Nevada Fire Investigation-Findings
Are we doomed to keep repeating mistakes of the past??
RENO, Nev. (AP) - Inadequate briefings, radio problems,
"freelancing" supervisors and confusion over who was in charge
led to 21 firefighters being trapped and two people burned by a
Nevada wildfire, a report said Wednesday.
Firefighters and their supervisors broke a number of rules in
the initial attack on the Waterfall fire that destroyed 17 homes
and burned nearly 8,000 acres near Carson City in July, an
interagency investigation found.
The most serious breach of policy on the narrow canyon road
where a fire engine operator and a television reporter were burned
July 14 was a violation of the first rule of firefighting.
"Safety was not the first priority," according to the accident
investigation team and a board of review convened by the Nevada
Division of Forestry, Carson City Fire Department and U.S. Forest
The danger could have been minimized if fire crews and their
bosses had followed standard procedures before the wind-whipped
blaze raced through a canyon, the report said. Firefighters were
forced to scramble for safety as pine trees exploded into flames
along Kings Canyon Road.
Personnel on the road "were not advised about the buildup of
fire activity south of their location nor the fire front spreading
toward them," the investigation determined.
The danger multiplied because vehicles had been parked
improperly in the road - some facing the wrong direction, others
without keys in the ignition for a fast getaway, as is standard.
The injured firefighter was burned when a crew was trapped as
the blaze leapfrogged its position and destroyed a fire engine.
Reporter John Tyson of KOLO-TV in Reno, who attempted to walk away
from the area, suffered minor burns on his hands and face.
Though neither was seriously injured, an investigation is
required in any burnover.
Among the key findings in the report issued Wednesday:
- Fire briefings were inconsistent and in some cases incomplete
- Communication was not maintained with supervisors and
- Radio frequencies were overloaded
- Several firefighters assigned didn't know who the incident
- Firefighters were at the site without full protective gear
during the burnover
- Unassigned firefighters and administrators, news reporters and
civilians were on Kings Canyon Road without approval and/or escorts
- Firefighters and supervisors recognized safety hazards with
congestion on the road, yet took no effective action
The report notes that the evacuation of hundreds of residents
went smoothly and no residents were harmed in the fire that burned
on the edge of Carson City and destroyed more homes than any Nevada
wildfire in two decades.
The fire, which burned for a week, was started by an illegal
Among other things, the review board recommended federal, state
and local fire agencies in Nevada and California reach an
"immediate short-term agreement for a single incident commander"
in responding to such fires.
"Some unassigned `freelancing' fire management supervisors
entered the fire and started giving tactical direction and
assignments to resources without the knowledge or approval of
operations overhead," the investigative team's report said.
"These actions created confusion among firefighters about who
was in charge. ... (and) may have contributed to untimely delays
The board also called for a review of all firefighters involved
to determine their training and qualifications and to consider
decertification of any who responded to the fire without required
The board report urged the Sierra Front Interagency Fire
agencies to review past problems with burnovers under their
jurisdiction, including three incidents in recent years.
State and federal officials said they would move quickly to
adopt the recommendations.
"The Forest Service is committed to working with our wildland
fire partners to make changes in the way we fight wildfires,
improve safety and prevent accidents," said Bob Vaught, supervisor
of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest,
Peter Anderson, Nevada's state forester and fire warden, praised
the review process.
"Obviously, we are going to have more fires and we need to be
prepared," he said. "I just thank God nobody else was hurt and
the few injuries we had were very minor.
"It's very difficult to fight fire in a subdivision," he said.
He agreed officials should have done a better job of restricting
access to the road.
"I wouldn't single out the media. We had landowners on their
riding lawnmowers, all sorts of different folks."
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)