| NDF Helitack responded to an initial attack outside of our normal response area. After fueling at the local airport, our helitack module with four firefighters was dropped off at the dipsites for the helicopters to the north of a ranch with an unknown mission. We saw a nearby vehicle and moved to it which turned out to be a Cal Fire corrections officer. We got some intel from the officer saying everyone was to the southeast doing structure protection; he said he would give us a ride over. I made multiple attempts on multiple channels to raise any division to get a face-to-face brief and assignment. I could not raise any division on tactical channels. The incident command structure seemed very overwhelmed (more than usual) on this particular initial attack. |
We accepted the ride over with corrections officer and met with Division Sierra, an unknown BC, and a patrol unit. We did not receive an adequate briefing and helitack was immediately assigned to a burn operation as igniters which wanted to start fire at the toe of slope off of the road and take fire at base of hill off a road that followed the meadows edge with the burn out pulling uphill into the main fire. I had hesitation and a bad “gut feeling” about the burn operation at this time but did not voice my concerns to overhead, only to the crew. My concerns were there little to no holding resources available for the burn and a very ambiguous ending point of burnout. There was also very little time between gearing up at the truck, getting fusees ready and moving into position to start the burn. I decided to go along with the burn despite an uneasy feeling but I remained at the road as lookout due to my hesitation. I also sent the most experienced helitack as lead burner behind the patrol personnel to keep newer firefighters close to me in case something went wrong. An engine arrived just before we started lighting as a holding resource. We were lighting for approximately 3-4 minutes and lead igniter (patrol personnel) with 1 helitack behind him progressed very quickly and lit about 100 yards. Before it could be recognized that there was too great of gap between the first and last lighter, the wind shifted and sent fire back at us. The three of us closest to the road were able to retreat back down the road we came in on to the bridge and back to Owens River Road. The two igniters (1 helitack and 1 patrol) were cut off by the fire and escaped in the engine which took heavy flame on its right side. As the three of us were moving back to the main road, I was trying to get a hold of the other helitack not knowing they escaped in an engine. After a few radio calls I heard from him and had accountability for all my people.
We all understood that this was a near miss event and the crew seemed noticeably shaken up over it especially the 1 cut off firefighter. This event led to the crew being less engaged the rest of the assignment and uneasy about our overall safety.