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  • Writer's pictureJOY A COLLURA

Part 9 - Do our Wildland Fire (WF) Instructors foster "complete" lessons learned in the WF culture?

Authors: Douglas Fir, Joy A. Collura, and contributing others


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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.


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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) ( )


You will want to check this guy’s Student of Fire website out. He posted from 2016 until 2018 and then kinda quit. WTF? ( )

“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)



[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

"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

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." ( ) 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 13b. Prescott HS improving fireline with fire in background 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)


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