Part 2 - 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