendent agreed to send 9 PHS down to help build fireline on the west flank. At 3:00 p.m., the remaining 10 PHS arrived at the fire and stayed on top of the ridge with their superintendent to help the IC and his local crew.

So the organization structure before the blowup was:

Figure 2 SC Fire resources numbers and locations. Source: Putnam

All the ingredients were in place for a catastrophe. Three local crews (BLM, USFS, Helitack), the Prineville crew split into two groups, and jumpers from five different bases led by two somewhat randomly selected JIC's were thrown together and asked to perform as a team under increasingly unstable conditions. Neither leadership roles nor a cohesive organizational structure stabilized before the blowup.

On the west flank, a group of nine smokejumpers split off to construct fireline to the southwest, forming a third group. These three groups began to focus on their own immediate problems and communications among them continued to decline. As the wind picked up after 3:00 p.m., so did fire activity and firefighter stress levels. And, predictably, decision-making and organization collapsed inward, with fatal consequences.

From the South Canyon Fire Investigation report and witness testimony, we can find signs of collapse similar to those Weick identified in his analysis of Mann Gulch, including:

[1] Leadership questioned and challenged (for incident commander, jumper-in[-]charge, and line scout).

[2] Decisions questioned.

[3] Most experienced people not consulted and locked out of decision process.

[4] Poor communication concerning deteriorating conditions—especially among groups.

[5] Continued fragmentation into smaller groups.

[6] Decreased talking within groups.

[7] Failure to integrate vital, available information when changes occurred.

[8] Failure to act on the weight of the evidence.

[9] Underestimating the current and potential fire behavior.

Once the blowup occurred, in the ensuing stress, fear, and panic, people's actions followed classic lines of regressing to more habituated patterns of behavior:

On the ridgetop all but two people ran out the east drainage, a potential death trap. This was not a matter of thought as much as regression—going back the way you had come in.

The two helitack refused to go into the east drainage and ran back along the ridge they had been dropped off on, possibly looking for a copter pickup site.

The west flank SJ and PHS went back up the fireline they had been digging.

Virtually all the escaping firefighters carried their tools and packs even though it cost many of them their lives (Putnam, 1994).

Even when the firefighters were yelled at to drop their tools and equipment, they did not. This deeply ingrained response pattern resulted in fatalities.

● Even though their lives were at stake, very few firefighters made any attempt to use their fire shelters, resulting in a higher number of fatalities (Putnam 1994).

● Although firefighters knew what fire shelters were and how to open them, they clearly did not know how to use them effectively or where they would work best.


Dr. Putnam's research paper is non-existent on the internet. Only hard copies exist at present. Send an email and request a copy.

( Analysis of Escape Efforts and Personal Protective Equipment on the South Canyon Fire. Missoula, MT: USDA Forest Service, MTDC )


Training to Make Decisions Under Stress

Courses such as Cockpit Resource Management train crews to counteract the natural tendencies for behavioral regression. Countermeasures mentioned by Weick and others include:

Nonstop communication, both verbal and nonverbal is crucial, especially when people first come together.

Survival goals (threat recognition, escape, shelter use) must be overlearned through repeated practice or they will not be dominant in dangerous situations.

Cross-train in roles.

Value wisdom and openness.

Initiate respectful face-to-face encounters between crew members and between crews.

Remain curious and observant.

If things don't make sense, speak up.

Avoid overconfidence and overcautiousness.

When situations deteriorate, pay more attention to leadership, perceptions, and group interactions. Strengthen ties.

Group dynamics before a crisis affect survival during a crisis.

Expect everyone to work safely, communicate effectively, and cooperate.

Talk to other crew members and crews. Expect them to talk to you—then listen.

Be especially wary of accepting increments of worsening conditions. It is deceptive to accept the increments rather than the entire change.

It is apparent from this list that to be adequately prepared requires training, overlearning, and using these skills routinely before a crisis strikes. It is also clear these skills are a necessary prerequisite for effective decision-making concerning integrating fire behavior, weather, fuels, equipment, and human factors.

A Start

Within the wildland fire agencies, awareness is growing about the value of cockpit resource management type training and the need to pay more attention to psychological and sociological aspects of fighting fires. Paul Gleason, a seasoned hotshot superintendent, believes that the 10 Fire Orders, 18 Watchout Situations, and 9 Downhill/ Indirect Line Construction Guidelines can be information overload for the firefighter on the line. For this reason he believes four of the key factors should be constantly emphasized: Lookouts, Communications, Escape routes, and Safety zones (LCES) as central to safe firefighting (Gleason 1991,1994 ). We know from our previous model that 30+ warnings are an overload under normal conditions (seven is the practical limit) so LCES, while based on the others, is an excellent system because it is manageable in crisis situations. Since LCES is easy to use, firefighters can constantly reevaluate their situation. Gleason concludes that a change in training content is not needed and that we need to better practice what we already know. However, I'm arguing that a different kind of training is needed to be able to use our existing knowledge (including LCES) in crisis situations. To link the human factors involved in firefighting to the classic Look Up, Look Down, Look Around, we can add Look Inside. And we could change LCES to I-LCES, where the "I" means Inside, Inner, and Interpersonal. Patrick Withen, a smokejumper and sociologist, has discussed firefighter attitudes and has pointed out (Withen, 1994) that there is no way to "just say no" in firefighting that doesn't carry formal or informal sanctions. The onus is on the individual firefighter—not management—to justify the decision. Routinely, there is a stigma attached to leaving the fireline.


Notwithstanding his double-negative, Mr. SJ Withens is spot-on with his assessment, something this author has referred to for years as being sent to "Division Siberia," somewhere that's been all mopped up and cold for days, and eventually being sent home with a bad performance rating.


While looking at the firefighter from psychological and sociological perspectives is encouraging, this idea has not been well received by many in the wildland fire community. When suggested to the South Canyon Fire Investigation Team and the follow-up Review Board as a possible causal factor, the suggestion was dropped from further consideration. Their strongest recommendations should come as no surprise—improve fire behavior prediction, improve weather forecasting, develop better fuel inventories, and look at our firefighting institution from the external perspective. These tried-and-true solutions simply fail to deal with a major cause of the fatalities.

We lost firefighters on Storm King Mountain because decision processes naturally degraded. At this time we do not have training courses that give firefighters the knowledge to counter these processes. Both the Investigation Team and Review Board recommended creating a passion for safety but did not acknowledge that this passion is determined by psychological and sociological processes. The type and skill level of investigation team members and review boards (typically they include IMT personnel, a fire weather forecaster, fire behaviorist, fuels specialist, equipment specialist, but no psychologist or sociologist) predisposes them to focus on the traditional inputs, which effectively excludes other types of input, hence predetermining the outcome. This calls into question the very process and structure by which we investigate fatalities and communicate the results to the fire community. We can and ought to do better.


There is no intent here to blame the individual firefighters and managers for what they did or didn't do related to the fire on Storm King Mountain. The real issue is that we are not preparing our firefighters and managers to operate with maximal effectiveness under known stressful, risky conditions. The processes and papers cited, when considered in the light of the South Canyon Fire Investigation report, clearly demonstrate that an almost automatic collapse of decision-making and organizational structure occurred. It should also be clear that we are not unique in operating under stressful, risky conditions. Other organizations have reduced fatalities through training using techniques with a proven track record. Paying more attention to the psychological and sociological processes of our people is long overdue.

It is clear that even our best crews are not adequately trained in escape procedures and fire shelter use. This is a reflection of the prevailing attitude among managers that if we give firefighters more training and better predictions for fire behavior, fuels, weather, and tactics, entrapments won't happen. So why plan for them? Individual firefighters agree with their managers and also have the attitude that it won't happen to me, so why practice for an entrapment. These attitudes caught up with our best and brightest firefighters on Storm King Mountain and were a causal factor in the fatalities.

Since 1990, extended droughts and more severe fire behavior have shortened the time firefighters have to decide whether to try to escape or to deploy shelters. Some 23 firefighters have perished trying to escape uphill carrying packs and equipment. Estimates show most would have lived had they simply dropped their gear and run for safety carrying only fire shelters.

This is why mandatory training for shelter use, escape, decision-making under stress, and stress-resistant organizational characteristics should become national priorities.

Everyone agrees our top priority should be reducing the number of entrapments by practicing safety and LCES. But we also need to face the reality that on average 30 firefighters are trapped each season, and that we have not taught them how to escape, how to use fire shelters effectively, or the concepts discussed here. Clearly, firefighters need this type of training. Better personal and interpersonal skills will enable firefighters to use all their training and experience optimally under risky, stressful conditions.


1. Implement recommendations in fire shelter training stemming from the analysis of protective clothing and equipment and its use on the South Canyon Fire (Putnam, 1994).

2. Convene a task group of firefighters, fire training and safety officers, psychologists, sociologists, and others who will recommend specific actions for individuals and groups that will maximize their resistance to decision and organizational collapse under stressful conditions.

3. Develop a training program to communicate these new skills to personnel such as Incident Management Teams, Type I and II crews, strike team leaders, and others at risk or who make decisions under stress.

4. Analyze the organizational structure of initial attack and extended initial attack crews and how these crews interrelate to form an effective organization with optimal leadership and decision-making capabilities.

5. Develop professional requirements, best skills mix, and organizational structure for fatality investigation teams and review boards. Form IMT type teams before fatalities occur so investigation teams are trained and ready for dispatch.

6. Consider adding a Look Inside component to Look Up, Look Down, Look Around and an "I" to LCES. Incorporate an inner check list into the Fireline Safety Reference Notebook.

Literature Cited (contained within the link provided above)


Who Studies Fire Shelters? This Guy (March 23, 2021 / wildfirelessons ) [This article originally appeared as the “One of Our Own” feature in the 2021 Winter Issue of Two More Chains.] Source: Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

Here is the WLF LLC Mission Statement below.

Figure 3. Wildland Fire LLC Mission Statement Source: WLF LLC

Tony Petrelli, The Fire Shelter Guy stated: "When talking about 'screwing-up'—humans make mistakes. Why do you think God put erasers on the top of pencils? I quite often use the chainsaw example. Every sawyer is trained how to put on a chain correctly. But if you haven’t put a chain on backwards, guess what? You just ain’t sawed enough. Thank goodness nothing more than a little embarrassment is the outcome of that screw-up.

A popular sentiment is to just follow the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders (SFO). But the unspoken adverb is “perfectly.” To guarantee there be no entrapments, firefighters need to be perfect. But there’s no such thing as a perfect firefighter.

During my participation in accident investigations, I found that many firefighters (that ended up deploying a fire shelter) felt they were following the SFOs—only to be fooled by the fire. Often—only from the viewpoint of hindsight—was it clear to see where mistakes were made. With the thousands of possible inputs and reactions during a fire day, there is no way every decision-making firefighter is perfect all day, every day, no matter how much training or experience.

The SFOs are full of assessments, analysis, judgments, even assumptions to be used in a stressful, time-compressed, dynamic environment. An environment that makes it easy to make a misjudgment, misassessment[,] or a mistimed, misplaced action.

While fire shelters are not necessarily equal to erasers, shelters do give an entrapped firefighter one last chance at survival. Carrying a fire shelter does not cause firefighters to make mistakes, nor does it imply to ignore the SFOs. However, firefighters believing they are perfectly following the Fire Orders and are guaranteed to be safe is a false sense of security. Does that, in turn, mean to throw out the Standard Orders? No. it means respect them by doing the best you can in assessments, judgements[,] etc. But please don’t feel “all-dialed” because likely there is a hazard or two hiding, just waiting to pounce.

The thought process that came up with the fire shelter is the same one that came up with the 10 Standard Fire Orders. It’s all meant to reduce firefighter fatalities. The fire shelter wasn’t borne out of thin air, it was borne out of a need. And it’s important to note that the decreasing number of fire shelter deployments suggests that we are changing. It is big boat. But it’s turning, in my opinion, in the right direction. We don’t have solid data on entrapments, but we sure do on the number of shelters deployed." (all emphasis added)

The author takes umbrage with several things the FSG stated. First off, God made Man, and then - it was Man made the erasers, not God. Moreover, nowhere in any wildland fire training, does it state that the Fire Orders must be "perfectly" anything! And that the thought process that came up with the fire shelter is the same one that came up with the Ten Standard Fire Orders is woefully misplaced. This author somewhat agrees that they are all "meant to reduce firefighter fatalities." This author also holds that it is because of the WFs and FFs failing to follow the Fire Orders and other wildland firefighting rules that burnovers, entrapments, deployments, and fatalities continue to occur. Obviously, the "fire shelter wasn’t borne out of thin air, it was borne out of a need" as previously noted here and elsewhere in research papers and on this YHFR website, on this very subject. And then there is the False Cause Logical Fallacy noted here in this statement giving fire shelters themselves, credit for fewer shelter deployments: "it’s important to note that the decreasing number of fire shelter deployments suggests that we are changing. It is big boat. (sic) But it’s turning, in my opinion, in the right direction. We don’t have solid data on entrapments, but we sure do on the number of shelters deployed." On the contrary, WFs and FFs are abiding by and mitigating the tried and true WF Rules and Guidelines and being able to "read the fire" as proferred by Doug Campbell (RiP). In other words, it has nothing whatsoever to do with fire shelters or fire shelter training. This author strongly contends that to state and promote that "we are changing" because of fire shelters is dangerous, disingenuous, and misplaced.

This issue was discussed related to this NWCG "6-Minutes for Safety" (Operational Engagement) titled: "Fire Shelter Deployment Site Selection." The bone of contention surrounded these first two statements: "A primary objective of every operational fire plan is to keep firefighters out of entrapment situations. However, firefighters must always be prepared to deploy their fire shelters."

Keep firefighters out of entrapment situations. However, always be prepared to deploy their fire shelters. That seems to be counter intuitive.


Consider now the detailed work of Mr. Richard McCrea, owner of LarchFire LLC, a wildland fire consulting company, and a former DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs Forester, Fire Management Officer, and Fire Planner. It is encouraging that he speaks with authority regarding many of the CPS components and principles, and best of all, he uses the tried-and-true Fire Orders and Watch Out Situations as a template in his analyses. You will recall that after the bogus YH Fire and GMHS debacle SAIT-SAIR conclusion that they did everything right, there has been a steady movement to discredit them as noted in this 2018 YHFR "Honor the Fallen" post.


Wildland Firefighter Burnover Fatalities on Prescribed Fires and Wildfires in the United States, 1990 to 2017. Richard C. McCrea, Wildland Fire Associates, Boise, Idaho


Topography is a major factor in burnovers. Seventy-three fatalities occurred in mountainous terrain; upslope fire runs resulted in 67 fatal burnovers, and downhill fire runs resulted in 6 fatal burnovers. In addition, 59 percent of the SAI reports state that the fire was running up a canyon or chimney. Incidents in flat to rolling terrain resulted in 11 fatalities. There were 12 fatalities that occurred where not enough

information was available to determine the type of typography.


Burnovers generally occur during extreme fire behavior (EFB) events. Extreme fire behavior can occur on any scale, great or small, in any fuel type, and at any time of the day or night. There is no time or circumstance when fire managers can safely assume EFB will not occur (Werth et al. 2011). Other studies of burnovers have shown there is no significant trend when examining fuel types (Munson and Mangan 2000).

Temporal Factors

An analysis of the month and time of day when fatal burnovers occurred was completed. The majority (68 percent) of fatalities occurred in June, July[,] and August, with the peak month being June (30 percent). No fatalities occurred in January and February.

Time-of-day analysis indicated that 69 percent of the fatalities occurred between 3 and 5 p.m. No fatalities occurred between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Figure 4. WFSTAR poster. Blowup to Burnover. YH Fire 52 minutes. Source: NWCG, WFSTAR

Human and Organizational Factors

There are many human and organizational factors that play into a fatal burnover. Generally, the SAI reports do not provide a great deal of information on this topic. The most common occurrence in burnovers is that fire crews were trapped while working upslope or upcanyon from the fire when the fire made a sudden upslope or upcanyon run (71 percent of fatalities). This situation was also referenced in another study (Wilson

and Sorenson 1978), in which one of the four main common denominators of fire behavior in tragedy (burnover) and near-miss fires is “when fire responds to topographic conditions and runs uphill.” Common Denominators listed in the IRPG.

Other findings of my analysis include:

The average age of individuals involved in burnovers was 33 years old.

•Regarding qualifications of individuals, 43 percent of total fatalities occurred with our most experienced and highest qualified fire personnel

(e.g., overhead personnel, Type 1 crews, helitack, and smokejumpers) (table 3 [Figure 5. below]). The SAI reports do not provide detailed information on the qualifications and experience of people involved in entrapments.

•In my evaluation of safety standards that may have been compromised, as measured by the Standard Firefighting Orders (Fire Orders) and the 18 Situations that Shout Watch Out (Situations), this report found that 15 serious accident reports (37 percent of the total incidents) addressed this matter.

Figure 5. Percentage of fatalities by Resource type indicating 39% Type One Crews. Referred to as Table 3 in the text. Source: McCrae

On burnover incidents an average of eight Situations were present and seven Fire Orders were compromised.

State employees were involved in the largest percentage (27 percent) of burnover incidents, followed closely by individuals from Federal agencies (24 percent) (table 4).


Every fatal burnover is unique; however, there are many commonalities in burnover incidents across the United States. Fatal burnovers generally occur on wildland fires because of extreme fire behavior (fuels, weather, topography, and climate) and a wide variety of human and organizational failures. Answers to questions on human and organizational failures are not usually found in SAI reports.

The findings of my analysis show that there has been some improvement in the last 10 years in the total number of burnover fatalities and incidents. Of concern is the significant increase in entrapments of engine crews, which is probably related to the growing number of fires being fought in the wildland-urban interface.

There are multiple contributing factors in any incident and often complex coincidences that cause organizations to fail. Often on a wildland fire incident[,] there are many participants, none of whom may have complete information.

It appears that burnovers result from a series of mistakes that may lead to a fatality or injury. An analysis of these incidents showed that an average of seven Fire Orders were not followed or were otherwise compromised. In these situations, Fire Orders seem to have been generally ignored or misunderstood.

The preponderance of burnovers in mountainous terrain is due to several factors. Weather and fire behavior can be hard to predict in the mountains, and steep slopes and narrow canyons have a major effect on fire intensities, fire spread rates, and spread direction. In addition, travel in mountainous terrain on foot can be very difficult and slow.

Commonalities on fatal burnovers cannot be narrowed down to a few factors that could define when an entrapment might happen. Fire personnel need to evaluate all environmental conditions on any given incident, including fuels, weather, topography, and climate and how they all relate and interact with each other. Weather forecasts and fire danger ratings need to be closely monitored. There are many complex and interrelated factors that lead to fatal burnovers. I have concluded that the current Fire Orders and Situations are still very relevant and if followed can help prevent burnover situations.


Consider now an article that uses the discredited SAIT-SAIR to support his article. He also reveals a lot from several of the "Prescott Way" of doing things.

Yarnell Hill fire (sic): A year of agonized, unanswered questions

Los Angeles Times Last modified: Tuesday, July 15, 2014, Daily Hampshire Gazette

YARNELL, Ariz. — Wildland fire chief Darrell Willis tore along the highway and turned on his truck’s headlights to cut the smoke. Ash and embers rained down around him.

Over the past two days, in June 2013, a small mountain fire had come to life, a monstrous life. He’d just learned that his team of crack firefighters had deployed their emergency shelters, thin blankets of aluminum and silica they carried as a last refuge.



So young

The Granite Mountain Hotshots were so young that Willis, 59, regarded them as sons. In the months to come, the veteran fire commander would pore over maps, diagrams and photographs, searching for answers in the landscape, in the heavens and in himself for the June 28 blaze that swept across Yarnell Hill and became one of the nation’s deadliest wildland fires.

Now, nearly a year later, two state investigations have failed to answer the enduring mystery of the blaze: How did a highly trained crew of professional hotshots come to leave their designated safety zone and walk into a 40-foot-high wall of fire?

Willis sat in his truck on the same highway to Yarnell one recent afternoon, a map spread across the steering wheel.

“There is a mystery,” he said. “It’s just . “

He gathered the map in his lap, and his face folded in as well.


Worked as one



Part of it was Willis himself: His men always wanted to please him. ... He had an idea that firefighting was more than an earthly pursuit.



Willis eventually stepped aside as fire chief to focus on building a wildlands fire division and a hotshot crew ... In 2008, after four years of strenuous training, the Granite Mountain team won recognition as the nation’s first municipal hotshot crew.



“It wasn’t that he just took over as captain,” said his father, John Marsh. “He had a natural ability. People followed him.”



Influential essay

The philosopher William James figured that man yearns to set himself against something, for better or worse. James, a pacifist, in 1910 published an influential essay called “The Moral Equivalent of War.

In it[,] he called for men to cease fighting each other and instead to make “warfare against nature.”

Less than a month later, nature dealt the war’s inciting blow.

"... two enormous ones that burned across parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana. The U.S. Forest Service was overmatched, and the fire eventually killed 87 people, most of them firefighters. People called it the Big Blowup.

America’s leaders needed no further persuading. They set in place the paramilitary — and sometimes directly military — model that defines wildland firefighting to this day.


If the fire breached the ridge and came down into the valley, the area’s stark hills could funnel it toward the communities that lie north and south.

" ... the state of Arizona’s initial effort was, according to Grantham, “too slow, with an incoherent plan.



Willis’ phone rang again. This time, it was [Type 4 IC] Shumate. They needed help in Yarnell.

Late Saturday night, the top officers on the fire, including Shumate and Willis, met in Yarnell’s fire station. They’d been lucky that day. The fire had burned out of control but they hadn’t lost any structures. No one had died.

They decided the next day would be different. They’d go after the fire early, and overwhelm it.



Dispatchers examined a list of available hotshot crews. Federal guidelines allow crews to work 14 days on a fire before taking off two days. The Granite Mountain team had just finished a busy stretch, working 13 straight days.

The better-rested Blue Ridge Hotshots were dispatched by the coordinating center.

But according to dispatch logs, a state Forestry Division dispatcher sent an email directly to Eric Marsh, summoning the Granite Mountain crew for early the next morning. The logs do not indicate why.

Marsh agreed to the request. It is unclear whether he knew another crew had been dispatched.

The exchange of messages was extraordinary, according to Stephen Pyne, a well-known fire historian and former firefighter. “They self-deployed on an email,” he said. Usually, he said, there’s a chain of command, communication between the agencies, official deployment orders. “No one does that. No one.”

Fire grows



The incident commander put Marsh in charge of the western effort. That meant he would scout ahead of the crew searching for strategic advantages against the fire. Marsh’s right-hand man, ex-Marine Jesse Steed, would take over as temporary leader of the hotshot crew.

The fire’s main front - what the crew called its head - burned north, away from Yarnell. The hotshots stood on the fire’s heel. Crewman Wade Parker, 22, called his mother, Michelle. The fire should be “short and quick,” he said. He should be able to spend some time with her that night.



Like a sentinel, Willis watched the blaze march toward him with 50-foot-high flames. For the first time, he felt real anxiety.

It had been manageable the night before. The breeze was gusty but relatively light. The fire had grown to 300 acres, but two well-trained hotshot crews were being deployed to surround it and knock it down. The threat to Yarnell, an old mining town southeast of the blaze, and Peeples Valley, a few miles north, still seemed small.



The fire was edging toward Peeples Valley, where Willis and several other firefighters watched wide-eyed as the flames grew to 80 feet by noon. They sensed the fire’s superiority.

They didn’t know it yet, but this third day of the Yarnell fire, June 30, 2013, would become a lesson in missed opportunities, bungled communications and the enduring power of nature to defy expectations.

Willis, one of the senior managers overseeing the multi-pronged firefighting effort, thought about his Granite Mountain Hotshots, deployed three miles south of where Willis stood, on the backside of the blaze closer to Yarnell. What was team leader Eric Marsh facing, out on that rocky ridge with spotty radio reception and tardy air support?

Willis knew Marsh. He knew the crew. They would not sit idle while a fire swept toward houses in their home county.

“If there’s no leadership, they’re going to take action.”


Hearken back to 2012 for an alleged lesson learned on a South Canyon Fire (1994) site visit by the GMHS and their esteemed boss, PFD Wildland BC Darrell Willis. Obviously not ... And once again, the symbolism is chilling. More of the Prescott Way in action? (20 Years After the South Canyon Fire)


"The Granite Mountain Hotshots of Prescott, Ariz., made the pilgrimage there two years ago to pay their respects, recalled Darrell Willis, wildland division chief for the Prescott Fire Department.

“'We hiked Storm King Mountain with this (20-member hotshot) crew, and we all said, ‘This will never happen to us.’”

"All but one of those hotshots died June 30 during the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona, where shifting winds, canyon topography and an apparent lack of situational awareness eerily echoed the South Canyon tragedy.

"The 19 deaths in Arizona shocked firefighters and civilians alike. They occurred 19 years after South Canyon."


Marsh went out ahead of the crew on a scouting foray, moving north along the ridge of the Weaver Mountains. From that height, he could track the fire as it moved north through the valley.

Confusion took hold, as Marsh watched. His crew had set a “burnout” fire to keep the main blaze from whipping south toward Yarnell. But the two single-engine tankers swooped in and mistakenly doused the burnout. In seconds, the firefighting effort had lost a valuable chance to create a fire block and wasted two loads of retardant that were needed to the north. Plus, the planes would need half an hour to reload.

Peeples Valley was in trouble. By noon, a wall of flame more than a mile wide was bearing down on the little community as people fled their homes and ranches. Two DC-10 tankers dropped a massive load of retardant on the flames, but the hour was late.

Marsh sent 21-year-old Brendan McDonough — Donut, everyone called him — to serve as lookout, a position usually reserved for the most experienced crew members. McDonough took up a position on a rocky knoll in the valley, east of the team and about 700 feet below them. So the crew had now split into three parts: Marsh on the ridge to the north; the main body of the crew, observing the fire from near the site of the lightning strike that started the whole thing; and McDonough, serving as a lookout on the outcropping.

McDonough’s job was to watch the fire and the weather.



by about 2 p.m. an evacuation notice went out for Yarnell as well.



At 4:04 p.m., the hotshots watched from the ridge, seemingly at ease, still near the site of the lightning strike. It was the oldest part of the burned-over area. Firefighters call it the black — a place where, because there’s nothing left to burn, it is relatively safe to stand.

Marsh’s voice crackled over the radio on Jesse Steed’s shoulder. Steed, the 36-year-old team captain who was in charge while Marsh was up ahead, had the volume turned up so all the guys could hear. Marsh had sensed a shift in the fire’s momentum.

The men needed to find a way out.

“Copy that,” Steed said.