2022 WOR Day 3: Gibson Creek Fire (Washington) – July 27, 1977
Perspective from the Redmond Interagency Hotshot Crew
Today’s topic is dedicated to the fallen firefighters on the Fish Lake-Gibson Creek and Thirtymile Fires.
In July of 1977 on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in North Central Washington, long-range spot fires were occurring around the Fish Lake Fire. Ron Neely, District Assistant Fire Management Officer, and a crew of seven firefighters relocated their efforts from Fish Lake to size up a new spot fire. This fire would later be called the Gibson Creek Fire.
- 1445: Neely sizes up the fire at 1 acre; 3 minutes later, it’s 5 acres. The fire was crowning and moving fast up the canyon.
- 1540: Garbled distress messages are heard on the radio and a helicopter is used to try to find Neely.
- 1545: Air attack reports fire at 200 acres.
- 1557: The time on Neely’s watch when he was found, marking the time he perished in the burnover.
Twenty-four years later in July of 2001, again on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Thirtymile Fire was detected near the location of the Gibson Creek Fire. In a steep canyon 30 miles north of Winthrop, Washington, a cooking fire escaped and began burning in hot dry conditions. Spot fires formed and fourteen crewmembers and two civilians were involved in an entrapment. Fourteen shelters were deployed, and four firefighters lost their lives.
After the fatality at Gibson Creek, one of the recommendations made by the investigation team was “The region (R6) develop two Redding type crews to provide experience opportunity for our upcoming fire professionals.” The Redmond Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) was chosen to meet this critical need. Since 1980, the Redmond IHC has been providing a learning platform for firefighters from various state, federal, and international partners.
Staff rides provide valuable learning opportunities to firefighters. The intent of the program to is to enhance leadership and team building skills within the dynamic and challenging wildland fire environment. The Thirtymile Mile Staff Ride has been one of them. With the proximity of Thirtymile to Gibson Creek, Redmond crew leadership have incorporated the two events into one trip. During these visits, the crew has been involved in maintaining the Fish Lake-Gibson Creek trails and preserving the integrity of the site as a place of learning.
It is hard to quantify the value of these trips. Each person takes away something different from the experience. As firefighters, we engage in these staff rides in a tactical manner, learning from decisions made and the environmental conditions that contribute to fire behavior. The unspoken lesson is that we will not forget our history. Returning to these sites demonstrates that lesson in a tangible manner. We honor the memory of our fallen brothers and sisters by maintaining and propagating this learning culture.
Ron Neely, Tom Craven, Karen FitzPatrick, Jessica Johnson, and Devin Weaver
– Staff ride participant
- 6 Minutes for Safety: Thirtymile Fire (Washington) – July 10, 2001
- Gibson Creek Staff Ride and Additional Information
- Thirtymile Fire Resources at the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center
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