Dude Fire - June 26

This Day in History
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Jun 2020


This Day in History is a brief summary of a powerful learning opportunity and is not intended to second guess or be judgmental of decisions and actions. Put yourself in the following situation as if you do not know what the outcome will be. What are the conditions? What are you thinking? What are YOU doing?

Incident Summary:

June of 1990 will long be remembered as one of the hottest months in Arizona history. On June 26th the temperature rose to record temperatures of 122º F in Phoenix and to 106º F in Payson. In addition to the extreme temperatures, Arizona had been in a severe 3-year drought, the combination producing a critically high fire danger throughout the state, especially the Mogollon Rim country and the Tonto National Forest north of Payson. Fuels in the area are primarily ponderosa pine with an understory of mixed oak, manzanita, needle and leaf litter, and scattered large (greater than 6-inch diameter) dead logs. Much of the understory brush is heavily draped with very dry pine needles. Live fuel moisture of the manzanita and oak is very low (76%), fine dead fuel moisture is 3% and 8% for larger dead fuels.       

At 1230 June 25th, a dry lightning storm starts a fire under the Mogollon Rim on the Payson Ranger District, Tonto NF Arizona. The fire is on a steep SW facing slope at 6400 ft. elevation. At 1330, the fire is estimated from the air at 5 acres, 50 acres one hour later, and over 100 acres by 1615 with a spot fire one mile east of the main fire. By 1800 a Type II IMT has arrived and a Type I IMT and 18 crews had been ordered. The fire is being pushed by brisk down canyon winds and is 1900 acres by 0500 on June 26th and is threatening the forest subdivision of Bonita Creek Estates. A convection column, aided by combustion, begins forming over the fire by 1000. The column continues to grow and becomes a fully mature thunderstorm by 1400. Radio and frequency issues are causing a breakdown in communication between the crews and the overhead team. The teams are transitioning mid-shift resulting in confusion between the crews and supervision.  The thunderstorm begins to decay creating strong downbursts channeled by the topography, causing dramatic down and across slope fire spread on nearly all sides of the fire. Members of the Perryville Fire Crew will not be able to escape from the fast and erratic fire spread.    Five are injured.   Six will die on the fireline.

Discussion Points:

The fire behavior indicator system “Look Up, Look Down, Look Around” was developed in response to this tragic fire.

  • Using Look Up, Down and Around (Operational Engagement section, green) in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461, what indicators are most significant in your area to let you know the fire behavior may become problematic?

The Haines Index, a measure of the atmosphere's effect on a fire’s growth potential, was adopted for inclusion on Fire Weather forecasts issued by the National Weather Service.

  • Review and discuss the Haines Index information (Other References section, white) in the IRPG

Monument memorial wooden sign describing the Dude Fire incident.In his paper “LCES and Other Thoughts”, Paul Gleason writes about kneeling next to one of the Perryville firefighters and of his promise to help end needless fatalities and near misses.

  • Review LCES in the IRPG (Operational Engagement section, green) and discuss how you and your crew establish and maintain LCES.
  • Discuss the difference between establishing LCES and maintaining LCES.
  • What are common barriers to maintaining LCES?

We honor these firefighters today by learning about the lessons they learned the hard way and by using this tragic event as a tool to keep ourselves and our crews safe on the fireline.



Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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