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Similarities of Fatality Fires
Observations of Jim Payne

April 2004


Following is a brief overview of the some of the key similarities of three fatality fires: South Canyon, Thirtymile, and Cramer. Twenty firefighters lost their lives on these fires in the last decade. These similarities are based upon a review of the official fire investigation reports and other public documents. 


  • Each host fire Unit had experienced previous entrapment and/or fatality fires
  • Each Unit was a "consolidated Unit" and/or had poor working relationships with the adjoining Unit
  • Severe to extreme drought conditions and a high Haines Index were present
  • A multiple fire situation existed, both in the GAC and on the Unit
  • There was active fire behavior day and night
  • Rapid fire growth unexpected by leadership
  • Personnel were working up hill and/or up canyon from the fire
  • Multiple day, extended attack operations on a Type 3 fire
  • Strategy and tactics: Direct attack with hand crews (two of the three fires involved the aerial delivery of firefighters above the fire.
  • Firefighters personal actions did not reflect the fire danger
  • Improper application of PPE provided (esp. fire shelters, gloves, fire clothes)
  • ICT3 involved in significant managerial and/or personal issues not related to the fire suppression action on the fatality fire (on two of the three fires).
  • Numerous leadership failures, as evidenced by:
    • Inadequate briefings of assigned personnel
    • Unsuccessful strategy and tactics not adjusted
    • Spot weather forecasts not requested
    • Lack of fire behavior predictions
    • Confusion on who is in charge
    • Poor management of fatigue
    • Risks un-assessed and/or poorly managed
    • Non-compliance with 10 Standard Firefighting Orders
    • Non-mitigation of applicable Watch Out Situations
    • Need to deploy shelters was unexpected
    • Fire Program Managers with a large span of control re: oversight
    • Poor oversight of the ICT3's strategy and tactics by the FPM and/or AA
    • FPM and/or AA didn't ask for help (deputies, etc.) in a high workload situation
    • Lack of preparedness actions in response to fire season severity and multiple fire situations


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