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SAFENET

Wildland Fire Safety & Health Reporting Network

SAFENET Event Information
Create Agency Corrective Action

SAFENET ID:
20170420-0002
Event Start Date:
04/16/2017 0930
Event Stop Date:
04/16/2017 2000 
Incident Name:
Goshen Pass
Fire Number:
 
State:
Virginia
Jurisdiction:
State
Local Unit:
Incident Type:
Wildland
Incident Activity:
Line
Stage of Incident:
Extended Attack
Position Title:
CRWB 
Task:
Line Construction 
Management Level:
3
Resources Involved:
Crew, TFLD, DIVS 
Contributing Factors
Contributing Factors:
Human Factors
Human Factors:
Decision Making, Leadership, Risk Assessment, Situational Awareness  
Other Factors:
 
Narrative
Describe in detail what happened including the concern or potential issue, the environment (weather, terrain, fire behavior, etc), and the resulting health issue.
On our 3rd shift on the Goshen Pass fire, a crew module that consisted of a leader, 1 type-6 engine, and 5 crew members received an assignment from the Delta DIVS to construct a handline in a drainage to contain the escape from the failed ignition operation.

The assignment included constructing a handline downhill in a steep drainage with active fire below. Hazard mitigation was proposed by the DIVS by utilizing 3 lookouts (which took needed manpower away from line construction) and a safety zone under an electric transmission line on the top of the ridge as an anchor point. I immediately had several reservations with acceptance of this assignment. When I demanded that I take the opportunity to examine the fuels & other factors in the proposed handline area, I was told no by the DIVS, that “it’s already been looked at.”

Shortly after arrival at the top along the transmission line, at the proposed drop-off into the drainage for the handline, I decided to refuse the assignment for the multiple Watch-Outs in play, other hazards, and overall risk involved.
My time/distance estimate for escape route upslope to the safety zone indicated that the crew would have little chance to make it in the event of a fire run uphill towards our position. Additionally, it was determined by myself that escape downhill to a safety zone in the big meadow or clean black was not feasible due to the tangled mess of shrub fuels slowing forward progress of escape.

Watch Outs in effect for this assignment included:

3. Safety Zones and Escape Routes not identified

While a safety zone under the electric transmission line (de-energized) was proposed on top by the DIVS another safety zone downslope of the cutline was never talked about.

9. Building fireline downhill with fire below

The Mann Gulch tragedy was mentioned numerous times by the DIVS during discussion of the proposed handline. This led me to believe that the DIVS was aware of the hazards of the proposal. One suggestion by the DIVS to mitigate the hazards of the assignment was to employ 3 lookouts instead of 1. I was asked to provide a 3rd lookout and told the DIVS that it would be myself. After surveying the drainage from the top at the proposed drop-in point, I refused the assignment through discussing my concerns face-to-face with the TFLD. I then took position at the best lookout location for the entire drainage. While gathering weather data and an initial report of fire conditions in the drainage, I witnessed a backing fire to the south parallel with the slope with occasional single tree/group tree torching, uphill runs, and spotting. This observation was made at approximately 1045 hrs. The current fire behavior and weather was communicated to all division resources throughout the shift.

11. Unburned fuel between you and fire

Approximately 25% of the drainage on the south of Piney branch was actively burning with threats to crossing the branch at the bottom by 1100 hrs. 75% of the southern slope (where containment was the goal) had not yet burned. None of the northern side of the drainage had burned and I noted the east aspect of this side having a higher potential for ignition.

14. Weather becoming hotter and drier

The proposed handline construction in the drainage from the top was to take place into the peak of the burn cycle.

17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult

If forces were committed to the assignment in the drainage from the top, I estimated there would be insufficient time for escape back to the top based on slope.

The assignment’s similarity to previous tragedy wildland fires was obvious. Due to the level of risk involved and a multitude of violations to the basics of wildland fire safety rules, I had no choice but to refuse the assignment.
Immediate Action Taken
Reporting Individual : please describe actions you took to correct or mitigate the unsafe/unhealthful event.
I made my concerns known to the TFLD and he agreed it was too risky. The TFLD talked to the DIVS Delta to inform him of multiple people expressing concern to the assignment. It was suggested and approved that 2 dozers would anchor off the fireline along the ROW and proceed into the drainage as far as possible while dozers would do the same from below. The DIVS did not object to this plan.

I continued to monitor the fire behavior from the lookout position and provide hourly weather reports. Helicopter work continued most of the day in the lower section of the drainage. The fire threatened to cross the drainage to the opposite slope at the lower end multiple times during the day. At approximately 1430 hrs the fire did cross the creek and was held in check by 2 dozers with 1 light helicopter in support.

Again I made my concerns known to the command staff including the safety officer after the shift. The morning of the next shift Delta DIVS asked our crews to construct line downhill from the top to connect the 2 dozer lines. Despite the occurrence of some light rainfall and very low fire behavior, I suggested to construct the line from below instead. He agreed with the plan and a successful handline was installed in approximately 7 hours to connect the upper & lower dozer lines in the drainage.

It was re-iterated to employ people in the DIVS position with requisite skills and experience to meet objectives without putting crews in harms’ way unnecessarily.


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