National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Stanza Fire Engine Rollover (California) – July 28, 2002


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?

Incident Summary:

On July 22, 2002, a lightning strike started a fire in Stanza Creek on the Klamath National Forest. The area is steep, rugged, and has limited access. Slopes range from 40 to 90%, with rock outcroppings and talus slopes. Roads are narrow and winding, often with precipitous drop-offs. The lack of access precluded the efficient use of heavy equipment such as bulldozers.

At 2146 on July 25, an engine (E-11) from Lassen National Forest was ordered as a part of a strike team assigned to the Stanza Incident. The engine module was composed of an Acting Captain (experienced, qualified Engine Operator), Senior Firefighter (Acting Engineer trainee), and three firefighters. The Acting Captain and Acting Engineer were the only licensed drivers on the module.

E-11 is a Type 3 engine with a manual transmission. For operation of this type and size of engine, a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) was required. The Acting Engineer had recently received a Class B learner’s permit. This allowed the trainee to get driving experience while accompanied by a fully licensed driver with the same type of CDL. The license was restricted to automatic transmissions only. To get experience, the Acting Captain has the Acting Engineer do most of the driving.

July 26, 0830 The module departed from their home base, tie in with the strike team, and arrived at the Stanza ICP around 1600. Indirect strategies had been effective in securing line along existing roads. Safety concerns included steep, inaccessible terrain, rolling rocks and debris, burning snags, and narrow roads.

Night shift, July 26-27, 1800 The strike team was assigned to support a burnout operation along a road and, after a briefing, departed for the fireline. The road, normally 14 feet wide, has since been narrowed to 10 to 12 feet wide by falling debris from the fire above the road. The road is a winding, dead-end road, 0.7 miles long with a native soil surface. There is a steep drop off on one side. The Acting Captain informed the Division Supervisor (DIVS) that he has a fairly inexperienced driver and it is agreed that the engines will only be used when needed and that, due to the narrowness of the road, they will drive the length and turn around at the end.


July 27, 0630 – E-11 was released from the fireline and off duty at fire camp at 0900. They had been on duty for 24 hours.

Night shift, July 27-28, 1730 E-11 was assigned to patrol the same location.

0120 A water tender drove the narrow section of road that E-11 had been patrolling and reports that his rear tire was directly at the outside edge of the road as he moved over to drive around firefighters on the inside of the road.

0200 – E-11 made another pass on the road. E-11 approached the firefighters on the side of the road, and like the water tender, moved over. (The firefighters would later report that the engine seemed unusually close to the outside edge of the road). The rear tires slid off the side of the road and E-11 plunged 1,059 feet down the steep hillside, killing three firefighters and injuring the other two.


Discussion Points:

We all function in the capacity of trainee many times in our careers. On-the-job training is a necessary and valuable part of our learning.

  • What can you do to help ensure that your trainee opportunities are challenging and successful?

Many fireline situations are challenging and in an unforgiving environment.

  • As a supervisor what can you do to set your trainees up for success?

Of the dual tires that slipped off the road first, the inside tire had significantly less tread than the other tires (less than the acceptable standard). There was an entry in the vehicle logbook that the left inner dual needed replacing.

  • For your crew, what is the protocol to follow for documenting and correcting a deficiency in your crew vehicles?

The length of duty time for drivers for July 26-27 exceeded the standard driving duty limitation of 16 hours with 10 hours driving. Both drivers of E-11 exceeded the driving limitation by 8-9 hours.

  • If you or your crew are being asked to exceed your duty limitation, what do you do?

At the rollover site, the road is only 27 inches wider than E-11.

  • When you and your crew are faced with a situation that has a very narrow margin for error, what are some of your options?


This Day in History
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

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