Friday, October 25, 2013

A Look Back at The Cedar Fire - 10 Years Later

(Photo credit: San Diego Fire-Rescue Department)

"The Cedar Fire was reported on Saturday, October 25, 2003, at approximately 5:37 P.M. The fire, burning under a Santa Ana wind condition eventually consumed 280,278 acres and destroyed 2,232 structures, 22 commercial buildings, and 566 outbuildings, damaging another 53 structures and 10 outbuildings. There was 1 fire fighter fatality, 13 civilian fatalities and 107 injuries. The fire was under Unified Command with the United States Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and local government.” ~ 2003 Cedar Fire Green Sheet, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
Sandra Millers Younger shares her perspective of the Cedar fire in her recently released book "The Fire Outside My Window." Younger does a great job sharing her experience as a homeowner and complementing her story with excerpts from individuals involved with fire suppression and emergency operations. 

In 2007, the Cedar fire engine crew entrapment that took the life of Steven Rucker was a featured module in the Annual Fireline Safety Refresher. Take time to familiarize yourself and your crew with this tragedy.

Group Exercise: 

Assume you are a crew member on Engine 6162. Given the scenario and the information below, what is your assessment of the current situation? Do you have any concerns you wish to voice to your Captain or do you agree with the plan to continue burning out and defending the structure?

Additional Information to Consider:

  • There was a fire weather watch issued by the San Diego National Weather Service at 0930 hours on October 29, 2003, that did not reach the crew of Engine 6162.
  • IAP weather forecast for October 29, 2003: Temperature, upper 70s to 80s; RH, 8-20%; ridge top winds, 5-15 mph in the morning becoming southwest to west 15-25 mph in the afternoon; fire danger, very high to extreme.
  • During the 36 months prior to the incident, the area received between 50-70 percent of normal precipitation.
  • The elevation of 920 Orchard Lane is 200 feet higher than the ridge to the west and 400 feet above the bottom of the San Diego River drainage.
  • The Task Force Leader had trouble reaching the Division Supervisor on the assigned frequencies.
  • The Engine 6162 crew had only a mobile radio pack in the engine; the Engine Captain carried a handheld radio.
  • The residents of 920 Orchard Lane were not home.
  • The IAP documented the span of control for Division I as 27:1.
  • The Engine 6162 crew was not aware of the firing operations conducted by the CDF Captain and Engineer at 930 Orchard Lane.
  • The strip burning operation below the driveway created approximately 140 feet of black line.
  • The Engine 6162 crew originally identified the meadow (east of Orchard Lane—about 200 yards away and directly across from the bottom of the driveway) as a safety zone prior to being assigned to 920 Orchard Lane.
  • Once at 920 Orchard Lane, Engine 6162’s Captain identified the house as a refuge.
  • Resources assigned to Orchard Lane observed the fire from individual vantage points.
  • There was no dedicated lookout for the Branch, the Division, the Orchard Lane area, the Strike Team, or the Engine 6162 crew.
What do you think the fire is going to do? Which fire indicators are you using to make your prediction?
    Communication on the division was poor. What can be done to improve it?
      Do you have any trigger points established for disengagement or withdrawal?
        Engine 6162 was not aware of the fire weather watch issued or the firing operation happening around them on Orchard Lane. Assuming you did not have the additional information, would your assessment differ?


        Read and discuss the "Safety Issues for Review" found within the Green Sheet regarding the 10 Standard Fire Orders and 18 Watch Out Situations that were identified as applicable. Using lessons learned from the Cedar fire, what will you do on your local unit to avoid a similar situation?

        Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Resources:
        • Cedar Fire Green Sheet
        • Cedar Fire Fatality NIOSH Report
        • Navato Fire Department 72-hour Report 

        1 comment:

        Sandra Younger said...

        Thanks so much for mentioning my book, The Fire Outside My Window, in connection with the 10th anniversary of the Cedar Fire. I'm always happy to work with fire agencies to help educate people about wildfire safety. Best wishes, Sandra Younger