This was another beautiful sunny, warm and breezy day in the Prescott area. The fire danger rating was at the top of the scale and registered as "EXTREME." All of the area's emergency service agencies were poised and ready for "The Big One." Today would be THE day.
Photo By Robert Winston
It was about 14:30 hours and Duane Steinbrink, Prescott Fire's Fuels Management Officer and I were attending to our duties at Prescott Fire Department (PFD) Station 72/PFD Headquarters when we heard an unusual message coming over the fire frequency radio. PFD Captain Tim Sheehan, in Engine 72, was reporting a column of smoke south of Prescott Center. At about the same time, USFS Engine 3-0 Captain Todd Rhines, located at PFD Station 71, was also reporting a column of smoke to his dispatcher at the USFS Fire Center. The 911 calls began to flood the communications office and both PFD and USFS fire crews were now enroute to what would become known as "The Indian Fire." The name of the fire came from the point of origin that was in the Indian Creek area of Prescott.
Duane and I stepped outside of Station 72 and observed a light column of smoke about 3 miles away. We started for it. Within 30 minutes the column had changed dramatically to a heavy dark colored plume as the Indian Fire grew to over 100 acres and began to crown out in the Ponderosa pines of the Prescott National Forest (PNF).
The Fire-Fight Begins:
Fire apparatus from the PFD, Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) and the USFS responded for an initial attack strategy. USFS Captain Todd Rhines arrived and took command as the IC. He gave his initial size up report and ordered additional resources to the incident. Tony Sciacca, Division Chief and west sector District Ranger of the PNF, Darrell Willis, PFD Fire Chief, Paul Laipple, PFD Deputy Fire Chief and Brad Malm, the on-duty PFD Battalion-1 Chief, CYFD Fire Chief David Curtis and his Fire marshal Charlie Cook and their BC-3 were all enroute.
Photo By Robert Winston
Air tankers, helitack and the Prescott Interagency Hotshot crews were ordered to the incident. The fire, being pushed by strong winds and fueled by tinder dry forest fuels, spread with extreme speed towards highway 89. The Ponderosa Pines subdivision was directly threatened and many of its residents, who were in town or at work, began to drive into the fire area, some in a state of near panic. Traffic control and evacuation were becoming a safety challenge.
As the local and federal fire commanders arrived on scene, the incident was transitioned from USFS Captain Rhines to USFS Division Chief Sciacca. Additional resources, fire commanders and support personnel from area fire and emergency agencies began to arrive at the hastily established Incident Command Post (ICP) at the Indian Creek Campgrounds. Reconnaissance missions and on-going size ups were made. According to a long-standing pre-plan of attack, critical sector/division assignments were rapidly established. A structure protection group was initiated. Evacuation plans were assigned and implemented. Planning was incredibly well orchestrated with no confusion at a time of intense fire activity when lives and homes were severely threatened.
PFD Fire Chief Darrell Willis: "We had a written plan and we drilled on that plan for about 12 years. Interagency cooperation was incredible and the plan was executed just as we had trained on it."
USFS Division Chief Tony Sciacca: "These local Firefighters have a tremendous amount of pride in what they do. We all knew our roles (during this fire) and there was no confusion. This firefight rates up there as one of the best initial attacks I have ever seen. Two additional components helped to control and to stop this fire. Cooler temperatures and decreased winds at night and a fuel break where the Forest Service thinned out brush and trees a few years ago."