Four firefighters killed in Washington state's North Cascade

spectr17

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Four firefighters killed in Washington state's North Cascades while fighting wildfire.

TWISP, Wash. (AP) -- A small wildfire in the rugged forest of the North Cascades exploded to 2,500 acres in a matter of hours, killing four firefighters and leaving another in serious condition.
U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Debbie Kelly confirmed the four deaths Tuesday night. She said the four firefighters had been missing since an explosive burst of flames overran a group of 40 firefighters Tuesday evening.

The identities and hometowns of the dead firefighters were not immediately released.

Stoked by high temperatures and strong wind gusts, the blaze grew from less than 10 acres early Tuesday to 2,500 acres by late afternoon, Kelly said.

Extremely dry weather, low humidity and dry underbrush made conditions in steep, heavily forested terrain of north-central Washington especially dangerous, Kelly said. She said the crews thought they had the situation well in hand until the wind picked up and the fire began spreading fast.

Some of the firefighters took shelter in foil-like emergency tents designed to protect them from heat and flames, she said.

One firefighter, identified as a 21-year-old from Yakima, was flown to a Seattle hospital with severe burns and was in serious condition Tuesday night. Four others were taken to other hospitals with burns or smoke inhalation.

A search party sent out when at least two firefighters couldn't be reached by radio after the flare-up found the dead firefighters. A national investigative team was flying to the scene.

The wildfire near Twisp was one of at least three burning on the eastern side of the Cascade Range. Another wildfire burning about 10 miles to the south, near Carlton, grew to 1,200 acres Tuesday night, officials said. A third fire had burned at least 70 acres near Grand Coulee Dam.
 

jerry d

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Always sad to read something like this but not surprised considering with the conditions in our forest. Lets pray they aren't just the first to die during the fire season.

Firefighters and local police have my deepest respect. They lay it on the line daily. Sure wouldn't want their job.

(Edited by jerry d at 11:13 pm on July 11, 2001)
 

hyrider

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Yakima Herald-Republic




           July 18, 2001

           
                       Blaze Stays With Firefighter Who Saved Two Campers

                       Published in the Herald-Republic on Tuesday, July 17,
                       2001


                       By JESSE A. HAMILTON
                       YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC
                       When the fire flashed over her survival shelter, as four of her friends died, Rebecca Welch prayed. She prayed and she begged two other people in her fiberglass tent to be calm. Please. Stay calm. The rookie firefighter thought that maybe they'd die there, all three of them. And she realized later that she and the two campers almost did. The 22-year-old is home now in California, and she's a
week removed from the Chewuch River canyon and the deadly afternoon. But it stays with her. She remembers so many details. The conversations. The sandwiches. A nap during a break. The fear. And the way the fire looked as it finally came for them. But she can't remember much of what happened outside her aluminum-covered fire shelter in the minutes she lay inside. Stay calm That's what she told Bruce and Paula Hagemeyer in between prayers. But in only a couple of hours, her world had been shaken.
Rebecca got the call with everybody else, just after midnight, in the first minutes of July 10. The Naches Ranger District firefighter was called from sleep in the bunkhouse she shared with other "initial-attack" fire crews for the U.S. Forest Service They piled into trucks, sleep still clawing at their eyelids. Twisp. That was their destination. Many of them had never heard of it. Rebecca had only lived in Washington during the month she had been a wild-land firefighter. She had just graduated from college in South Dakota when she got the job. This was her second fire, and she had no idea where it was. Hours on the road led to another ranger station in Okanogan County, in the Cascades, not far from Canada. They thought they were there to fight a nasty blaze that had consumed a hefty chunk of federal forest land justnorth of Lake Chelan. But there was something else to do first. "There was a 25-acre smoldering fire that we needed to mop up," Rebecca said. They joined up with other Forest Service crews to head north of a town called Winthrop. The 21 of them drove big, white vans into the narrow canyon of the Chewuch River. They began digging fire lines close to the hot spots. The heat pounded at Rebecca in her heavy gear, she remembers. But the flames weren't serious. "It wasn't that bad at first." Hours later, about 2 p.m., the heat was even worse. And it was so dry there. And the fire was getting close to, their line. Experienced squad leader Tom Craven, 30, went with 21-year-old Jason Emhoff to check how the fire line was working. They soon reported back that it wasn't. Fire had gone airborne, leaping across the line from treetop to treetop. OK, time to leave, the leaders said. So the crews gathered up their gear and walked away from the fire on the south side of the river. They crossed the Chewuch on a huge log, stepping back onto the north side of the canyon, its steep wall climbing dramatically toward the ridge high above. They came to their designated "safe zone." They had lunch. Rebecca took a nap, kicked awake by a playful Emhoff. Then Craven volunteered his squad, including Rebecca, to attack a new fire that had leapt to life just down the road, on the north side of the river. More digging. More hard work. Two squads built a break around this part of the fire, hoping it wouldn't be able to escape. Others pumped water onto it. But then something strange happened. Craven, the fun,
smiling, calm boss to the youthful crew, spoke up.
"He said, 'It's time to get out right now,'" Rebecca
recalls. Then he said it again. Right now. She didn't understand. But she knew enough to listen to him, as did the others. That's when the evacuation began. One team of seven already had climbed into a van and sped down the road, the one that twisted along the canyon bottom beside the river. That van headed downriver, taking the planned exit. The remaining 14 came to the second van. They wouldn't all fit, so some began walking. It wasn't long before a truth came to the group's leaders: They wouldn't make it out this way. The fire. "You could see on the road, it was just like a big, huge flame," Rebecca said. "That's all you could see was fire." She was fascinated. It was so big, she couldn't tell how fast it was moving, or in what direction. After she and the others on foot dove into the van and it took off in
the other direction, she didn't look back. The van stopped at what the experienced people in the
group considered a suitable "safe zone." Rebecca didn't know what to think as they all piled out. The fire was out of sight. So they talked. Some stood. Some sat on nearby rocks. Karen FitzPatrick, 18, borrowed Rebecca's camera. That's when the Hagemeyers drove up. The couple from Thorp had intended to camp nearby. They were scared when they saw smoke. They didn't know what to do. "We couldn't see the fire," Rebecca said. "It wasn't that much of a threat yet." But then they could see it. The flames emerged over a ridge next to their new safe zone. FitzPatrick shot photos. "It was like the sound of a freight train," Rebecca said. "It was roaring. It was eating things up." And it was coming.
Another "spot fire" started nearby, and for Rebecca,
uneasiness was replaced by true fear. From where she had been talking with others in the rocks, she walked a few yards back down to the road. About 5 p.m., she wished night would come to dampen the
flames, but it was hours off. She remembered the weather report calling for thunderstorms and rain. She wanted to feel that rain badly. Then, amazingly, the rain came. She was excited, happy. It came down in thick clouds. But then, she knew, her prayer hadn't been answered at all. "It was raining embers." She heard the order to deploy her individual survival structure. Carried in a tight package by every Forest Service firefighter, the single-person tents are used as a last resort. They're designed to ward off heat up to 600 degrees. She pulled hers out next to the road. The Hagemeyers, who had parked their pickup camper
nearby, had put on pants in preparation. Embers were falling over them. "They said, 'Help us. Help us. We have to get into your tent.'" She let them. They balled themselves up inside and fought to seal the tent's edges to the ground.
"All three of us got in it. I don't know how that was possible." The fire came quickly, rolling over the area. Rebecca said the Hagemeyers tried to get out at one point. "I think once they saw what was outside, they knew it was a lot safer inside." Rebecca pulled her yellow shirt over her face and held it there with her heavy glove. She begged the others not to rip the thin structure. "It seemed like we were there forever." Minutes later, she heard a voice calling everybody to the nearby river. They stood and sprinted there, into the water. She found room under a shelter with another firefighter. Time passed. After intense heat, the river brought bitter cold. Eventually, the immediate danger had passed. Nine people gathered on the road, at the van. Four -- including Craven, FitzPatrick, Devin Weaver and Jessica Johnson -- had died in their tents. Another, Emhoff, had taken shelter in the van and was badly burned. Rebecca was stunned and confused. She said the survivors got in a circle for a moment. Somebody said a prayer. Then they piled in the van. She remembers a silent, staring Emhoff, holding his hands in front of him. The flesh was almost burned off them. She remembers firefighters arriving from an Entiat crew. Then the van pulled away without four of her friends. "I realized that if they didn't come out of there, they weren't going to make it." When they reached safety, Rebecca was treated for second-degree burns to her right side. She fell into shock.
"I just sat on the ground and kept crying and kept
crying." That night, she would sleep. The next day was for counseling and more crying. "We had a good dinner. We were sitting on the deck, and we saw the columns from the fire." The day after that was for answering questions from an investigator. Then it was reunion with family and reunion with the rest of the Naches District back home. At first, she vowed to give up firefighting. But now she knows she'll come back to Naches soon. "I feel like I have to go back. I have to be with my crew. If I got through it, then I can get through anything."
 

spectr17

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Fire season is going to be bad this year in the west I'm afraid. It's so unbelievable how fast a fire can move. I saw an article how the US Gov. has hired on many new firemen to help out this year, but they are just finishing their training.

In 1980 I was in the USAF and we were called up to do some looting patrols during the Panarama fire near San Bernardino. The patrols turned into mostly helping ranchers evacuate their land near Devore.

It was a pretty orderly operation with the fire over the ridge and then suddenly we were cut off while on a narrow road. We also had made the major mistake of not having any shelters with us. I don't even know if they had shelters back then. We had radio contact with a helo supporting us but the fire was blowing up around us so bad the helo couldn't find us in the smoke and rising debris nor land.

I was the only Sgt. in the detail and my only choices were to run the duece and a half truck through a wall of flame or burrow under the house foundation with hoses on us. We started burrowing and the wind shifted and the danger passed without anybody getting hurt. Panic had set in with one guy who wanted to run the gauntlet of fire on the road. Luckily he stayed and lived. Later the helo pilot told us a dash down the ridge in the truck would have been suicide with the wall of fire over 1/2 mile long.

The one vision I can distinctly remember was watching the crowns of trees just burst into flames, traveling down the mountain faster than a man could run.
 

hyrider

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This will be my 27th fire season with the Forest Service. The worse part of this fire season is yet to come.  I have seen some extreme fire behavior and have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, mostly by planning and experince. But, we are dealing with mother nature, unpredictable things can and do happen.  For a hunter/fisherman this has been a great job, besides the low pay, other things have made up for it.  I spend most my time behind the desk these days, but I still get the opportunity to travel most the US, when major fires are going. I usally have a handle on when the game is moving and where the feed is, in my local area.  I haven't always agreed with Forest Service polices, but I have helped with getting others within the agency to understand the needs and concerns of sportsman.

My grandfather aways told me that only a fool or a Missourian would predict the weather
 

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