Part 2 - Do our Wildland Fire (WF) Instructors foster "complete" lessons learned in the WF culture?c
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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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
There is a wealth of good information in these Plumas HS phone interview quotes. Specifically, on the evening of June 25, 1990, one of the Plumas HS Supervisors stated: "... almost directly [N]orth of the Bonita Estates ... the [C]rews worked there until they realized the fire was outflanking them in its run to the [S]outh and [E]ast. All the [C]rews abandoned this line. Prescott IHC had shown up by this time and Plumas and Prescott made the decision to pull out to the area where [the] vehicles were staged. They were directed to the Bonita Estates to do structure protection, (prep work and burnout operations). Plumas walked up Walk Moore Canyon when it was still a 2-track prior to the dozer line construction. They passed Perryville when they [were] clearing the powerline right-of-way up to the Estates. ... [Two] Division Supervisors showed up at [June 26, 1990] 0930 and directed Plumas to get the burnout show on the road. ... [Plumas] distinctly remembers having [two] DIVS and they were 'chomping at the bit' to get the fire going. ... The [two] DIVS he figures to be about 1/3 of a mile above where the dozer line intersected the road in Bonita Estates."
"Spotting was immediately occurring on a small scale. Plumas was able to handle this, but the spotting intensified to the point it became a problem. The [two] DIVS were pushing the burnout, but [Plumas] tried to slow it down to keep a handle on it. They lost a spot that was left alone, because OPS directed [the two] DIVS to leave it an they would get an airtanker later. This is reflected in one of the witness statements of one of the DIVS, although he says they would catch it with a dozer. The burnout started about 1000-1030, [off] to the [E]ast, not one of the parallel roads to the [N]orth."
"The burnout continued down to the [E]states road dozer line intersection, where the Redmond Hot Shots took over the burning from Plumas. Plumas remained on the line they burned out, but the spots that were left unattended continued to grow and move noticeable off to the [E]ast. While Plumas was still up on the line another DIVS showed up, but this time it was one of the Type 1 team DIVS. [Plumas] made sure [DIVS] knew what was going on with the spotfires, the spotting, and the line. The weather changed with a strong downhill wind. Smoke was laying on the ground. [Plumas] felt extremely uncomfortable with [the] situation outside the line and up the hill and moved his [C]rew down the line to the [E]state road area, where the [E]ngines and other people were. This was at approximately 1200."
"As the fire situation deteriorated Plumas began looking for a safety zone and with the dozer that came down the road (presumably the dozer that build the line up the hill from the [E]states) they constructed a mineral soil SZ (safety zone) in the black burnout to the [W]est of the [E]states."
See Figure 28c. below
Clearly a couple of pushy DIVS ignoring basic firing operations protocol, (e.g. you fire and hold according to the conditions and you deal with (read "suppress") spot fires and slop-overs immediately)!
What follows below is the scanned actual Plumas HS phone interview (excerpted above) on November 17, 1990, elaborating on the June 25-26, 1990 events, particularly the operations of the evening of June 25th and into the morning and afternoon of the June 26th burnout operation around Bonita Creek.
Figure 20b. Plumas HS phone interview on November 17, 1990, elaborating on the June 25-26, 1990 events, particularly the operations of the evening of June 25th and into the morning and afternoon of the June 26th burnout operation around Bonita Creek. Source: Schoeffler
The Plumas HS memo above content is corroborated by the Flathead HS supervisor recollections: "We were getting pushed to burn and bump ahead too quickly on the Dude Fire. ..."
Figure 21. Heading to Dude Fire Site Visit Fatality Area and stopped here to talk about the alleged Perryville Crew Lookout Source: Joy A Collura
During the 1999 initial Dude Fire Staff Ride, at the Fatality Site, (Figure 7a.) the Perryville Crew Rep stated that he was the Crew lookout. However, when asked whether he was the "designated" lookout, he said that he would occasionally hike up out of the canyon to look around at the fire and then back down to work with the Crew again.
Figure 21a. Dude Fire News Footage # - Raw news file footage from the 1990 Dude fire in Arizona. This video may include footage of the Bonita Creek Estates neighborhood before and after the fire. Source: WLF LC, YouTube
A designated lookout is just that - a lookout - specifically assigned and and staying in place throughout the operational period or whatever / wherever the supervisor needs them to be doing to properly perform their crucial task. Maybe this was on Mr. Gleason's mind when he established the LCES principle.
Figure 21b. Helicopter news photo snippet of burnt lowboy tractor trailer and Contractor Fuel Truck. Source:
Figure 22. Departing view (looking back) of the Dude Fire Fatality Area (red oval) Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 23. Discussion on Dude Fire Events that the retired Fire Chief never heard before. Source: Joy A Collura
Dude Fire documentation has the OPS and others observing benign backing fire into Walk Moore Canyon and thinking nothing of it. Was this during the same period that the Alpine HS Supt. was also noticing this kind of fire behavior/ The calm before the storm ...
Once again, during the 1999 initial Dude Fire Staff Ride, at the Fatality Site, 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 you're still there?
They finally started to head back down Walk Moore Canyon toward the Control Road when he noticed the aggressive fire behavior was entering down into Walk Moore thru numerous little saddles and chutes from "above them" to the West, and so they turned back up the canyon.
The WFLDP Guide states in much more graphic detail: "... at [approx.] 1415 ... 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." ... looked back at that point ... and saw what looked to him like a volcano. ... looked back and could see only a wall of flame. ... saw the crewmembers in front of him round a corner with fire crossing right behind them. ... LaTour ordered the Perryville crew to deploy shelters. ... ” (emphasis added) And finally, after all the warnings and indicators and aggressive fire behavior "LaTour ordered the Perryville crew to deploy shelters." That is just unf**king believable! Source: WFLDP Guide
A Payson Roundup new article has a similar take: "But back up the canyon, the flames had cut the Perryville crew in half, trapping most of them in the upper reaches of the canyon. Those cut off were only 15 or 20 seconds behind those who escaped. But halfway to the Control Road a terrifying wave of fire swept across their path."
"They staggered backward from the withering heat, then turned and ran back up the slope, away from the flames. LaTour saw them running up the hillside toward him. 'There was a solid wall of fire behind them. It was roaring and solid black,' he recalled later." (July 28, 2017)
See the Figure 28 + 28a. maps of the individual Crewmember positions and their respective gear indicates some panic and mayhem. The Investigators stated the fact that their gear was individually numbered to correspond with a specific WF made their accountability mapping much easier.
Figure 23a. Topographic map indicating June 26, 1990, hand-drawn fire perimeter and dozer line represented by dashed lines ("- - - -") between 1400 and 1500 hours. Source: AUSA Johns (RiP)
Figure 23b. Topographic map indicating June 26, 1990, hand-drawn ("x x x x") dozer lines, "Corner House with 4 Structure Engines," dozered Safety Zone, where the burnout stopped, and unsure if the dozer fireline ("x x x x") continued to the north. It correctly notes that the line"was not anchored at the top." I recall that some claimed on June 25-26 that it was "tied [anchored] into a water tank" Source: Flathead HS
Have you been wondering: Where was the Perryville Crew Boss during all this? According to the WFLDP Staff Ride Field Guide: "[Perryville] Crew Boss Larry Terra took crewmember Fred Hill left the fireline to get supplies, leaving Assistant Crew Boss Sandra Bachman in charge with the Crew Representative LaTour." This was Bachman's first wildfire. Did LaTour and Bachman know that he was gone? Did he leave Bachman a radio? Did he really take someone else with him? It says he "left the fireline to get supplies." Yes indeed he did, so there's more to this story.
Some excellent advice and lessons learned on protecting your airways. Investigator Dr. Ted Putnam has several photos of individual inmates' fire shirts that clearly indicated significant scorch from the waist up to the collars. So, he said that the FFs' chests acted like a virtual slope funneling hot gases directly into their face and airways. He stressed that if they had laid down on the ground, that they likely would have survived with only burns. Always protect your airways!
When Dr. Putnam allows us the privilege, we will post the photos of those scorched fire shirts.
Fortuitously - some would say providentially - the initial attack TNF Payson RD Model 70 Engine had been working a hoselay along the Walk Moore Canyon two-track road. They had a flat tire on one of the outside duals and decided to wait until they headed out to the Control Road to change it. Similarly, around 1300, there was a PRD Timber employee tasked with delivering water with an ATV to the WFs within Walk Moore Canyon. He made a run, wondered if he had enough ATV fuel for another load, then decided to load his ATV into the back of his pickup truck.
Fortuitously again - some would again say providentially - as the aggressive downhill fire behavior loomed, the Navajo Scouts and Perryville Crew were attempting escape, and the Model 70 Engine and the Timber employee with the ATV loaded pickup provided a means for several of them to get inside and / or crawl atop these vehicles as a means of escape.
They reached the Control Road just ahead of the flames and jumped onto fire trucks already starting to move. (Payson Roundup) I (DF) recall these guys telling me that the powerful radiant and convective HRV-induced heat melted the tail lenses on the Model 70 Engine as it drove out.
Figure 24. Heading back down-canyon to the Ellis fatality area Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 25. Flagged and identified hazards - metal fence posts and wire gabbions to assist in reducing erosion Source: Joy A Collura
Figure 26. Integration Phase at Dude Fire Trailhead on May 23, 2020 at 2:45PM Source: Joy A Collura
The third and final Integration Phase is a formal or informal opportunity for students and faculty to "bring all the parts together" and reflect on the impressions and lessons learned. The second most important key to a successful Staff Ride or Site Visit is that "there must be a complete integration of the preliminary study phase and the field study portion of the course. Without the integration, the preliminary study phase is merely a battle analysis, and the field study portion is simply a historical battlefield tour. While either one is sufficient to derive lessons, the two activities integrated together generate optimal understanding and analytical thought." (emphasis added) Source: Conduct of the Staff Ride. Tactics Division, Amphibious Warfare School - Quantico, VA
At the Ranger Station, after the Dude Fire, I (DF) recall seeing several photographs of the aftermath result of Horizontal Roll Vortices (HRV) fire behavior that was readily apparent in Walk Moore Canyon with branches and limbs wrapped/ frozen in place. And the two to three on Roberts Mesa Rd area in the form of residual long tree islands, referred to as "crown streets" by Haines (1982) from HRV activity. However, the many photographs of HRV I saw at the PRD Office quickly disappeared.
Figure 27. Bass Lake Fire (1977) Pine Barrens State Forest / Park in New Jersey clearly exhibiting Horizontal Roll Vortices fire behavior. All four of the FFs in the photo died. Source: NIFC
Always Remember ( https://www.wlfalwaysremember.org/incident-lists/200-bass-river-2.html ) The objective of Always Remember is to provide a place to research and collect the information, then share it in a user friendly manner to honor the fallen and to foster lessons learned discussion. ( https://www.wlfalwaysremember.org/about-always-remember.html )
Figure 27a. Bass Lake Fire (1977) Pine Barrens State Forest / Park in New Jersey. Black arrows clearly delineate the Horizontal Roll Vortices fire behavior. All four of the FFs in the photo died. Source: Haines, D. (2003) HRV and the New Miner Fire. Fire Mgmt. Today, 63
The caption under the above photo states: "A vortex with a diameter of about 15 feet (4.6 m) on the flank of the fire. Implied airflow is outlined by the curving arrows. Flames are moving out of the main body of the fire at 30- to 50-degree angles and making 'rolls' back into the fire. The ambient wind is blowing from right to left in the photograph." (emphasis added) Photo: Donald Krohn, Nekoosa Paper, Inc. , Port Edwards, WI.
Figure 27b. Black and white photo of the "tree-crown streets" resulting from the escaped RX Burn turned Mack Lake Fire in Michigan (1980 ) Source: Haines - HRV and Crown Fires (1982)
Earlier that morning on June 26th, I (DF) had scouted the fire perimeter on the ridgeline above the Bonita Creek subdivision. It consisted of a very hot, continuous thick chaparral understory fire edge. This later intensified and flared up as the R6 HS Crew escaped "head-fire" burnout operation fire behavior rolled upslope toward the Bonita Creek Subdivision. I believe that this later rolled down into the Bonita Creek subdivision and combined with the several HS Crews' Walk Moore Canyon burnout operation, and was then intensified by fire behavior that funneled through a small saddle Northeast of the Bonita Creek subdivision. I surmise that it flared up and intensified once everything aligned and came together.
The 1345 spot fire across the Control Road diverted everyone's attention and was a distraction. Was it just the same spot fire from the night before June 25th?
"At approximately 1330, it was discovered that Bonita Creek Estates was surrounded by fire and resources could not leave. Two dozers were then directed to build a safety zone within the burn-out which remained very hot from heavy fuels burning. At 1345 a spot fire was reported below the Control Road on the west side. The 1400 Alpine IHC weather observations recorded 87 degrees and 21% RH. At approximately 1410, JP Mattingly, Alpine IHC Superintendent programmed the tactical frequency into LaTour's radio that was being used by the Type I IMT. 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. Prescott was the first crew in Walk Moore to reach the road at approximately 1415, just minutes after Perryville Crew had resupplied with water and returned to work just off the dozer line, the Navajo Scouts lookout noticed the wind shift change to the east and the fire began to crown. The Navajo Scouts began running back down the line toward the Control Road. A member of the Navajo Scouts yelled at Perryville members as they ran past to “Get out!” The Perryville Crew was physically divided into a lower and upper group. ..." (emphasis added)
"The Feds in CHARGE were on the wrong radio frequency which is why we didn't all get out without deployment."
That may be partly true, however, the Navajo Scouts running through their Crew warning them to leave was verbal, no radio required there.
Figure 27c. Safety Zone that was dozer constructed in Walk Moore Canyon / Bonita Creek area with members of the Redmond Hotshots observing torching fire behavior Source: Tom Story. AZ Republic