This is an excerpt from the Rice Ridge Fire Hahn Cabin Entrapment FLA.
Two New Firefighters Take Over Point Protection Operations
On September 11, this crew swap occurs via helicopter and the new pair of firefighters take over protection of the Hahn Cabin. These two firefighters, one Single Resource Boss (SRB) and one Firefighter Type 2 (FFT2), transitioned with the other two firefighters who had been at Hahn Cabin the previous 13 days to continue Point Protection operations.
Prior to this insertion, both incoming firefighters had a satellite phone call with the outgoing firefighters. During the call, a brief operations update and a discussion of supply needs occurred.
Although the incoming firefighters flew to the cabin and attempted an aerial reconnaissance of the cabin and adjacent area, visibility was poor, adding to the less-than-ideal flight conditions due to smoke and wind (Red Flag conditions).
Because these conditions precluded the helicopter from shutting down, cargo and backhaul was swapped out quickly while the incoming and outgoing firefighters engaged in a short face-to-face briefing.
Identifying Escape Routes and Safety Zones
Upon arrival at the cabin, the two incoming firefighters’ first task was to scout out Escape Routes and Safety Zones. They located two Safety Zones. One Safety Zone was in the black, with minimal snags, about a 25-minute walk west of the cabin but required an escape route through unburned vegetation. The second Safety Zone was a gravel bar situated to the north along Youngs Creek, located approximately 0.5 miles (a 7-minute walk) from the cabin.
The SRB believed that the fire would impact the cabin site during the course of the next few days and therefore wanted to ensure Safety Zones and Escape Routes were identified. Once their Escape Routes and Safety Zones were established, the two firefighters set to work replacing parts, repairing the water handling system, and test-firing the pumps.
In conjunction with ensuring the function of the water handling system, the two also scouted to the south, trying to establish a vantage point from which they could observe fire activity.
They spent the rest of their first day monitoring fire activity and working on projects at the cabin, in which they stayed overnight.
Fire Activity Increases
The next day, September 12, the firefighters moved between the cabin and the gravel bar, monitoring the progress of the fire. This day was another Red Flag Day and fire activity was increasing as the morning turned into afternoon. (While the previous day had also been a Red Flag Day, the fire that day hadn’t made significant expansion.)
With the increase in fire behavior it became difficult for the personnel on Jumbo Mountain Lookout to serve as their lookout. In fact, given the direction of fire spread, the firefighters at the cabin were alternatively moving throughout the day between the cabin and the gravel bar to get eyes on Jumbo Mountain Lookout as well as the fire activity.
At this same time, from their location on the gravel bar, the two firefighters observed that the fire had spread closer to the southern Hahn Cabin area. They then headed back to the cabin to start the pumps and fire out around the cabin.
It was approximately 1800 when the firefighters at Hahn Cabin reported they would be starting pumps, firing and moving to the gravel bar. Once at the cabin, the FFT2 secured the cabin, set out the SRB’s overnight gear, grabbed FFT2’s own overnight gear and hurriedly headed for the gravel bar.
The SRB remained at the cabin to start the pumps, firing a few tactical fire strips north of the cabin. After that, the SRB snatched his overnight gear and started down the path for the gravel bar.
While exiting the area, the SRB noticed the fire was burning about 20 yards to the west into the timber.
The SRB was moving at a fast pace toward the gravel bar, noting that the main fire was paralleling him and there was group torching to the west. This observation caused the SRB to contemplate dropping his gear to expedite his retreat. However, he opted to just continue to the gravel bar without disposing of his drip torch and overnight gear.
Fire Progresses Around Gravel Bar – Enveloping Firefighters in Smoke and Ember Wash
The SRB arrived at the gravel bar approximately ten minutes behind the FFT2 after starting the pump and completing firing operations. The SRB noticed that the FFT2 had their fire shelter out of their pack, still in the plastic container, holding it in their arms. The SRB and the FFT2 settled in at the gravel bar and made a satellite call back to the local unit to let them know that they had completed their work and had retreated to the gravel bar.
The two firefighters planned to spend the night on the gravel bar and had their overnight gear to do so.
Over the next 3-4 hours the fire would progress around the gravel bar. The fire burned in pulses. Each pulse of fire growth enveloped the firefighters in more smoke and more ember wash.
Decision Made to Deploy Fire Shelter
At approximately 2000 hours, during the second pulse of smoke and embers, the pair made the decision to deploy FFT2’s fire shelter. Both firefighters then climbed into this single shelter to provide protection from the smoke and embers that were encompassing them.
For the most part, the two stayed inside the deployed shelter until 2130. Occasionally the SRB lifted the edge of the shelter to survey the fire behavior. By this time, the fire activity near the gravel bar and cabin had subsided. However, the pair felt the safest option was not to return to the cabin due to snag hazards and areas of unburned fuel between the gravel bar and the cabin.
At 2230, the firefighters pulled out their overnight gear and spent the night on the gravel bar.
Why do we carry Fire Shelters?
(tell us in the comments)
Please read the full report here: Rice Ridge Fire Hahn Cabin Entrapment FLA.