Point Fire (Idaho) – July 28, 1995
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 the outcome. What are the conditions? What are you thinking? What are YOU doing?
On July 28, 1995, dry thunderstorms move into southwestern Idaho sparking dozens of wildfires. At 1829, a fire is reported about 16 miles southwest of Boise. BLM and Kuna Rural Fire District (RFD) resources are dispatched to the fire. As resources arrive on scene, the fire is 60-65 acres actively burning in mature sagebrush and dense cheatgrass with moderate rates of spread. West winds 4 to 6 mph fan 3-5 foot flame lengths along the flanks. The IC (BLM) instructs the BLM engines to split up and directly attack the flanks with the Kuna engines following behind the BLM engines. Kuna Command instructs the two Kuna engines to stay together and follow the BLM engines to compensate for less experienced firefighters occupying engine 620. By 2010, it is reported that engines on both flanks had met and the spread of the fire had been stopped at 120 acres.
At 2022, a Red Flag warning for dry lightning and locally strong winds is issued by the National Weather Service predicting wind gusts of up to 50 mph from a thunderstorm that was moving toward the fire. Engines along the northern perimeter of the fire are alerted via BLM Dispatch on a BLM radio channel.
Kuna RFD engines 620 and 622 continue to mop-up along the northern flank passing multiple federal fire resources and end up at a fence on the southeast corner of the fire line where they are given instructions to turn around and work back around the perimeter. The Kuna RFD engines work in tandem until Kuna 622 runs out of water. Kuna 620 takes the lead and continues using its remaining water. Using the radio in a nearby BLM engine, Kuna 622 contacts the IC and is instructed to refill and standby due to predicted high winds. Kuna 622 leaves the fireline to refill.
While Kuna 622 is enroute to refill, Kuna 620 contacts them with a report that their vehicle is overheating. They are instructed to clean the radiator screen. Soon after, and for unknown reasons, Kuna 620 turns north on a two track road and then north-northeast driving cross-country through unburned heavy sagebrush. At this point, the vehicle becomes disabled.
At about 2046, the fire escapes the northern perimeter at several locations, fanned by strong south winds from the thunderstorm. Several fire personnel immediately drive north to assess fire behavior. They see that the fire is burning intensely with flame lengths over 20 feet long, and estimate the rate of spread to be about 560 ft./min. They see a stationary engine in the path of the oncoming flame front and make repeated attempts to contact the engine on the BLM tactical channel, but receive no response. They do not know if the engine is occupied.
At 2049, Kuna 620 contacts the Kuna Commander on a local non-federal frequency and reports “we are on the north line, we have fire coming hard, and this thing has died.” The Kuna 620 engine crew makes a radio transmission one minute later “the truck’s been overtaken by fire!” That was their last transmission. Two firefighters lose their lives. It took 4 minutes from the point of escape for the fire to overrun the engine.
L - How do you establish and maintain lookouts during initial attack?
- If terrain is relatively flat, can we be lookouts for other crews nearby? If so, how?
C - The BLM IC could not monitor Kuna Command because the frequency was not programmed into his radio, some Kuna crews could utilize the Boise District frequencies while others could not, Kuna Command did not have radio communications capability at all times with all the units, and Kuna RFD Engines 620 and 622 had communication capabilities with both BLM and Kuna Command, but could not communicate with Kuna Command when they switched to the BLM frequency.
- During initial attack, how do you establish and maintain effective communications with other agencies and cooperators?
- As an IC, how do you ensure Red Flag warnings and other vital information is received by all resources on the fire?
- What will you and your crew do during any fire assignment to get accurate information about weather and current fire behavior?
E and S - Sometimes it is necessary to travel through the unburned fuel while accessing the fire, burning out, or shuttling water.
- What are your concerns?
- How do you maintain your Escape Routes and Safety Zones:
- As you move down the line?
- When enroute to refill?
- How much water do you keep as reserve in the tank?
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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