Bureau of Land Management
Buffalo Field Office
Thursday, July 5, 2002
Incident Information: 307-685-1357 Ė Cell: 509-675-5924
During this fire suppression effort, no resource is more important than human lives. Firefighter, aviation and public safety is our highest priority. All firefighting strategies are being coordinated with the utmost consideration of the well being of the people involved. Firefighters are extensively trained in safety procedures and will take no risks that may jeopardize their own safety or the safety of others. The locations and behaviors of each fire are being monitored and scrutinized for effective and expedient suppression while ensuring public safety and protecting private property.
Daley Fire Complex disengagement
An example of how the system can really work
by Cynthia Reichelt
Information Officer, Washington Incident Management Team.
Gillette, WyomingĖ Late in the afternoon on Saturday, June 29, Rich Hauber was transporting his mechanic to fix a fire truck that had broken down at the north end of the Daley Fire. While the mechanic was working on the truck, Hauber, a Type III incident commander, decided to drive to the top of a hill to check in with Casper Dispatch Center manager Trina Reid. He had been out of communications for a while because of a problem with a nearby repeater.
What he heard over the radio sent chills up his spine. Before he could key his mike, he heard Reid shouting orders over the command channel, telling incident commanders to immediately get all fire fighting personnel to their safety zones because a dramatic change in wind direction and speed was predicted to occur within 10 minutes. All of the incident commanders acknowledged her directions. Hauber ordered his forty firefighters to disengage immediately to their safety zones.
What happened next is a story for the record books.
Within minutes, the winds increased from 20 to 70 miles-per-hour and switched direction 180 degrees. The flames came alive throughout the fire area, running 3 miles in less than 2 hours through tinder-dry fuels of ponderosa pine, juniper, sagebrush and grass. Hauberís firefighters followed his orders. He knew they would be safe. But, as he reflected on what had happened, he couldnít believe the odds that helped them make it safely out of the path of the fire. It seemed nearly impossible that the actions that occurred -- at just the right moments Ė clearly led to their surviving the fire.
The first action taken was by Charles Baker, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Riverton, Wyoming who noticed the weather anomaly minutes before faxing a warning to Reid. Baker apparently knew just how critical the information was for firefighters working in the forests near the Daley Complex.
After receiving the faxed warning, Reid quickly made the call to incident commanders, who could tell by the tone of her voice that they were in danger. Even though things seemed fairly normal in the field, they trusted her completely. Most firefighters know how hard it is to do a dispatcherís job and to be responsible for such vital information that could mean life or death to firefighters. "She told us to just do it, and we knew she was serious," Hauber said.
Hauber canít help but think Reidís call was a miracle. "But, if I hadnít been up on the hill and, if that meteorologist hadnít been on the ball, and if Trina hadnít received the fax and made that call, none of us would be here today," he said. "None of us could have escaped the awesome power of that fire."
At his safety zone, Hauber took out his wind gauge that measures wind speeds up to 65 miles-per-hour. The measurement was off the scale. After 15 minutes, the winds calmed to 50 mile-an-hour gusts.
Jeff Wagoner, one of the firefighters sent by Hauber to a safety zone, says he still gets emotional when he thinks about the incredible safety network that saved his and the lives of many others. He told Hauber that he and his crew had been in a spot where they would never have made it out alive without the warning.
All of the firefighters on the line that day will remember the commitment, devotion, skill and knowledge exhibited by the people watching out for their safety. They now have a renewed appreciation for the meaning and need for the system behind disengagement that really, really works