Part 2b - 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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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
Consider now the Figure 28 + 28a. maps below 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 28. June 26, 1990 Dude Fire Walk Moore Canyon map of Perryville Crewmember "Deployment Positions" - including Hatch - from Control Road to Deployment / Fatality Site. Source: Investigation records, notes
Figure 28a. June 26, 1990 Dude Fire Walk Moore Canyon map of Perryville "Equipment Locations" - including Hatch - from Control Road to Deployment / Fatality Site. Source: Investigation records, notes
On a former Dude Fire Staff Ride, along the 1990 dozer line about halfway between the Western edge of the Bonita Creek subdivision and Walk Moore Canyon, one of the Plumas HS sawyers specifically recalled seeing the separate smoke column from the Fuller Creek area. This was where the R6 HS Crew burnout escaped and ran toward the Bonita Creek area. They eventually merged.
On the afternoon of June 26th about 1400 ?? or so, our DIVS directed us to pull out to the Control Road. While hiking out to the Control Road on the Fuller Creek two-track, I (DF) recall hearing over the radio on the TAC channel that the HS Crews' burnout had been lost. We then heard Zig Zag HS Supt. Gleason calling out over the radio on TAC about a burned WF. He then broadcast over the TAC channel a progression of various Perryville Crew fatalities and burn victims, totaling six.
While standing on the Fuller Creek Road and Control Road, (Figure 7a.) we observed an AZ Dept. of Corrections (DOC) vehicle driving back and forth as he could not get through to the East. The fire powerfully crossed the Control Road. As we left the two R6 HS Crews we had been working with, myself, and a Payson HS stopped this vehicle and asked the driver what was happening. The man inside, dressed in a yellow jump suit said with - "I should have never left my Crew." I (DF) noticed sodas and cigarettes on the seat next to him. I asked who his Crew was and he said "Perryville" and I told him that they were in a bad way. Once again, he said "I should have never left my Crew."
I (DF) inferred that this AZ State DOC Crew Boss had left his Crew to go to the nearby market at Mesa Del. Terra left Bachman with the responsibility of supervising the Crew even though the Dude Fire was her first wildfire assignment. Furthermore, several years later at a Payson, AZ Rim Country Museum and Zane Grey Cabin at Green Valley Park event I asked the visiting AZ Forestry and DOC personnel about Terra and they said he quit right after the Dude Fire. However, I have not verified that.
And what about the alleged Perryville inmate that supposedly was with Crew Boss Terra going for water? Many years later, the Globe HS Supt stated he had 'a son of the Perryville inmate' that supposedly was with Crew Boss Terra going for water. The son said his Father told him they had gotten 'some pot from some of the other Crews, and they were off by themselves smoking dope, and that's why they were separated from the rest of the Crew.' Look at the names and numbers of the Perryville Crew individuals and the map on Figure 28.
The day after the fatalities, at the Collins Ranch along the Roberts Mesa Road, the Payson HS and several helicopters were saving multiple structures by themselves because Crew Boss, who basically abandoned the Crew, was freaked about the deaths from the day before.
One of the tragic untold stories is about the Vietnam Veteran seasonal employee hired to be the Diamond Point Lookout, He was a Vietnam veteran apparently suffering from PTS, and the June 26th helicopters and air tankers, and the Perryville Inmate Crew deaths was the "trigger" reminded him of his likely stressful, painful Vietnam experiences. And so, he wigged out and quit. Unfortunately but not entirely a surprise, the USFS just abandoned him and left him adrift to deal with a work-related incident.
And to what levels with those that want to conceal the truth on these wildland fire fatalities?
Shortly after the Dude Fire fatalities had occurred and a Fatality Investigation Team was ordered, according to the TNF Dispatcher at the time - prior to the Investigation - both Fire Bosses took the fire package records to the TNF Supervisors Office in Phoenix and shredded fire package records. The Dispatcher and / or Center Manager told them that 'the Investigators would need those documents and records for their investigation,' According to the Dispatcher, the Fire Bosses allegedly told him: 'if you don't like it you can just leave.'
I (DF) was later tasked with the Dude Fire Staff Ride by USFS Staff Ride Coordinator Bequi Livingston to put one together. However, all the photos, documents, and records, mostly of fire behavior and the HRV after-effects of fire behavior in Walk Moore Canyon that I was familiar with were now gone. Bequi Livingston scheduled a Regional or National "Staff Ride Development Workshop" in Payson with product to be the Dude Fire Staff Ride. We had a copy of the investigative report provided by an anonymous source.
Figure 29. Snippet of Control Road (FR 64) and Mesa Del Road (FR 199) and Verde Glen Road (FR 199) junction between the "E" and "R" of River ( which historically extended north into a couple small subdivisions and still retains the FR 199 number). This is where the ADOT and Gila County dozers were staged all afternoon on June 30th, at the behest of the DFMO - Dude Fire Operations Advisor, according to the operators Source: USFS Tonto NF map
Please recall that on the night and early morning of June 25-26, I (DF) asked the DIVS several times to check on the dozers he had earlier ordered. The response to our DIVS all night was "they've been ordered." About 2100 on June 26th at the Control Rd and junction (mail boxes) were two large Gila County and ADOT dozers on flatbeds. I asked how long they had been there and they said 'All day, some guy named Velatto told us to stage here.' How about Velasco? 'Yea, that was him.' Days later, I asked Velasco why. His response was 'I thought that maybe the Class One Team might have other plans for them."
I told him 'No, you fight the going fire, we asked for them all night. We could have used them in Bonita Creek.'
And also recall that he said that he wouldn't change a thing in an anniversary local newspaper article. Consider now some June 21, 1991, local newspaper articles remembering the Dude Fire.
Figures 30a. + b. Dude Fire news articles with Velasco comments Source: Payson Roundup