Part 6 - Do our Wildland Fire (WF) Instructors foster "complete" lessons learned in the WF culture?
Authors: Douglas Fir, Joy A. Collura, and contributing others
Views expressed to "the public at large” and "of public concern"
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In this post, we have reached out to several WFs and FFs who worked on the Dude Fire as well as many of the loved ones of those deceased. We encourage anyone interested in sharing their June 1990 Dude Fire stories and the aftermath to reach us. There is newly revealed evidence and personal accounts in this post, and it is likely to be emotional and sensitive to some.
Yarnell Hill Fire Revelations © (2018) Sheff LLC
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The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. Proverbs 22:3
The authors - as well as countless Wildland Firefighters and Firefighters engaged in wildland fires - consider this Yarnell Hill Fire Revelations (YHFR) website post of special import and concern among wildland fire supervisors. One main reason is that we firmly believe that the undisclosed causal factors influencing the June 26, 1990, Dude Fire fatalities were significant in setting the stage for the overall outcome of the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire debacle and Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew fatalities. The parallels of fuels, weather, terrain, fire behavior, and, of course - especially the human factors, errors, and failures are noteworthy. To the best of our knowledge, these were never examined, investigated, or discussed anywhere. And if they were - they were never publicly shared anyplace that we know of. And because of that, we are being taught and learning "incomplete" lessons.
It is a hard truth to accept the fact that wildland fire deaths are inevitable because of human factors, (i.e. People do dumb s**t!) and all we can do is our best to reduce those fatalities.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.Proverbs 1:7
First off, we must address the possible controversial - definitely thought provoking - nature of this post, it is important to first set the stage with a few key principles using the USDA Forest Service Agency's Standards and Guiding Principles and "What We Believe" "official" website. Bear in mind, these are the Agency's Guidelines now and we can only hope that the 1990 equivalent would have been at least somewhat analogous.
I, Douglas Fir (DF), need to digress for a moment. According to two of the YH Fire Investigators (SAIT and ADOSH) the US Forest Service funded the entire SAIT and SAIR. With Federal funding comes Federal control. I have a FOIA Request (2019-FS-WO-04116-F) over a year old now, seeking those Public records. I am seeking:
" 1) All records (defined below*), including the applicable USDA USFS FOIA Index Log, created or obtained, regarding the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Team (SAIT) and related personnel and Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Report (SAIR) for proposed, discussed, and / or actual funding by the USDA Forest Service (USFS), and
2) All records (defined below*) regarding the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Team (SAIT) and related personnel and Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Report (SAIR) for proposed, discussed, and / or actual funding by the USDA Forest Service (USFS) between, to, and / or from any and all current and / or former USDA USFS Aviation and Fire Management (AFM) personnel, including current and / or former email addresses and between, to, and / or from the former Arizona State Forestry (ASF) and / or current Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) current and / or former personnel and email addresses ..."
I regularly remind them and regularly get this or a similar "backlogged and be patient" excuse:
"This email acknowledges receipt of your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, dated May 09, 2019, which was received in the Washington Office (WO) FOIA Service Center on May 20, 2019. You requested:
"Yarnell Hill Fire records
"Please be advised that the WO FOIA Service Center has a backlog of pending FOIA requests and appeals. We are diligently working to process each request and appeal in the order in which it was received. Your patience is greatly appreciated." (emphasis added)
And now back to addressing the USDA Forest Service Agency's Standards and Guiding Principles and "What We Believe"
Several of the current key ethics and legal issues they list are as follows:
"We maintain high professional and ethical standards." and "We are responsible and accountable for what we do." "We follow laws, regulations, executive direction, and congressional intent." and "We are an efficient and productive organization that excels in achieving its mission."
"The American people can count on the Forest Service to perform." and "The work is interesting, challenging, rewarding, and fun -- more than just a job!"
USDA USFS Guiding Principles and "What We Believe"
Without a doubt, we are sure there are many diligent, ethical, hard working, and well-meaning USDA USFS employees that believe and follow these principles to the best of their abilities. However, the ones that we post about on this website are definitely in some other, less than ethical league.
Consider now the collection and production of credible evidence having probative value, (i.e. "seeks the truth" or "evidence which is sufficiently useful to prove something important"). Because of the scarcity of individual participants and knowledge from a wildfire from 30 years ago, and those unwilling to comfortably and safely come forward to openly share their first-hand accounts, and for those that actually worked on the Dude Fire June 25-26, 1990, we must also rely on Hearsay.
Hearsay is defined as “a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” (emphasis added) FED. R. EVID. 801(c). The paramount reason for excluding these types of statements is due to their lack of trustworthiness. Glen Weissenberger, Hearsay Puzzles: An Essay on Federal Evidence Rule 803(3), 64 TEMP. L. REV. 145, 145 (1991). Furthermore, "Although the above rules and guidelines exist for [court] ... , there are various exceptions to the hearsay rule that have been carved out. While each exception is different and very specific, what is common to each is a situation that encourages trustworthiness at the time the statement was made. (emphasis added) ( https://www.mitchell-attorneys.com/heresay-arizona )
Given all the above, what now comes into play is the: "Arizona Rule 803. Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay - Regardless Whether The Declarant is Available." This is similar to the case of the public records for the USFS Aerial Firefighting Utilization and Effectiveness (AFUE) study Yarnell Hill Fire and the Yarnell Hill Fire "friendly fire" events along the Sesame Street and Shrine Corridor during separate firing operations, both on June 30, 2013. They are posted here on this website.
The following are included by the Arizona Rule 803. Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay - Regardless Whether The Declarant is Available:
"(1) Present Sense Impression. A statement describing or explaining an event or condition, made while or immediately after the declarant perceived it.
"(2) Excited Utterance. A statement relating to a startling event or condition, made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement that it caused.
"(3) Then-Existing Mental, Emotional, or Physical Condition. A statement of the declarant’s then-existing state of mind (such as motive, intent, or plan) or emotional, sensory, or physical condition (such as mental feeling, pain, or bodily health), but not including a statement of memory or belief to prove the fact remembered or believed unless it relates to the validity or terms of the declarant’s will."
CaseMine Legal Research ( https://www.casemine.com/search/us?q=rule+803+exceptions )
We utilized these AZ Rule 803 hearsay exceptions for our June 26, 1990, Dude Fire research. We have a former Tonto National Forest (TNF) Payson Ranger District (PRD) employee that worked on the fire, one of the former SAIT Investigators, written records of HS that worked on the fire, and several public records, including archive videos and video clips.
We first utilized these AZ Rule 803 hearsay exceptions, when we considered the case of the June 30, 2013, firing operation along the Sesame Street and Shrine Fuel / Fire Break Corridor area operations seen in a video during July 2013 at the Yarnell, AZ Library, (later seen on YouTube). This video showing evidence of 'two WFs / FFs dressed in Nomex, using drip torches, firing out along a road' was witnessed by as many as twenty (20) individuals. This included us, the two YH Fire Eyewitness Hikers, several experienced WFs and FFs and IMT personnel, IM participants and local citizens. Therefore, we had to rely on hearsay for some of our evidence. First off - the video tape has disappeared and the YouTube video as well - gone without a trace, like so many other evidences related to the YH Fire. Secondly, the "fear factor" of those involved in and /or that have documentary evidence, restricting them from coming forward.
And then there is the FF that was directly involved in one of the YH Fire Sesame Street and Shrine Corridor firing operations that emotionally gave his "first-hand" account of what occurred at a training academy attended by over a hundred WF and FF students during an Intermediate Fire Behavior (S-290) session. This was then recounted to us by one of the Instructors. We presented this evidence in our Washington, D.C. Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE) Conference and then first posted here on this website on December 12, 2019, beginning at Figure 8.
There are quoted excerpts from a Perryville Crew survivor that has been 'reliving' this tragic wildfire and shared his detailed recollections of this fatal wildfire from thirty (30) years ago. He will be referred to as the "Alternate Crew Member" (PACM) during the relevant Perryville Crew segments herein.
His contributions add brand new information and definitely augments what we know already as well. He corroborates what has been known from the beginning and even discounts some of the investigation report.
Hey Larry Terra (Crew Boss on the Dude Fire for Perryville) - I think you were a piece of s**t glory hound, and I think you and AZ State Forester Scott Hunt probably had a yearly running bet on who got the most 'news time.' And I bet other firefighters agree and would make that exact statement too.
What follows is one of several Dude Fire Fatality Investigator photos of the incident in Walk Moore Canyon.
Figure 1. Investigators in Walk Moore Canyon among several deployed fire shelters and WF line gear. Note the freshly cut dozer line to improve the former 2-track logging road as a control line. Source: Mangan, USDA USFS
Dr. Ted Putnam was one of these Investigators. His area of expertise was fatality-site investigation, and it was his responsibility to document each and every item at the site and to carefully examine fire clothing and equipment left in the canyon, looking for burn patterns. "What I look at in very, very fine detail is at the area not necessarily where the people died, but from the moment they had an inkling that they were in trouble," Putnam explained in a recent interview. "Everything that's dropped on that fatality site, I can kind of put it back together and tell you a story about what happened to the people in the last few minutes." (all emphasis added)
"Putnam, who has a doctorate degree in psychology, was also interested in understanding the human factors that could have contributed to the Dude Fire fatalities. ... So I'm also trying to look at the behavioral side of it," Putnam explained. 'People don't deliberately want to get burned over.'"
"Putnam was struck by what he observed. "The sad thing is that their packs laying on the ground didn't even burn ... and my analysis said that all of them would have lived if they would've stayed on the ground and put their nose right next to the ground." His opinion was that the Dude Fire was a survivable fire. People didn't have to die."
While instructing a S-131 Advanced FF, Squad Boss course, with the COVID 19 Phase (Zombie Apocalypse) in full swing, we wanted to make sure the Gila County Community College (GCCC) Eastern AZ College (EAC) Payson Campus wildland fire students met their Career expectations. And, whether we met their expectations as their Cadre Instructor / Co-Instructor.
One student went on to get his pack test and for this Fire Season 2020 tied in with Captain Chad Stluka with Christopher Kohls Fire Department. The other student had local entity expectations to meet, and we are assisting him to learn more about Wildland Fire and ways to protect and mitigate land and private properties. His end goal is to be a Mitigation Specialist. If any of you want to assist in helping him further his education - we welcome you. Any Firewise Ambassadors enthusiasts?
In all these years, Truth Tellers and others with integrity, are all tied together with this invisible thread. So then, go forth and practice your "inherently dangerous" trade to the best of your abilities during this "planned-demic." The source of the planned-demic quote is Jennifer MacGregor of CVV Transcripts.
Figure 2. Whiteboard exhibiting GCCC EAC Advanced Firefighter Type 1, Squad Boss training with extra time spent on "old school" Look Up, Down, and Around (S-133) Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 3. Advance Firefighter Type 1, Squad Boss Lead Instructor and student training on "old school" Look Up, Down, and Around ( S-133) Source: Joy A Collura
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. Proverbs 9:9
Figure 3a. First Wildland Fire Fatality Site Visit Hike for 2020 Source: Joy A Collura
To enhance the S-131 Advance FF / Squad Boss course, we had planned for a Dude Fire Site Visit because of its proximity to Payson and for the reason that this is the 30th Anniversary of this historic wildland fire fatality. We all met at the Pinon Cafe from 7:39 AM-8:48 AM then headed to the Walmart 8:54-9:04AM. We did the Site Visit until 3:33 PM then headed to Collins Ranch area and saw Hellsgate Chief John Wisner and he told us of the the Ellison Fire along the Control Road. And then we traveled on to the Haught Cabin and former Zane Grey site area, then the AZ Game & Fish (AGF) Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery, and finally to Christopher Kohl's FD for the After Action Review (AAR) (5:47-6:12PM). We ended our evening at Ayothaya Thai (6:34-7:30PM). What follows are our photos from our May 23rd, 2020, Dude Fire Site Visit.
Figure 4. Lead Instructor and Student walking along Control Road from Gravel (Borrow) Pit (not pictured) to Dude Fire Site Visit Stand One. It was their designated Safety Zone on June 25-26, 1990. Source: Joy A Collura
Refer to the Dude Fire Staff Ride and Stand links below for much clearer photos, including the gravel pit Safety Zone used on June 25-26, 1990.
Figure 4a. June 25-25, 1990, Gravel Pit Safety Zone. Source: NWCG Staff Ride Toolbox
Figure 5. Lead Instructor and Student walking to Dude Fire Site Visit Stand One along Control Road Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 6. Stand One Sign along Control Road Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 7. Dude Fire Site Visit Stand One - Control Road Overview with Bonita Creek Subdivision along ridgeline, Walk Moore Canyon below, and Mogollon Rim in the background. Power line right-of-way is barely visible off upper left corner of Stand sign. Source: Joy A Collura
The Stands in Staff Rides and / or Site Visits designate a military battle or event location at which the group stops for discussion. The wildland fire service judiciously adopted the Staff Ride concept many years ago.
However, there is a caveat. A wise and virtuous former Investigator has said: "Historically accident investigations have provided crucial feedback for maximizing safety. These investigations have usually produced step-by-step factual reports to document the accident. ... Generally the goal of accident reports is to convey as much of the truth of an event that is discoverable. ... Sometimes investigators deliberately distort or do not report all the causal elements. Such biases lead firefighters to distrust the resulting reports, which can hamper our efforts to stay safe." (emphasis added) We seriously question the "factual reports" issue.
"Although it seems obvious that accident investigations should strive to uncover the actual cause and conditions that led to the accident, this is seldom attempted let alone advocated in the relevant agency investigation guides used by wildland fire and other organizational ... accident investigators." (emphasis added) Accident, accident guides, stories and the truth (2011)
You will truly find this interesting. During the investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office, they created several "draft" copies and distributed them to some - not all - of the 'involved personnel.' Remember that "they" only want those that will follow the Party Line and "go along to get along" to fit their predestined "conclusion." One of the key points of discussion was obviously the Bonita Creek and Walk Moore Canyon firing operation. These 'involved personnel' would then make or suggest specific or general edits and return them to the U.S. Attorneys Office investigator(s).
On or about the third iteration, 'someone' attempted "a fast one" (a shrewd action, especially when unscrupulous or dishonest; an unfair trick, deceitful practice, dishonest dealing, etc.) and listed one of the other HS Crews 'handing off' the firing operation to the Prescott HS. Needless to say, Prescott HS Foreman Sciacca was livid correctly denying that they did any 'firing out' that day. The Prescott HS were performing only holding operations.
There had always been concern, by some, about the intensity and speed of the firing operation - even though it ultimately 'created' the Safety Zone that saved scores of WF, FF, and other Bonita Creek and Walk Moore Canyon 'involved personnel' lives that day. One of the individuals that was intimately involved was later 'rewarded' with a key Washington Office-level fire position, a typical USFS 'tradition' common to other wildland fire fatalities.
For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. Proverbs 4:16
This wise and virtuous former Investigator also said: "Once firefighter and investigator lies about fatality fires get written into official reports, staff rides only turn the lies into dramas. Even if the Truth later seeps out, the staff rides keep regurgitating the same original lies. Net effect is [FFs] keep dying for the same reasons thus NWCG and all its ilk are truly guilty of negligent homicide. We lie to protect our imaginary personal, crew and agency images and real firefighters keep suffering and dying to nourish those collective fragile egos." (emphasis added) "Both Gary Olson [Happy Jack HS Supt.] and I told the real truth at the Battlement Creek Staff Ride [development phase] and none of it ever got incorporated into that Staff Ride. There is very little learning at the Lessons Learned Centers. Calling NWCG a ship of fools is an act of kindness...after all they were once firefighters. Same old shit but still stinky, disgusting and deadly." (emphasis added) "The Battlement Creek Fire Staff Ride comments were made to the current USFS Fire Director Shawna Lagarza." Now former Director.
See Dr. Ted's "Up in Smoke" article for more thought provoking details.
Figure 7a. Overview map of Dude Fire Staff Ride Stands (red numbered circles) and labeled Points of Interest (yellow triangles), also indicating Fuller Creek ), Control Road (left to right in lower quarter), Walk Moore Canyon, Bonita Creek, Road, and Subdivision. Stand 1 Parking is the gravel pit used as their initial Safety Zone on June 25-26, 1990. Source: Dude Fire Staff Ride documents
Stand One provided a major overview with the areas of Bonita Creek subdivision on the ridgeline and Walk Moore Canyon below. The Mogollon Rim (The Rim) is in the background - a major Watch Out #4 as a massive Thermal Belt with latent very active, aggressive to extreme, nighttime fire behavior.
June 1990 proved to be one of Arizona’s hottest months in recorded history. Temperatures reached record or near-record highs for the days just prior to June 26—the day of the Dude entrapment. On this day, the temperature climbed to a record 122 degrees F in Phoenix, an all-time record high, forcing officials to shut down Sky Harbor airport. It was 106 degrees F in Payson (10 miles south of the Dude Fire). An extended period of drought combined with these temperatures to produce critically high fire danger throughout Arizona. Furthermore, below normal precipitation had occurred the previous six months. At Payson, June precipitation was only 40% of normal. General drought conditions had persisted for three years.
Local personnel knew of the conditions of the fuels and what fire behavior could be exhibited, yet it appears many of them ignored those warnings. The Bray Fire which occurred only a few miles west of the Dude Fire two weeks prior exhibited extreme fire behavior. At the onset of the Dude Fire, strong high pressure persisted over Arizona. Record high day and nighttime temperatures with 10%-15% humidity were observed and forecast in the Dude Fire Area. While atmospheric moisture over the state was quite limited, enough did exist to threaten some thunderstorm activity over the mountainous areas, including the Rim Country north of Payson. The topography of the Mogollon Rim provides a favorable orographic lifting forcing mechanism which contributes to thunderstorm development when the convective environment is favorable. The fire occurred in the third year of a drought. The Southwest Area Severity chart showed that the five-day mean Energy Release Component (ERC) was in the extreme range. Heavy fuels and surface fuels were very dry. The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) fuel moisture values at a nearby station for June 26th were One Hour (0" to 1/4") = 3%; 10o hour (1" to 3") = 6%; 1000 hour (3" to 8") = 8% with thousand hour fuel moistures being Critical Fire Danger at 9%. Live fuel moisture readings of 76%.
Around 1930 on June 25, 1990, the 20-person Perryville inmate Crew arrived at the Payson Ranger District (PRD) on June 25th. Larry Terra was the Perryville Crew Supervisor and a Fire Safety Coordinator. Dave LaTour, a Rural Metro FF, was ordered as the Crew Representative for the Crew and met Terra at the PRD upon arrival. LaTour had previous Crew Rep experience with this Crew and was qualified as a Task Force Leader and was working on his Division Supervisor qualification, but was not carded as such yet. The Crew was under contract with the Arizona Division of State Forestry (ASF). They were instructed to eat and report to Base Camp. Afterwards, they were redirected to the Bonita Creek Estates subdivision, part of the overall fireline.
This is really interesting because below is the cited source for all of the above text from the Wildfire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP) Staff Ride Facilitator's Field Reference Guide, however, this The tragic tale of another deadly Arizona wildfire article is almost word-for-word what the WFLDP states. So then, who is on first?
Here are some media gems from the article you'll want to enjoy ... or not.
"Before the flame front hit, the Alpine Hotshots foreman, Jim "J.P." Mattingly, and his men had been conducting a burnout in Walk Moore Canyon just north of Perryville, using gasoline-filled drip torches to light small fires ..." Oh yeah, raw f**king gas-filled drip torches!
"... Mattingly's fingers were singed when he placed them on Hatch's neck to feel his pulse." I seriously doubt this theatrical statement.
"When an EMT poured water on Hatch to slow the burn, it boiled on contact." And I even more seriously doubt this dramatic statement.
"Trapped on the hilltop, the Alpine crew waited for rescue vehicles to bring them to safety." Trapped on a hilltop in a Safety Zone? You're kidding, right?
The tragic tale of another deadly Arizona wildfire - Jaime Joyce - The Week ( July 3, 2013)
Source: Wildfire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP) Staff Ride Facilitator's Field Reference Guide - NWCG ( https://www.nwcg.gov/sites/default/files/wfldp/docs/sr-dude-fac-field-guide.pdf )
Seventeen inmates from Perryville's minimum-security San Pedro unit served on the fire crew. The men ranged in age from 22 to 39. Among them were Joseph Chacon, 25, and Curtis Springfield, 24, who had both been convicted of aggravated assault; Geoff Hatch, 27, who had been in prison since 1984, charged with theft and burglary; and James Ellis, who was 34 and serving a 20-year sentence for manslaughter. Their bosses were correctional officers Larry Terra, 30, and Sandra Bachman, 43. A third crew boss, Dave LaTour, would later arrive separately. (Joyce - 2013)
Perryville crew members earned between 40 and 50 cents an hour. The pay didn't matter to them. Neither did the inherent risks of the job. Wildland firefighting is brutal, sometimes dangerous, work. They considered it a privilege to fight fire, and a spot on the crew was coveted. Good behavior inside the prison had earned them the opportunity to get past the razor wire and the gates and the floodlights that loomed above the Perryville complex, way out there in the middle of the Sonoran Desert northwest of Phoenix. (Joyce - 2013)
In prison, the men had to wear all orange, all the time. Yet dressed in the firefighting uniform — yellow flame-resistant Nomex jackets, olive green pants, lace-up leather boots, and hard hats — no one could tell that the men were prisoners. And to the people whose homes or land or lives the men saved, they weren't felons. They were firefighters. Heroes. They commanded respect. (Joyce - 2013)
There is a Perryville WF who will be referred to as "Alternate Crew Member" (PACM). He recounts traveling to the wildfire on the first day (June 25th) and then their assignment the following day on June 26th. Some of his content may be disturbing and / or offensive to some. Here (below) is what he has to say about their first day traveling and then on into their early morning work hours on the Dude Fire:
"Them ... reports say we were on shift for 24 hours. Prison help was cheap, especially on a Federal fire line. It was at least 4 hours longer, since our arrival. It took us 4 hours more to travel there from Perryville. Plus it was 2:10ish when they called us up. I was at the end of my shift (8 hours) we also took roughly 90 minutes to bug out for Payson too."
"WE WERE UP (ADRENALINE) TIL WE HIT THE LINE ABOUT A HALF HOUR AFTER ARRIVING. BY MY COUNT, 40.5 HOURS WHEN WE TOOK LUNCH. ( unremembered lunch time) I feel we worked more after lunch than reports say. ..."
Fatigue would definitely be a Human Factor issue here. See the Flathead HS comments below ("They all had thousand mile stares")
During the Winter and Spring months with very little snow-pack, the area experienced persistent drought which resulted in a lot of minor prescribed burn escapes over the weekends after anchoring or tying into snow banks, and difficulty with initial attacks during that period. High nighttime temperatures were the norm. Former Payson District Ranger Robert Bates' concluded: 'the day after the highest nighttime temperature had the most potential for aggressive to extreme fire behavior.'
GTS for "A Key to Blow-up Conditions in the Southwest?" by Robert Bates (1961) ( https://www.nwcg.gov/sites/default/files/wfldp/docs/sr-dude-blowup.pdf )
The month before in May, the Bray Fire, caused by an abandoned campfire ran upslope from the Highline Trail to the top of The Rim in four to seven minutes. Several of us PRD employees that were working on the fireline witnessed a Squad of Hot Shots quickly on scene were unable to control a spot fire the size of a vehicle. Thus, this was a very notable forewarning for the impending Dude Fire a month later. It certainly was for those experienced and knowledgeable enough to appreciate the true value of this significant precursory weather and fire behavior feature.
But for many others, not so much.
At approximately 12:30 PM on June 25, 1990, a dry lightning storm triggered a fire beneath the Mogollon Rim near Dry Dude Creek about 10 miles northeast of Payson, Arizona. This area is located on the Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest (TNF). Conditions were such (high day and nighttime temperatures, low relative humidity; fuel beds consisted of large accumulations of dense, heavy, decadent chaparral with Ponderosa Pine overstory and needle drape, and several years of below normal precipitation) that the fire burned quickly and aggressively, spotting over a mile to the East that first day. This June 25th spot fire may very well have been the spot fire that "showed up" on June 26th, distracting a lot of key personnel.
Figure 7b. Snippet image of June 25, 1990 1502 (3:02 PM) aggressive fire behavior photo. Source:
You Tube, Dude Fire Fatality Case Study
Payson Helitack and Payson HS initial attacked it by helicopter and ground transport up Dry Dude Creek. The Helitack Crew was in a Safety Zone within 15 minutes.
"Gus Tellez, who was part of the Dude Fire [Payson Helitack] crew, told The Arizona Republic in 2010 that he remembered clearing undergrowth and cutting trees when he arrived at the fire near Dude Creek. The blaze - about a quarter-acre in size - initially didn't seem dangerous but soon started shooting out spot fires. "Once it established itself, this thing got up, it ran, it chased us out of there," Tellez said during that 2010 interview. "And it was off to the races, taking out anything in front of it." (emphasis added) (AZ Rep 7/1/13)
Figure 7c. Snippet image (blurry) from a video segment of June 25, 1990, aggressive fire behavior photo. Source: You Tube, Dude Fire Fatality Case Study
At the behest of an indignant USFS management that allowed his personal sentiments to override his professional judgement, Schoeffler would be relegated to a Field Observer position and disallowed from "supervising WFs or making any tactical or strategical decisions" per the District Ranger. This "management direction" was also passed on to both of the Fire Bosses on the Bray Creek and Dude Fires. However, fortuitously I (DF) was later "allowed" to supervise over 80 personnel during the rehab status of the fire which was a key mitigating factor in my Merit System Protection Board Review case with their Order in my favor. Needless to say, management was livid!
Figure 7b. Putting Down the "Dude Fire" Source: YouTube, WLF LLC USDA USFS SW Region
"This video [above] was produced by the USDA Forest Service - Southwest Interagency Coordination Center, in association with the Tonto National Forest." So then, you know these folks have an agenda and ulterior motive to pursue besides their alleged "Education" category listed below the video.
I (DF) don't recall who the IA Fire Boss was at the time. As a Field Observer, I was encouraged to attend the Class Two Team in-briefing, including District and Forest personnel, and the Forest Fire Staff (FMO). I am glad I went, it was definitely an eye opener. Once the in-briefing was over the Tonto NF FMO stated: '... By the way, I have already ordered a Class One Team with the transition to occur at noon.' This was a common SW Area noon transition time in those days, that thankfully ceased because of what occurred on the fatal Dude Fire.
Needless to say, the Class Two Team personnel were pretty upset about that, saying things like: 'we haven't even been on the fire yet' and 'you never gave us a chance to prove ourselves' and the like. This would later come into play because the Class Two Team personnel were reluctant to let go of the operations - especially the Walk Moore Canyon / Bonita Creek Subdivision firing operation.
Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (LCES) did in fact originate from the Dude Fire with Zig Zag HS Supt. Paul Gleason's paper, however, many Hot Shot Crews and other WFs had been practicing this LCES concept all along without the "official" LCES label.
Consider the Doce Fire anomaly. Looking back on the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire - ironically and rather strangely - the Perryville Crew, like the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, had also worked on a Doce Fire on the Prescott NF beginning on June 18th. Perryville was assigned to the 1990 Doce Fire from June 13 to 16. They did a good job and some overhead and others suggested that they attempt HS status. They even painted their hardhats the same Tequila Sunrise colors as the Payson HS.
Figure 8. Dude Fire map sign and the trailhead with an explanatory sign to the left (not shown)
May 23, 2020, 10:57AM Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 8a. Dude Fire Trailhead parking interpretive sign. Source: Wildfire Today
Figure 9a. Student, Jeremy Fultz, at Dude Fire Trailhead doing his S-131 "Squad Boss" Briefing Field Exercise May 23, 2020, 10:57AM. Photo Source: Joy A Collura
Remember, Jeremy is gaining "Wildland Terminology and Tools" to further his Firewise knowledge for his end goal to be a Fire Mitigation Specialist ( NFPA ). Where Ryan Helms, the other student, had his eyes set on the local Municipal Fire agencies for a few Fire Seasons; and he was ready-to-go as of 5/28/20, after his successful pack test. And was able to go to his first wildfire (Ocotillo) in Arizona within a couple weeks!
Figure 10. Walk Moore Canyon sign along Control Road Source: Joy A Collura
What follows describes almost exactly the Thermal Belt induced, forceful, humbling, and most impressive fire behavior that we witnessed during the early morning hours of June 26, 1990. This was the testimony from a TNF PRD Engine WF listed in the "Dude Fire fatality Investigation - Fire behavior chronology from interviews" Public Record.
"By 0300 (June 26), the main fire was within one-quarter mile of the Bonita Creek Estates structures. Engines moved into position to make a stand. A person watching the fire from the Bonita Creek Estates subdivision for one hour beginning at 0200 noted that the falling embers quickly grew to spot fires. He watched the fire move in and out of the crowns. It would run for 60-90 seconds, die down for 5-10 minutes, and then run again. The fire would spot, start new fires, and then the main fire would catch up to these spot fires. The brisk down-canyon winds continued to push the fire to approximately 500 acres by 0500. At this time the winds subsided and the fire lay down – keeping it away from the Bonita Creek Estates structures." (emphasis added) Source: WFLDP Staff Ride Field Guide
In the early morning hours on June 26th around 0330, I (DF) called the Bonita Creek Structure Protection DIVS / Group Supervisor and asked what they had accomplished in Bonita Creek. His reply to me was "Nothing."
A short Incident Command System (ICS) digression is necessary here. A Division Supervisor is responsible for a Geographic piece of ground, (i.e. Tanner Peak to the Rose Creek and 44 Road junction). Whereas a Group Supervisor is responsible for a specific Function, (i.e. Bonita Structure Group or a general, roving Structure Protection Group).
In the "heat of battle" or the "fog of war" a potentially serious problem may arise if clear Chain of Command is left unexplained, unspecified, unclear, unsettled, or less than clear instructions are given and understood - who works for who when things go haywire? As occurred on the Dude Fire, do the Structure Protection personnel that work for them initially still work for them after the Division above them breaches, spots, or slops over, and runs through the structures you are supposedly protecting? Once again, "who is working for who" when this happens? This needs to be crystal clear before you engage in anything like this. You should still work for the
same Structure Protection personnel within the newly expanded Division. This also occurred on the June 30, 2013, YH Fire.
Consider now the Bonita Creek Structure Protection DIVS / Group Supervisor's reply to my (Field Observer) task accomplishment question at 0300 hours. It was really simple - "Nothing" he said. I told him about the fire behavior we were witnessing and told him that he had better be ready. Unbelievably, about 0430, I overheard him calling the Logistics, Supply Unit ordering about 'forty sets of Nomex and forty fire shelters.' So that means that the above statement that at "0300" the video statement that "Engines moved into position to make a stand" is really stretching the bounds of fact and the truth.
The lion's share of the Engines in the Bonita Creek subdivision were Structural / Municipal Type One Engines (aka 'Pavement Queens') from the general Phoenix area. And so one can easily infer that they had been up there working all this time without proper wildland firefighting clothing and without fire shelters. Anybody else thinking there was any complacency, leadership, safety, or situational awareness issues?
On the morning of June 26th, we had five Out-of-Region 6 (R6) Hot Shot Crews arrive on our fire by ground transportation. Given the option, they eagerly accepted going to the fireline to work versus standing by and resting in Fire Camp. For most of these Crews, the was their first fire of the season and for many of the Crewmembers it was the very first wildfire. Along the Fuller Creek Rd with a dozer and a few R6 HS Crews, while attempting to brief them on the fire behavior we had been experiencing and local factors who arrogantly would not listen to local factors info from us. They told me something like: 'These are sticks and twigs, we come from the big tree forests where we have real forest fires.' Firing out along the Fuller Creek Road heading to Control Rd, I (DF) mentioned that we 'need to coordinate with the Bonita Creek subdivision Crews.' One of the Oregon R6 HS Foreman working further North said something like: 'I have a small island of brush that I need / want to burn out.' I told him to back it through. He said it was small and he wanted to head fire it. I said no head fire, to back it through the pocket instead. The next thing I see out of the corner of my eye is a dark black smoke rolling up the slope toward us and "surf wave" once it hit our ridgetop and beyond and that intensified the smoldering hot fireline perimeter to the Southeast and above the Bonita Creek subdivision. Walking out I could see fire behavior intensify along that entire perimeter.
On the June 26, 1990, Dude Fire, The Dude Fire wildland fire weather once again played a significant role in alerting some WFs to imminent danger. "Large drops of icy cold rain were felt by crews, and briefly mistaken for water from the engine hoses used for structure protection. Tony Sciacca, Foreman of the Prescott IHC, noticed that smoke was beginning to settle at the feet of the crews, this made him uncomfortable and decided to pull their crew out and into the safety zone. They walked past Alpine on the way to the safety zone and told Alpine crewmembers they were pulling out. ..."
Sciacca would later recount this story at an AZ Wildfire Academy briefing. It played a major role on the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Hill Fire preventing a Sun City West Engine Task Force from being burned over and possibly killed .
"The spritz of rain was the final warning sign for Darby Starr. As the Fire District of Sun City West’s engine boss for wildlands fire assignments, Starr and three colleagues — one each from Sun City West, Peoria and Glendale — had seen the late-afternoon winds become terribly erratic as they helped fight the Yarnell Hill blaze on June 30, 2013. Starr noticed what seemed to be fire moving in the opposite direction of where it had been headed all day. He even thought he heard some claps of thunder.
"Then came the spritz of rain. As soon as I felt that rain, that’s when I decided we needed to pull out,” he said.
"It was a decision colleagues believe prevented further loss of firefighter lives in the blaze that claimed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots in the deadliest day for U.S. Forest Service firefighting since 1933.
"I was at the front of the line, right against this hill. It was about 200 feet high. I kept watching fire that seemed to be moving in the opposite direction it had been moving all day. I set a ‘trigger point,’ which was when the fire topped the hill, it was time to go. Shortly after that, I heard thunder. I got that spritz in the face, I turned around, looked at the hill, and fire was over the hill. I told my guys, ‘Let’s go.’”
"As he led the team away from the scene along a planned escape route to a safety zone, the veteran of 20 years wildlands firefighting recalled conditions he had never seen.
“I’d never experienced that kind of fire heat. I’d never seen fire heat so violent. It was astonishing to see exactly how violent this could be and the rate it was moving at. Even in our safety zone, we were crouching behind our truck because of the heat waves we were getting.”
“... Captain Starr remained calm and collected. Had Captain Starr not ordered our expedited retreat to the truck, I believe we may have been trapped and would have to deploy our shelters,” Boggler stated in a written report. Both of the other two firefighters and myself feel Captain Starr prevented a second tragedy.”
"Starr credited experience and training for his decision-making, including a story from a wildfire academy earlier last year, part of the Sun City West’s year-round wildlands-firefighter training. As the academy director addressed his class, he discussed June 1990’s Dude Fire near Payson, which killed six firefighters ..." (all emphasis added above)
According to WTKTT on IM, there may have been another FF responsible. "Peeples valley FF Jake Mode said HE decided to ‘get out’ when he had a visual of flames coming over the ridge above them. Captain Darby Starr won a VFW AWARD for his “heroic actions on the Yarnell fire… but other testimony attributes the ‘get out’ order as coming from Jake Moder, and NOT Darby Starr." (emphasis added) ( https://www.investigativemedia.com/please-begin-yarnell-hill-fire-chapter-xix-here/#comment-324130 )
You will want to check this guy’s Student of Fire website out. He posted from 2016 until 2018 and then kinda quit. WTF? ( http://studentoffire.org/ )
And another link ( http://studentoffire.org/index.php/sample-page/ )
“About Student of Fire - “The idea for this website came from my growing enthusiasm for SEEKING OUT WISDOM ANYWHERE IT COULD BE FOUND. This is my fifth season in fire and it seemed a good way for generating ideas and pursuing them further. But going from firefighter to student of fire, I owe that to Paul Gleason among others.” (emphasis added)
“During a recent 2800-mile road trip to the southwest, I MADE A SITE VISIT TO THE 1990 DUDE FIRE and attended a staff ride in Arcadia California for the Loop Fire of 1966. While revisiting the documents tied to those incidents – THINGS LIKE INVESTIGATION REPORTS, newspaper articles, old photographs and maps – one thing became ingrained in me. It was A SPEECH PAUL GLEASON MADE IN 1996 … honoring those killed 30 years earlier in the Loop Fire. “UNFORTUNATELY, MUCH OF OUR KNOWLEDGE AND LESSONS LEARNED ABOUT WILDLAND FIRE HAVE BEEN GAINED ONLY THROUGH THE HIGH COST OF FIREFIGHTER’S LIVES.” (emphasis added)
The Student of Fire aptly noted that “IT TAKES COURAGE TO STAND UP TO THE STATUS QUO, TO THE WAY THINGS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN, AND SAY I THINK WE CAN DO BETTER, I THINK WE SHOULD DEMAND MORE FROM OURSELVES.” (emphasis added)
“[Starr] was talking about the weather conditions he was experiencing, the fire behavior he was seeing. He mentioned he got spritzed with rain, and that was just strange enough for him to turn around and go back the other direction. He had been headed right for the guys who were burned over,” Starr recalled. “At the Yarnell Hill fire, I started seeing that strange fire behavior. ...”
Source: Sun City West fire captain wins national honor for decision during Yarnell Hill blaze. Jeff Grant, DAILY NEWS-SUN Jul 18, 2014
( https://www.eastvalleytribune.com/arizona/yourwestvalley/sun-city-west-fire-captain-wins-national-honor-for-decision-during-yarnell-hill-blaze/article_b45e044e-ff70-5326-a7fa-16b09de28e9f.html )
"Large drops of icy cold rain were felt by crews, and briefly mistaken for water from the engine hoses used for structure protection. Tony Sciacca, Foreman of the Prescott IHC, noticed that smoke was beginning to settle at the feet of the crews, this made him uncomfortable and decided to pull their crew out and into the safety zone. They walked past Alpine on the way to the safety zone and told Alpine crewmembers they were pulling out. ..." (all emphasis added)
Source: Sun City West fire captain wins national honor for decision during Yarnell Hill blaze. Jeff Grant, DAILY NEWS-SUN Jul 18, 2014
( https://www.eastvalleytribune.com/arizona/yourwestvalley/sun-city-west-fire-captain-wins-national-honor-for-decision-during-yarnell-hill-blaze/article_b45e044e-ff70-5326-a7fa-16b09de28e9f.html )
Figure 11. James E. Ellis, 34, Perryville Crew died on the Dude Fire Source: Joy A Collura
The placement of this tragic-event location symbol is somewhat of an anomalous circumstance because Ellis' cross is the first evidence of fatalities on this fire as you hike along the Dude Fire - Walkmore Moore Canyon Trail. Chronologically, however, this one is peculiarly out of order, and you will find out why.
"Ellis left his shelter. He walked to the creek bed, near Hoke, who was still tucked safely inside his tent. 'I'm hurt bad,' Ellis said. "My shelter didn't work." ( https://theweek.com/articles/462521/tragic-tale-another-deadly-arizona-wildfire ) The WFLDP Staff Ride Facilitator's Field Reference Guide reports it a little differently. "Ellis traveled from his initial deployment site down canyon, then went back up canyon, met others coming down, and was escorted back down canyon with Latour, Davenport, and Love to this location where he exclaimed 'I’m dead' then laid down and expired."
Additionally, at the above photo location, NWCG reported that he died off the dozer line / road in Walk Moore Canyon proper, below his cross.
Figures 12a. and 12b. Right photo indicates actual deployment site in Walk Moore Canyon creek-bed and left photo is the current location along the trail. Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 13. Lead Instructor and Student walking to Dude Fire Stand Two Source: Joy A Collura
Hopefully, you may be wondering why the Fire Team chose to use Walk Moore Canyon, basically a chimney and chute, as a primary control feature. Because the Fire Boss and Line Boss thought it was a good idea, with NO input from anyone else, (e.g. DIVS, Hot Shot Supts., no one)!
On the afternoon of June 25th, a local contractor bulldozer was used to improve the Walk Moore Canyon two-track road (old logging road) until it got dark, and then had to shut down. The fireline overhead ignored my (DF) repeated suggestions made early-on to get the GSA Dozer Light Kit out of the local Payson RD fire cache. The DIVS ordered dozers that evening. They never showed.
Figure 13a. Dude Fire typical June 1990 fuel bed indicating chaparral ladder fuels underneath dense Ponderosa Pine snippet. Source:You Tube, Dude Fire Fatality Case Study
Figure 14. Lead Instructor and Student walking to Dude Fire Stand Two Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 15. Retired Fire Chief and Wildland Fire Fatality Historian waiting at Dude Fire Stand Two Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 16. Dude Fire Stand Two at Walk Moore Canyon and Power Line ROW which is out-of-sight and uphill to the right and the eventual Fatality Site is straight ahead. Source: Joy A Collura
According to public records, the June 25-26, 1990, tactical assignment for the Perryville Crew, per the DIVS, was to clear a fireline up the jeep trail inside Walk Moore Canyon and then up the power line right-of-way into the Bonita Creek Estates subdivision. And who's idea was that? And that was a good tactical decision because why ... ?
More importantly, did anyone on Perryville really think that it was or would have been a good idea to scout out Walk Moore Canyon from this point up to what would become the eventual Fatality Site? The Plumas Hot Shots sure did.
The morning of June 26, 1990, recollections and reflections from a Flathead HS are exceptionally insightful: "When we passed Perryville on the way up Walkmore Canyon to the subdivision; they were sitting there from a night shift and they all had thousand mile stares. What I had heard was that they were just letting them 'work' another shift by standing by and really had no business being out there. ... They had gotten up and repositioned themselves which probably is what killed them." (Flathead HS) Did the Investigation Team know about this and /or delve into this? And if they did know about it, did that play into their SAIT decision making?
Figure 16a. Video Snippet of Walk Moore Canyon and HS Crew progression (bottom to top - Alpine, Prescott, Flathead, Zig Zag, Redmond, Plumas. Source: WLF LLC Dude Fire Case Study, YouTube
Figure 16b. Video Snippet of Walk Moore Canyon and (top to bottom) HS Crews with Perryville and Navajo Crews lower. Source: WLF LLC Dude Fire Case Study, YouTube
There appears to be an anomaly here in the video with the positioning of the two alleged lower Crews. First off, according to the above video narration the DIVS was unaware of the Perryville and Navajo Scouts Crew in Walk Moore Cyn. in his Division. The other more interesting thing is in the video Snippet, the Navajo Scouts location is below the Perryville Crew because the video claims: "Upon hearing and seeing the Navajo Scouts crew running past them, Perryville crewmembers started seeing the fire above them. They all began running down the line toward the Control Road. ... a Navajo Scout told him 'don’t stop, the flame is on you.'" (emphasis added)
The Navajo Scouts would have had to been above the Perryville Crew to "running past them" and "running down the line." Right?
Here is what the PACM recalls prior to that Navajo Scouts warning: "We were on the opposite side of [W]alkmoore [C]anyon. We had solid contact with the Navajo crew and we were told they had the safety watch and lookouts covered as we were working line and sawyers were doing their thing downing trees back from [behind] the Dozer line. I was at the top off the hill directly between both crews."
It sounds like some of the Navajo Scouts were acting as a Lookout based on their "Safety Watch and Lookouts" with those statements. And it's unclear what he is referring about with him "between both crews" other that just explaining what his location was.
One of the Flathead HS supervisors stated: "They [Perryville ??] went down the canyon ahead of the burn out operation, we just exchanged firing and holding with the Zig Zag Crew, and so they were holding and we had just started lighting and then a big calm went over we felt some moisture and I thought it might be from the hose spray of the structure group that was above us in the Bonita Estates. ... I held the crew back from lighting anymore ... we waited and then [our Supt.] called for our trauma kit so I sent the EMT down with the trauma kit and then the three of them start hustling back into view with the burn victim and [Supt.] was huffing and puffing and yelling out to grab our fire shelters I told everybody to get back to the road and back to the safety zone and not deploy the fire shelters."
Kudos are definitely in order here. He too noted the sudden weather change ("a big calm") he held up the firing operation. And obviously, this was also a wise call by an experienced WF supervisor to impress upon his Crew to refrain from deploying fire shelters and utilize your Escape Route instead.
Watch Out No. 15 used to include when the "wind stops." Sounds like it's time to re-establish that again
The June 25-26, 1990, tactical assignment for the Perryville Crew, per the DIVS, was to clear a fireline up the jeep trail inside Walk Moore Canyon
Did anyone on Perryville really think that it was or would have been a good idea to scout out Walk Moore Canyon from this point up to what would become the eventual Fatality Site? The Plumas Hot Shots did.
Figure 16c. Dude Fire Fatality Case Study video. Good overall video with live documentary and animated footage revealing fuels, weather, topography, fire behavior, personnel, maps, tactics and strategy, and much more. Source: Wildland Fire LLC, YouTube
Figure 17. Heading to Dude Fire Stand Three along Power Line ROW Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 18. Walking through Bonita Creek subdivision to Dude Fire Stand Three (Corner House) Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 19. Dude Fire Stand Three (Corner House) Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 19a. Dude Fire Stand Three Corner House in right foreground as structure burns behind it on June 26, 1990. Source: NWCG Leadership Toolbox Dude Fire Staff Ride
Consider now some key excerpts from the "Dude Fire Staff Ride - Why Did They Die?" video in Figure 19b. Bear in mind, that this was the very first USFS Wildland Fire Fatality Staff Ride, and so they wanted to make a good product and a good impression. And so, what you will experience is their over-the-top enthusiastic effort to foist onto a numb, shocked, and empathetic world of WFs, FFs, and the American public this Orwellian propaganda, Party Line drivel, misinformation, disinformation, indoctrination, and riddled with Half-truths.
"The Dude Fire also inspired the first-ever U.S. Forest Service Staff Ride, a kind of case study modeled after those conducted by the U.S. military at important battle sites, bringing firefighters to scenes of past accidents or near-miss fires, where flames could have killed, but didn't, to better understand decisions made at the time and to improve future fire-suppression efforts." (emphasis added) (Joyce)
Wildland firefighting burnover fatalities are definitely NOT "past accidents or near-miss fires, where flames could have killed, but didn't."
And "to better understand ... to improve future fire-suppression efforts" is kinda worthless when what we really need to examine are the causal human factors and errors and NOT the "future fire-suppression efforts."
In other words, delving into this historical wildland fire fatality after all these years reveals the self-same, rote pattern of "Conclusions first and then 'facts' to fit them in all wildland fire fatalities. And so, as expected, they expertly utilized the narrated "Dude Fire Staff Ride" YouTube video by Public Resource Org. to indoctrinate the WF and FF masses.
Briefly consider this ignoble cretin and his surprisingly effective enlightenment strategy.
The Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Goebbels, a one-time journalist, wrote: “Any man who still has a residue of honor will be very careful not to become a journalist.”
Propaganda. which is information intended to persuade an audience to accept a particular idea or cause, often by using biased material or by stirring up emotions, as one of the most powerful tools Goebbels and the Nazis used. Goebbels wrote in his diary, "No one can say your propaganda is too rough, too mean; these are not criteria by which it may be characterized. It ought not be decent nor ought it be gentle or soft or humble; it ought to lead to success." After researching the Dude Fire, it is easy to infer that this particular wildland fire fatality propaganda was less a separate stream of information, and was instead embedded in all of the existing information streams in the wildland fire culture and has indeed "[led] to success" verily guaranteeing "incomplete" lessons learned.
And this would also become a cornerstone of the USFS propaganda that began with the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire fatalities on the Helena NF in Montana.
What follows is taken from the "Dude Fire Staff Ride - National Advanced Fire and Resource Institute 1998 video - Re-released in 2005 from 1998 Fire Behavior Analyst Workshop that focused on this tragedy wildland-urban interface wildfire." ( http://www.fs.usda.gov/sites/default/files/legacy_files/fire-management-today/62-4.pdf )
Consider now the USFS [Dis]Information Officer Dave Thomas Fire Management Today article: "With the Dude Fire Staff Ride, we applied the framework of the military staff ride to a plume dominated wildland fire that blew up outside of Payson, AZ, in June 1990, killing six firefighters. This staff ride was part of a national interagency fire behavior workshop in Phoenix, AZ, in March 1999." and "The lessons learned by participants in a staff ride are usually individual, personal, not easily categorized, and filled with emotion. The expectation is that individuals will form their own conclusions and then, after talking and listening to other participants, form a shared vision of what happened." and "The staff ride is not a lecture or field trip. The basic assumptions used in developing the Dude Fire Staff Ride were:
These two sentence excerpts suggest at least some Groupthink by starting with their "individual, personal ..." statement: "The lessons learned ... are usually individual, personal, not easily categorized, and filled with emotion. The expectation is ... form their own conclusions and then, ... form a shared vision of what happened."
• "There may be no one correct answer or chain of events leading up to the fatalities;
• "Wildland fires are complex natural events that commonly defy honest attempts to think through and understand them;
• "Hindsight often creates misperceptions of what actually occurred on a fire; and
• "The root cause of the Dude Fire tragedy may never be fully known."
In response to the above, we feel the need to dissect this Orwellian nugget rife with logical fallacies and Weasel-wording. The USFS are correct that there "may be no one correct answer or chain of events" because there are many "correct answer[s] or chain of events" leading up to the fatalities.
In response, more Weasel-wording here as well. "Wildland fires are complex natural events that commonly defy honest attempts to think through and understand them." Indeed, wildland fires are complex natural events, however, for decades there have been competent WFs and FFs practicing the principles of Entrapment Avoidance, (e.g. 10 & 18, LCES, Watch Outs, etc.) while safely managing themselves and those they supervise. Obviously, those that are bewildered and mystified by "... honest attempts to think through and understand them" should probably board the train of those WFs and FFs that know and understand and mitigate and follow the Basic WF Rules - with excellent results.
Yes indeed, it does."Hindsight often creates misperceptions of what actually occurred on a fire," however, consistent in-depth research will almost always get to the core and the truth. On the other hand, those that would unethically and disingenuously conceal the truth are the ones that actually "create misperceptions of what actually occurred on a fire."
"The root cause of the Dude Fire tragedy may never be fully known" is a half-truth and a classic self-fulfilling prophecy that requires Reactance Theory to counter it. Reactance theory says that we dislike people telling us how to think, what to do, etc. so then we will want it, seek it out, etc.
The definition of "A root cause is an initiating cause of either a condition or a causal chain that leads to an outcome or effect of interest. The term denotes the earliest, most basic, 'deepest', cause for a given behavior; most often a fault. The idea is that you can only see an error by its manifest signs." (emphasis added) (Wikipedia)
Let the Dude Fire Fairy Tale journey begin. What follows is from the "Dude Fire Staff Ride - National Advanced Fire and Resource Institute 1998 video in Figure 19b. - Re-released in 2005 from  Fire Behavior Analyst Workshop that focused on this tragedy Wildland Urban Interface wildfire.
The Narrator asks: "What happened on the Dude Fire? Did human factors contribute to the fatalities? What can these people's deaths teach us? To answer these question the Forest Service hosts a Staff Ride. This new training tool using a proven military technique proves to be a wildland fire learning first."
We obviously know what happened on the Dude Fire. And for those that know much at all about accidents, safety, and wildland fire fatalities, we know for a fact that human factors contributed to those fatalities. And we also know that we can learn a great deal about "what these people's deaths [can] teach us" when proper, honest, truthful investigations are performed by likewise investigators, and if and when we are told the truth about the causal factors.
Narrator: "The Dude Fire Staff Ride. Why was it such a success? What can it teach us?" They are presupposing it matter-of-factly, leading you along, as if it is already a success instead of asking the readers if it was a success.
And then there is the TNF PRD FMO: "I thought I knew the Dude Fire intimately. And I did. But doing the Dude Fire Staff Ride totally changed some of my perceptions. The Staff Ride made me think about fatality or near-miss fires and we generate this picture of what went wrong. But I now realize that unless you get into it in the depth we did on the Staff Ride, you really don't understand." (emphasis added)
Because Mr. Velasco drank the Dude Fire Kool-Aid, he is letting us know that the USFS mind-warping thing was successful, because it sure worked on him. The one who said he wouldn't change a thing in an anniversary local newspaper article.
These following, somewhat chilling statements and recollections by an experienced HS and two experienced HS supervisors are especially interesting and insightful.
The HS recalled that Prescott HS Foreman Sciacca during the night and early morning of June 25-26, 1990, had told him and others that he had a bad feeling about this fire.
"Walking up Walk Moore [Canyon] ... I said to my Crew Boss ... into the Valley of Death rode the 600. I don't know why I said that." Redmond HS
That was an amazing statement from an experienced WF who was paying heed to his intuition and "gut feelings." Likewise, another HS Supt. in the early morning hours of June 26th had a somewhat similar gut feeling that something bad was gonna happen when he made this comment: "I was in a death race. I felt that from the bottom of the canyon to here." Flathead HS
"Why did the Dude Fire Staff Ride have such an impact on the wildland fire people who experienced it? How can we carry the Staff Ride's valuable teachings and insight forward? Yes, how can we help prevent fatalities on all future wildland fires?" That was and is the heart of the Staff Ride. Narrator
The Dude Fire Staff Ride made such an impact on the wildland fire people who experienced it because they were fooled by the skillful USFS puppeteers. You can justly carry the Staff Ride's valuable teachings and insights forward by telling the truth about what happened and why, the causal and human factors that played a hand in the fatalities. On the contrary, we cannot "help prevent fatalities on all future wildland fires" because they are inevitable because people do dumb s**t. All we can do is our best to lessen and reduce them. That was and should be the heart of the Staff Ride.
And this from the Prescott HS Foreman is the first that I have heard of these weather and fire behavior events in Walk Moore Canyon before the fatal afternoon event: "We hit that cat line getting ready to do that firing operation and we got hit with a down-blast off The Rim, ... downslopes [winds] were probably in the neighborhood of 25 to 35 miles an hour. Fire pushed lateral and ran about half a mile in about 10 or 15 minutes. At that point we knew it was going to be a long and exciting night. Came back in here and tied in with ... at this point ... ties in with the Crew that had an assignment ... They started firing, tied into the black and started the firing operation with the overall plan ... I remember one of my young Squad Bosses is saying 'if it's burning like this now, just imagine what's it's gonna do at 1:00 [PM] ... ya know, there is some wise wisdom in that." (Prescott HS)
The two Univ. of Wyoming images below represent June 30, 1990, Skew-T images from Tucson, AZ indicating classic "Inverted-V" designating downdraft potential. See P. Andrews research paper link below Figure 37. from Winslow, AZ sounding showing almost identical image.
Figures 19a.1. + 19a.2. Tucson Skew-T Soundings (12Z - left) (00Z - right) with the classic 'Inverted-V" image indicating downdraft potential. Source: Univ. of Wyoming Dept. of Atmospheric Science
There was most definitely some wisdom in that young Squad Boss's statement and some interesting evidence and insight that supports the notion that the fire always signals its intentions ... and you can benefit from it if you are paying attention and mindful (LCES) of what it tells you.
A Redmond HS supervisor commented: "I was nervous about having too many parts in here that day ..." Are you noticing a pattern here with all these WF supervisors' gut feelings and the like? And yet, nobody seemed to follow through on anything ... except the Prescott HS Foreman regarding the imminent downdrafts and the ensuing fire behavior that triggered them to disengage.
On June 26th, the AGF was having an orientation training for their new Trainee Officers in Young, AZ. They watched a large thunderstorm build, travel up Canyon Creek to The Rim, and then West to and then over the Dude Fire. I (DF) was unaware of this developing Sword of Damocles, and I do not recall anyone alerting any of us on the firelines on the Command or TAC channels about this important fire weather development. Although, I'm fairly confident that Diamond Point Lookout noticed them and reported them on the Tonto FOREST NET.
These AGF Officers and Trainees were eventually resource ordered as Security Officers and to assist with the ensuing evacuation(s) that would take place. And they stated that the lower Fire Team administering the TNF was always "behind the power curve," (i.e. placing them at Tonto Village when it was unthreatened by any fire).
The AGF Officers and Trainees eventually had to assist in the local Tonto Creek area Baptist Camp evacuation. And according to one AGF Officer, it resembled the (1945) WW II Rangers, Alamo Scouts, and Philippine guerrillas under the leadership of Lt. Colonel Mucci and Captain Prince. Against all odds, they rescued 516 Allied POWs from the Cabanatuan, Philippines prison camp using locals with handcarts and a medley of other modes of transportation. ( https://arsof-history.org/articles/v14n2_cabanatuan_page_3.html )
Here Zig Zag Crew Boss Gleason and a Flathead HS verified that the DIVS himself was burning out with these comments: "[The] DIVS was burning and ... [I] talked with DIVS and [we] got more aggressive with the burnout that [where] the Safety Zone is and the heat that was released is / was our responsibility ... but we had 180 people up here ... and what we were burning was not going to make a difference, if ah [it] went sour and we all knew it was hunin'? and rockin."
A Flathead HS supervisor admitted that: "We all knew we made mistakes ourselves here. I made a mistake when I went thru camp and I didn't get any information even if it wasn't there, and it wasn't at the time. And I came up here, followed a DIVS ... I wouldn't do that. And I quit doing that after but ... the fact that there was information out there not getting to people should be a hint. ... Then don't send them out there .. put a roadblock down at the hill and let this place go, but ... "
The Alpine HS Crew Boss / Supt. stated: "With the support that was here, ... 140 to 180 by any estimate; personnel up in this subdivision protecting it, including six HS Crews; [there was] a plan in place to burn around the subdivision. Fire behavior that we were in observation of, at least what we could see, on the slope was non-threatening, really, it was actually working to our benefit ... if we could get this firing show around it [Bonita Creek Subdivision]. I felt like there was a pretty good probability of success ... at least this front of the subdivision. What we observed was very light. I estimated two, three, maybe four at best ... upslope, up canyon winds with a backing fire, and whether the burnout was progressing over there was affecting anything - from my perspective, no - it was not. That continued right on through 'til on my chronology, right about 1400 (2: PM) ... "
Figure 19b. Dude Fire - Perryville Fire Crew Entrapment video - Firefighters discuss the entrapment of the Perryville Fire Crew on the 1990 Dude fire. This is raw video footage from News Channel 12. Source: Wildland Fire LLC, Channel 12 News
Figure 19b1. Dude Fire - Perryville Fire Crew Entrapment video Comment by Navajo Scout Roe Hardhat. Source: Wildland Fire LLC, Channel 12 News
Some fairly good video footage revealing STLE Scopa radio conversations with Fire Team overhead regarding the recent Perryville Crew dozer line fire shelter deployment, fire behavior, a young Sciacca Prescott HS Crew, dozer improving Bonita Creek Safety Zone, Pete Libby was the Public Disinformation Officer, and News 12 Reporter gyrations regarding their Safety Zone. PDO Libby had his vehicle burned up in the Bonita Creek Subdivision with the other vehicles pictured in Figures 21a.+b. prior to this interview scene.
Interesting comments by Mr. Hardhat, indicating they may have also had NO lookout with his "when it blew it happened so fast [we] didn't have time to do anything but run like hell" ... "fire on both sides now" while verifying that they had escaped in the back of a vehicle statements. However, I will have to question his: "I seen the fire jump the freeway I couldn't believe what I just saw" statement. (emphasis added) Why? Because there is NO freeway anywhere near there by a few hundred miles!
This is a really interesting series of observations and statements about the current fire behavior. Our Fire Order #3 states: "Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire." And that is exactly what he was setting up to do. Keep burning. Everything seemed to be lined up in their favor to continue with their burning operation plan. Everything seemed to be aligned in their favor ... and yet everything was really aligned with some sinister, hidden disaster just waiting to come out of hiding. The quintessential calm before the storm as "they" say.
Unexpectedly, the Alpine Crew Boss / Supt. was startled with this instead: "Instant fire, I mean fire was, ya know, 150 yards away ... instant fire here, there, everywhere (as he points around). And growing quickly. [Flathead HS] Paul described the spot there that he dealt with the hose. There was no hose down here, there was just 50 mile an hour winds just pushing every single spot (as he turns and points) that took. And every spot did take." It was as if they were led down the ever-so-subtle primrose path of continuation bias and complacency and whatever other perceptual psychological glitch affected their decision making based on what they were experiencing.
The Zig Zag Crew Boss / Supt. stated: "We were working [burning out] down towards [Alpine HS]. At one point we heard that the fire got across the lower fire Control Road. We heard that it was ... the fire was on the other side threatening Bonita Estates and that there were shelters deployed." I (DF) recall hearing all this over the radio on TAC as well.
This is where the PACM explains the aggressive fire behavior indicators, and their June 26th (in)actions regarding their wildfire notification to run, warnings, and ultimate chaotic burnover and deployment:
"I got the news first (closest) and thanked God I showed up for all that PT [physical training]. I ran my ass off downhill. ( THE FIRE WAS AT OUR BACKS ABOUT FAR ENOUGH) we still thought we had beaten it. About 2/3 of the crew got through before the crowning dropped ( they later said it was an Eddy or ie whatever) For the life of me, I think it was a microburst event the way it dropped in front of us."
"There were 2 people closer to it than I was when it happened Ellis & Hoke. I started snatching my shelter out and recoiled back til I was second too (sic) the other end. About halfway there they (David La [Tour] something from [R]ural [M]etro [FD] out of Tucson) gave the order to deploy ( DUH)"
The PACM clarified his "second too the other end" comment as follows:
"When the fire dropped in front of Hoke & Ellis I was 3rd behind them. As I was breaking out my shelter and discarding my backpack, I was moving backwards towards the other end of the line 2nd from the end. I liked the area better for sheltering. [It was] Sandy with river rock mixed in." (emphasis added)
He then goes on to detail the fire fronts hitting them and the strong waves of winds.
"Lickity split I was deployed and we'll (sic) secured on the sides. I forgot that kind of fire creates high winds. That fire hit us. Literally. It was a BLAST almost like you would expect in a bomb explosion. ... but that's exactly how it felt. And there were 2 waves. Crowning and then the ground [surface] fuels ..."
"After the second wave subsided, I felt just the whisper of cooler air hit me. So, being a knucklehead I chewed [bit] my glove off and stuck my hand out"
This interaction would have been below the Corner House about halfway to the Perryville Deployment / Fatality Site and the Alpine HS Crew Boss / Supt. stated: "This is the approximate area where we observed [Perryville CM] Jeff Hatch, the injured FF walking up basically out of the smoke and fire. At this point the fire is making runs through the canopy and really threatening any position along this [dozer line that paralleled Walk Moore Canyon]. We were able to get the EMTs down here. We felt comfortable enough that ... but as soon as they arrived we knew that we were in a dire position, and we started moving back towards the [Bonita Creek] subdivision."
The Zig Zag HS Crew Boss / Supt stated: "[Alpine, Flathead, and Zig Zag Supts] were coming up the canyon and we have our Crew EMTs with us, a few of them. We got this guy Hatch that was ... on fire, he was burning up."
The Alpine Supt. stated: "There were approximately eight or nine people carrying the stretcher, and ya know, trying to secure our own safety at the same time. We stopped here. We knew the area had been burned by the Crews ahead of us and we knew there was [a] Safety Zone there, but you see the green here [fanning his left arm along the green pocket above the Corner House], and there was more green here where this house stood. There was smoke ... because the fire was blowing and a-going. We couldn't see exactly which direction to take, so we stopped." A wise choice to stop firing based on what they were experiencing, especially with green, unburned pockets of fuel around them and all the chaos.
Back to the Narrator making comments again: "At the next stand, Dave LaTour shared his experience. That day on the Dude Fire he was Crew Representative [CREP] for the Perryville Inmate Crew. They were improving the line down canyon from the Hot Shots and the sudden blowup entrapped Dave [LaTour], Hatch, and nine other Crewmembers."
What dramatic BS! "...and the sudden blowup entrapped Dave [LaTour], Hatch, and nine other Crewmembers." There was only a "sudden blowup that entrapped" them because he ignored all the indicators. There was nothing "sudden" about it.
Remember, at the Fatality Site, this series of remarkable statements: "The Perryville Crew Rep stated that the 'Navajo Scouts had run through their Crew telling them to get out, the fire was upon them.' Yet, they ignored that warning. Next, he stated that he had 'burning bark plates bouncing off my fire shirt' and ignored that too. Next, he stated that he had 'burning pine cones, sticks, and twigs bouncing off my fire shirt' and ignored that as well." And yet, they were still there - ignoring it all.!
The Narrator commented: "Cut off by flames from an easier down canyon escape, they tried to outrun the fire uphill, but could not [and] with no other alternative they were forced inside their fire shelters." What BS, what friggin drama. They had plenty of "other alternatives" while the Navajo Scouts warned them as well as the fire behavior indicators. And "forced inside their shelters?" Does that mean someone held a gun to their head and "forced" them?
LaTour stated: We ran back up to this point ... and the fire was coming over this ridgeline at that point and was getting quite close to us. It was probably less than ... certainly less than a couple hundred feet from us. At that point it crested the ridge and broke into a large wall of flames as it came over that ridge. ... At that point we knew we only had a few, maybe a minute left or so before the fire got to us. And so, the decision was made to deploy at this point. Quite frankly, we didn't want to deploy here [because] this is not what I would consider an ideal site to deploy. The situation really dictated that we deploy here. ... " Plenty of non-hindsight bias indicators and warnings here.
Accident Investigator Mangan made these interesting life threatening observations for future life saving lessons to be learned: "During that time there was some folks that obviously moved around and it was quite obvious that there was going to be some fatalities as a result of that. ... 45 minutes ... Bachman did not look like she had much worse than a first- or second-degree sunburn about her head and shoulders. Her hair was not singed badly. He Nomex was not damaged badly. So, the heat was the thing that got these folks when they got up and moved around. I'm sure that's what happened to Ellis, the person that walked out with them ... was he got up even though the flame front had passed, the heat was still there and he got up and he just had a longer term effect before he finally went down."
This is where the PACM begins to explain their individual time in their respective fire shelter deployments and whatnot and his Perryville Crew and CREP LaTour experienced. He is basically reliving this event thirty (30) years later here: "It was cool ( er ) so I sounded the all clear. I had heard the end of Curtis Springfield. He screamed he couldn't take it anymore. I think he was getting some super heated air below the sides of his shelter. He bolted, he was not in my view when I came out. It was myself, Donald Love, ah his name is was Dave LaTour. Were part of the group, we surveyed the dead no heartbeats no breathing. Chacon was laying across Sandra Bachman with the shelter twisted around his waist, only covering shoulder to hips. James Denny was alone and unsheltered. Alex Contreras the same. LaTour decided we would walk out to the service road along the fire line. His legs were burnt really badly. Mine were too. A small branch or something had fallen onto my shelter while deployed. We got to Hoke and Ellis up the trail a bit. Hoke had minimal damage, but James Ellis had his shelter on his head draping down behind him like a cape. Burned and still smoking. Ellis, not the shelter. Hoke was with Ellis. I had the luck to have to scream at LaTour when shock became apparent and he wandered off the Dozer line."
"Sandra [Bachman], by the way, never trained. She watched. I believe this is why Joe Chacon died. Joe trained hard."
"I walked the rest of the way out with him to keep an eye on him. We got to the road and flagged down a forestry truck. They took us to camp where we were air evacuated to [Maricopa] County Burn Center in Phoenix."
This WF experienced a great deal of trauma that day being surrounded by several of his fellow WFs that were also burned and survived and those that were burned and died. And all betrayed by their alleged supervisor Terra.
More of LaTour's incredible wisdom nuggets: "One of the things I think we have to stress is that to tell people what to expect when they get into the shelters. If you're doing shelter training material with people they have to know ... that they're gonna experience that kind of event and they're gonna have high winds, the shelters are gonna blow around, ... they may see and hear things outside the shelter." No s**t Sherlock? Ya think "they may see and hear things outside the shelter" with 30, 40, 50 mph fire-induced winds and the ever-so-typical freight train sound?
More of LaTour's lessons learned and wisdom: "And I think the key thing is to know absolutely without a doubt that if you get out of that shelter, you're gonna die. You have to make people understand that ... the best place for them to be is to stay and if they're getting burned they're still better off and they're probably gonna survive it as opposed to getting out of the shelter. Again my shelter delaminated and it folded over I made a real effort to keep my face away from that side, I turned away from that side, and had my arms away from that side and had my arms around my face and kept my face as low to the ground. I didn't have any heat related respiratory injuries and I'm sure it's because I stayed with my face close to the ground."
Remember to refer to and follow Dr. Ted Putnam's sage advice with his comments about examining the Perryville WF fire shirts being scorched from the waist up, with their bodies acting like a slope funneling hot gases into their airways. Based on this evidence and the fact that several of the WFs fireline packs scattered along the Walk Moore Canyon dozer line - never burned - so then, merely laying down on the ground to avoid those hot gases would have saved their lives that day.
One of the first Dude Fire Staff Ride participants made an astute observation and asked this insightful question: "If this ... the Crew finally had to take a stand, here this looks like the worst possible place to even think about setting up a fire shelter. I mean in this little depression surrounded by fuel that just can't hardly imagine that. I appreciate your comment on the survivability of this kind of a place where the fuels are so close to people."
Figure 19c. Dude Fire Staff Ride - National Advanced Fire and Resource Institute 1998 - Re-released in 2005 from  Fire Behavior Analyst Workshop that focused on this tragedy Wildland Urban Interface wildfire. Source: Public Resource Org
Alpine Supt. Mattingly made some fairly stunning comments here when he stated: "This [Corner] House is probably one of the most significant places in my entire career in fire because this is where I thought I had ... was the most opportunity or the most chance of dying. We hung out kinda in this forward area initially and once we were secure in getting there we took the injured FF up into the black, and at that point, I climbed that hill ... and located a helispot, and called some sawyers up from the various Crews to get that place opened up so we could pull him out of there."
Figure 20. Walking to Dude Fire Fatality site along June 30, 2013, dozer line adjacent to Walk Moore Canyon and above the creek bed to the right Source: Joy A Collura
Thank you to J.S. from Bonita Creek for allowing us to use your property to gain access to the Fatality Site area on May 23, 2020.
The WFLDP Guide states in many places several - allegedly intentional highly inaccurate claims in order to fit their narrative: "Crew locations were as follows: lowest and closest to the Control Road, was the Navajo Scouts Crew, then the Perryville Crew, the Alpine IHC was 50 to 100 yards above Perryville, the Prescott IHC was above Alpine near the corner house, then the Flathead IHC above Prescott, next was the Zig Zag IHC, then the Redmond IHC, and finally the Plumas IHC. By 1215 the hotshot crews finished the prep work at the corner house and the Plumas IHC began burning out the line. At this time, the main fire was backing slowly down the slope. Several instances of short-range spotting from the burnout occurred from 1100-1300. Because of the fire behavior, the burnout was stopped." (emphasis added) WFLDP Staff Ride Facilitator's Field Reference Guide
How is it that the WFLDP Guide has the "lowest and closest to the Control Road, was the Navajo Scouts Crew" when the Navajo Scouts, above the Perryville Crew, came down Walk Moore Canyon warning them to get out?
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, ... Proverbs 2:7
Figure 20a. A WF watches June 25th very active nighttime fire behavior from just below the top of The Rim. Source: AZ Republic
go to part B...