No Fault Found in South Dakota Firefighter's Death

An investigation has found that erratic fire behavior and human nature contributed to the death of a wildland firefighter during the Coal Canyon Fire last August.

Firefighter Trampus Haskvitz, 23, was the leader of a three-man crew battling the blaze when the flames trapped him and another firefighter while they were traveling in a fire engine along a narrow canyon on Aug. 11, according to The Rapid City Journal.

South Dakota Wildland Fire Director Jay Esperance told the newspaper that there were no surprises in the report and that "everything that I read shows there was no human fault."

The investigation team was comprised of a dozen people, including representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, the South Dakota Fire Marshal’s office and the National Federation of Federal Employees.

The report stated that the "tragedy was the result of the chance conjunction of events, especially lethal erratic local fire behavior and unexpected combinations of normal human variability . . . Many decisions and actions on the Coal Canyon Fire were manifestly heroic, demonstrating the best of wildland fire professionalism."

As crews fought the blaze that day, conditions quickly changed and orders were given to abandon efforts in the canyon and the two fire engines were told to back out.

Haskvitz and Austin Whitney, the engine's driver, decided to drive ahead on the predetermined escape route and were met by a wall of fire.

Their vehicle stalled when they attempted to back up, trapping them.

They initially hid under a fire shelter in the vehicle's cab before attempting to run for safety.

Whitney made it out, but Haskvitz did not.

The report found that an intense burst of superheated gases and flames that occurred just missed Whitney and likely killed Haskvitz instantly.

The third firefighter on the crew -- Kevin Fees -- was on the ground behind the truck and dropped to the ground, avoiding the heat.

Esperance said that the report will be used as a teaching tool for firefighters in the future.