WA | Thirtymile Fire | 20th Year Memorial

As we prepare for the 20th Year Anniversary of the Heroic 4 during the THIRTYMILE FIRE who died in the line-of-duty while fighting this fierce firestorm that created its own fire weather and prompted the response of more than a thousand personnel and assets to put out. It would become one of notable wildfires in US History.

Thirty Mile Fire
Credit: Wikipedia

This is their story and the events, which unfolded on that fateful day, 20 years from Saturday’s tragic loss.

It is a difficult story to tell but it must told so that those understand their bravery, courage, dedication and most importantly, their love for the job; help prevent the deaths of future wildland firefighters and help support those who continue still fight the good fight.

INCIDENT SUMMARY

The THIRTYMILE FIRE was a fire that took place near the Chewuch River in the Chewuch River Canyon, about 30 miles north of Winthrop, Washington.

Four firefighters died at the scene from the results of being forced to deploy their emergency fire shelter on a rock cliff, when fire blew over their shelters. Their cause of deaths were deemed as asphyxia due to inhalation of superheated products of combustion. One firefighter suffered serious burns and was airlifted to a Seattle (we assume HMC, which has a burn trauma center) hospital.

DEDICATION TO THE HEROIC 4

This article is dedicated to the Brave, Courageous and Heroic 4: USFS Jessica Johnson, Tom Craven, Karen Fitzpatrick and Devin Weaver.

Credit: The Craven Family

TOM CRAVEN | Tom was an Ellensburg resident and a 13-year Fire Season Firefighter with the USFS. He was the Squad Boss at the time of the fire with the NWR #6 crew from the Naches area. (Squad 1)

JESSICA JOHNSON | Was a Yakima resident and this was her first Summer Fire Season, as a FFT1 – also from the Naches Home District. (Squad 2)

KAREN FITZPATRICK | Karen was also from Yakima and working during her first Summer Fire Season. She was a FFT2 from the Naches Home District. (Squad 1)

DEVIN WEAVER | He was the third member from Yakima and also working his very first Fire Season, as a FFT2 also from the Naches Home District. (Squad 2)

COMMAND

A 20-year USFS veteran Ellreese Daniels was the Fire Crew Boss (Supervisor) and Pete Kampen was the Fire Crew Boss Trainee (Tactical Manager).

DAY 1 – JULY 9, 2001

2136 PT

  • Fire reported by Canadian Lead Plane (Bird Dog 8), heading back to home base from nearby LILBBY SOUTH FIRE.
  • One main fire with two spot fires ahead.
  • Burning along the Chewuch River, which is a deep canyon that has 70-100% downslopes and with difficult terrain.
  • Estimated fire burning three-eight acres of heavy brush with flame lengths of two to four feet.

2300 PT-2359 PT

  • One engine arrives with three firefighters (2300 PT).
  • Second engines on-scene Local Type 2 Crew dispatched (2359 PT).

DAY 2 – JULY 10, 2001

0000 PT – 0130 PT

  • Interagency Hot Shot Crew (IHC) arrives (0100)
  • One engine leaves the fire incident (0130 PT)

0530 PT

  • Seven spot fires covering five-to-six acres
  • Two of the fires are one acre in size for both

0700 PT

  • Type 2 Crew briefed at Ranger Station, tasked with mop-up operations

0900 PT

  • Type 2 Crew arrives at fire incident.

1100 PT

  • IHC leaves the fire incident for rest.

Mid-Morning Hours

  • Fire behavior becomes extreme with torching and long-range spotting.

1200 PT (Noon)

  • Crews having difficulties with pumps and some hand tools breaking.

1200+ (After noon)

  • IC requests additional resources, one helicopter.

1400 PT

  • IHC re-deployed, arrived on-scene 1400 hours with less than three hours sleep.
  • Fire burning through hoses and spotting over the containment line.
  • IC pulls crew back to “safety zone” road.
  • IC accepts that the fire has been lost.

1500 PT

  • Type 2 Crew has joined with the IHC at the safety zone, west side of river
  • Helicopter continues to make drops, returns to base for refueling from the southern edge
  • Fire spreads up the east canyon walls
  • It then spreads to the canyon floor
  • Spots on the west wall of the canyon

1520 PT

  • 50 acres
  • Fire behavior extreme with crowning, running up the ridge

1530 PT

  • Two engines ordered
  • Two arriving engines arrive, don’t check in with the IC and start engaging with spot fires, radios for help on the roadway.
  • All squads are dispatched to help the engines with spot fires along the roadway

1532 PT

  • Fire is actively spotting and burning up to the east side of the road.
  • Some firefighters drive back down the road to “safety zone”, shielding their faces as they pass through the fire.

1535 PT

  • 100 acres.

1603 PT

  • Fire creating its own weather, a thunderstorm over the fire line.
  • All firefighters were told to leave the fire line immediately

1634 PT

  • Firefighters in the area are faced with a wall of flames as they try to flee the area.
  • Firefighters turnaround and drive up the canyon.

1700 PT

  • 500 acres.

1724 PT

  • Fire spread is critical with a rapid spread up the canyon.
  • Roaring fire, ash and a fire snowstorm explodes into chaos, catching the crew by surprise.
  • Crew becomes cutoff from their only escape route, rushing back down to the roadway.
  • Eight firefighters and two civilians on the road and six firefighters on the talus slope deploy their emergency fire shelter.
  • Four souls would be lost.
  • Fire shelters are generally made for one person, but three people (two civilians, one firefighter).
  • Two firefighters would abandon their position on the rock cree: one jumped in the river and another found safety in the crew’s van.

1754 PT

  • Pete Kampen + Entiat IHC members arrived for the rescue operation.
  • Smoke inhalation and minor burns: eight firefighters, two civilians deployed on the roadway.
  • 3rd degree burns: Jason Emhoff.

CAUSE

An escaped picnic cooking fire.

RESOURCES

Over 1,000 firefighters would work to bring this firestorm under control.

SIZE UP

The fire would eventually be fully contained on July 23, 2001 and burn 9,324 acres of land.

COST-TO-DATE

The total cost-to-date for the fire back in 2001 was a whopping $4.5 Million Dollars. It was one of the deadliest firefighting disasters in US History since the 1984 SOUTH CANYON FIRE in Colorado, which killed 14 fighters.

The Craven Family invites the Public and Media to attend the THIRTYMILE FIRE’s 20th Year Anniversary on

Saturday, July 10, 2021, at 1700 (5pm) hours PT

Mt. Olivet Black Cemetery in Roslyn, Washington

Sources; Wikipedia, NWCG, USDA Fire Investigative Report, Craven Family and Social Media.

(c) 2021 NW Fire Blog