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 moved into southwestern Idaho and sparked dozens of wildfires. At 1829, a fire was reported about 16 miles southwest of Boise. BLM and Kuna Rural Fire District (RFD) resources were dispatched to the fire. As they arrived on scene, the fire was 60 to 65 acres, actively burning in mature sagebrush and dense cheatgrass with moderate rates of spread. West winds 4 to 6 mph fanned 3- to 5-foot flame lengths along the flanks. The IC (BLM) instructed the BLM engines to split up and directly attack the flanks with Kuna engines 620 and 622 following behind them. Kuna Command instructed 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, the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag warning for dry lightning and locally strong winds, predicting gusts of up to 50 mph from a thunderstorm moving toward the fire. Engines along the northern perimeter of the fire are alerted via BLM Dispatch on a BLM radio channel.
Kuna engines 620 and 622 continued to mop-up along the northern flank, passing multiple federal fire resources and ending at a fence on the southeast corner of the fireline where they were given instructions to turn around and work back around the perimeter. The two worked in tandem until Kuna 622 ran out of water. Kuna 620 took the lead and continued using its remaining water. Using the radio in a nearby BLM engine, Kuna 622 contacted the IC who instructed them refill and standby due to the predicted high winds.
While Kuna 622 was en route to refill, Kuna 620 contacted them with a report that their vehicle was overheating. They are instructed to clean the radiator screen. Soon after, and for unknown reasons, Kuna 620 turned north on a two-track road then north-northeast, driving cross-country through unburned heavy sagebrush. At this point, Kuna 620 became disabled.
At about 2046, the fire escaped the northern perimeter at several locations, fanned by strong south winds from the thunderstorm. Several fire personnel immediately drove north to assess fire behavior. They saw that the fire was burning intensely with flame lengths over 20 feet and an estimated rate of spread of 560 feet/minute. They see a stationary engine in the path of the oncoming flame front and made repeated attempts to contact the engine on the BLM tactical channel but received no response. They did not know whether the engine was occupied.
At 2049, Kuna 620 contacts the Kuna Commander on a local non-federal frequency and reported, “We are on the north line. We have fire coming hard, and this thing has died.” The Kuna 620 engine crew made another a radio transmission one minute later, “The truck’s been overtaken by fire!” That was their last transmission. Two firefighters lost their lives. It took 4 minutes from the point of escape for the fire to overrun the disabled 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 BLM frequencies while others could not. Kuna Command did not always have capability for radio communications with all units. And Kuna RFD Engines 620 and 622 had communication capabilities with both BLM and Kuna Command but could not communicate with Kuna Command once 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 fire resources?
- 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 Escape Routes and Safety Zones:
- As you move down the fireline?
- When en route to refill?
- How much water do you keep as reserve in the tank?
Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
10 Standard Firefighting Orders, PMS 110
18 Watch Out Situations, PMS 118
10 & 18 Poster, PMS 110-18
NWCG Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center