National Wildfire Coordinating Group

RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)

Romero Fire

RT-130 Decorative banner. Group of photos depicting wildland firefighters performing various duties.

The Romero Fire started on October 6, 1971 on the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County, southern California. During an extended shift on October 7, a team of dozers constructed indirect line in preparation for firing operations. During the transition to night shift, sundowner winds fanned the flame front into a firestorm that overtook six firefighters. Two sustained critical burn injuries. Four firefighters perished.
Category: Case Studies
Core Component(s): Current Issues;
Fire and Aviation Operational Safety;
Human Factors, Communication and Decision Making

Estimated Delivery Time: 45:00; Video Length: 10:28



Review the sequence of events that led to the Romero Fire tragedy, and discuss significant lessons learned.

Facilitator Preparation

  • Review the video, module tools, and additional resources linked below.
  • Consider additional activities, and discussion questions, pertinent to your location and agency.
  • Guide discussion based on the Risk Management Process in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461. Provide copies of the IRPG for students to utilize and answer questions.

Facilitating the Discussion

  • Show the video.
  • Facilitate a discussion using the discussion questions below.
  • Optional: Conduct additional activities pertinent to your location.
  • Discuss group responses.

Discussion Questions - Part 1

Identify Hazards (Situation Awareness)

  1. When did the involved personnel obtain the basic critical information?
    1. Objectives, communication, who’s in charge, previous fire behavior, weather forecast, and local factors.
  2. Was the assignment scouted?

Assess Hazards

  1. Were potential fire behavior hazards estimated?
  2. Which tactical hazards or Watch Out Situations were present?
  3. What other warnings or indicators were present prior to the entrapment?

Develop Controls and Make Risk Decisions

  1. Where was the fireline anchor point?
  2. Was there an established lookout?
  3. What communication links were in place between the involved personnel, their fireline supervisor, or adjoining forces?
  4. What was the pre-identified escape route(s)?
  5. What was the pre-identified safety zone(s)?
  6. Was a medical plan in place?

Implement Controls

  1. Were the necessary hazard controls in place for this situation? If not, what was lacking?
  2. Were the strategies and tactics based on expected fire behavior? If not, why?
  3. Did all involved resources have an opportunity to provide feedback during the decision-making process? If not, why?

Supervise and Evaluate

  1. What individual or human factors existed that increased the potential for decision errors?
  2. What organizational factors existed that increased the potential for decision errors?
  3. As the fire and situation evolved, did the strategy and tactics continue to work? Did the hazard controls evolve as the fire and situation evolved?

Discussion Questions - Part 2

  • Consider the causal factors identified in Part 1, then summarize the significant lessons to be learned from this case study.


Additional Video Information

This video is also available as a download.  (Size 1.2 GB)
Download the .srt file for closed captioning (you may need to right click and Save As). For information on how to add closed captioning to a video, see this how to page.

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