Rural/Urban Interface- Wildfire Response: First On Scene Radio Report

I thought I'd make this discussion a little different- I'll post some informaiton and some photos. You have approximately 48 hours to respond before I continue the discussion with further photos and information....

It's currently 43 ºC (109.4 ºF) with 20 to 25 MPH winds and humidity about 5- 9 % .

You're toned out to a scrub fire and enroute you look across and see this

What's your first sitrep and actions?

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Not enough info for me Luke. This would depend on what is ahead of the fire, is the fire heading towards housing or past the housing? I'll take the plunge and say the fire is heading past the houses so the first radio traffic on seeing that could be:

"WORDBACK - grass and scrub fire not yet under control - make tankers 10 pumpers 5 - fire is currently heading past houses but is crowning, air support required urgently"

The initial wordback/sitrep would have been given long before we were that close...

I thought I'd have a go at this one and will leave my answer here. But I shouldn't have. It's too soon. That sort of flame activity is what we saw at the front of the fire we attended on Saturday the 7th. Big problem for us being, we knew that there were no vehicles available for support.

I'm with Tony - this looks bad, but what's in front of the fire, anticipated change (0r not) in weather conditions, access, air and ground support availability, resource response times...too many unknowns for me to give a definative IAP at this point.

The flame front and heavily involved conifers don't make me feel good about it, though.

I agree, not to mention if there are houses there, why did the fire get to this stage before being reported? Seems like too big of a fire to not have been reported for such a long time. A fire of that size here in N.J. would already be at a multi alarm, multi county response status with a major response from the N.J. Forest Fire Service already on scene.

Oh and according to the time stamp this fire is supposed to happen in a few months(June), so we still have time to call for some more help.

This could just be a small finger of a bigger fire like the ones that Oz had last week.
In that case, the finger may have had a delayed report because everyone in the neighborhood had already evacuated.

Your scrub fire looks like a crown fire with all the tree's going up... Note sure if there is enough defensible space to protect the structure and keep your crew safe... It sure looks like a pretty established fire that's been building up momentum and intensity by the time you get on scene... If you want to protect the structure, I would seriously consider a foam and go tactic here but you need to provide more information to enable speculating any tactics or considerations...

Regardless of the scenario, USA firefighters ALWAYS adhere to the 10 & 18's and LCES when dealing with wildland fires...

10 Standard Wildland Firefighting Orders

1. Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.
2. Know what your fire is doing at all times.
3. Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire.
4. Identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known.
5. Post lookouts when there is possible danger.
6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.
7. Maintain prompt communications with your forces, your supervisor, and adjoining forces.
8. Give clear instructions and insure they are understood.
9. Maintain control of your forces at all times.
10. Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.

18 Watchouts Situations

1. Fire not scouted and sized up.
2. In country not seen in daylight.
3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified.
4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.
5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards.
6. Instructions and assignments not clear.
7. No communication link with crewmembers/supervisors.
8. Constructing line without safe anchor point.
9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.
10. Attempting frontal assault on fire.
11. Unburned fuel between you and the fire.
12. Cannot see main fire, not in contact with anyone who can.
13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below.
14. Weather is getting hotter and drier.
15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.
16. Getting frequent spot fires across line.
17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.
18. Taking a nap near the fire line.


In the wildland fire environment, four basic safety hazards confront the firefighter:

1. lightning,
2. fire-weakened timber
3. rolling rocks
4. entrapment by running fires

Lookouts - Communications - Escape Routes - Safety Zones

Each firefighter must know the interconnection of LCES

~ lookouts
~ communications
~ escape routes
~ safety zones

LCES should be established before fighting the fire:

* select lookouts
* set up a communications
* choose escape routes
* select safety zones

LCES functions sequentially - it's a self-triggering mechanism.

Lookouts assess -and reassess - the fire environment and communicate threats to safety; firefighters use escape routes to safety zones. All firefighters should be alert to changes in the fire environment and have the authority to initiate communication.

LCES is built on two guidelines:

Before safety is threatened, each firefighter must know the LCES system will be used, and LCES must be continuously reevaluated as fire conditions change.

The LCES system approach to fireline safety is an outgrowth of my analysis of fatalities and near misses for over 20 year of active fireline suppression duties.

LCES simply focuses on the essential elements of the standard FIRE ORDERS.

It's use should be automatic in fireline operations, and all firefighters should know the LCES interconnection.

With these SOG's in mind now, we can now start to talk about dealing with this incident...

TCSS, Mike
Mike, we have our versions of those things. We've had them for years.

I'm sure that there are people around whose only joy in life is to make up more things that we are 'supposed' to remember. At least our management is realistic enough to give us all that stuff printed on a card that we're to carry in our wildfire PPE.

Our training is built around all the things covered by those acronyms.
Can we spout it off? No. I'd be willing to bet that not many FF's in the USA could recite them all either.
Do we learn it? Yes, in our training for the Wildfire qualification - the minimum for every volunteer in the State.
I agree with everyone i would call for more support and protect or try to whats in front of the fire
You arrive and are confronted with this scene.

What do you do? What do you call for?

Some questions I missed the morning briefing, 1. fire weather forecast, 2. fuel moisture in the 1,10 100 and 1000hr fuels, 3. spread component, 4. probability of ignition and what resources are available today. Also what time of day is this.
That's where we start getting into difficulty. Lutan is an Aussie, and we don't look at fire weather in exactly the same way you would in North America. Things are different.

1. From what has been given, for the exercise we could say that the fire weather forecast is nasty. Putting this fire in the context of our current summer the data given gives us a Forest Fire Danger Rating of 100, which is the maximum on our scale, in other words the top end of Extreme.

2. We don't look at fuel moisture content estimates for different times, we simplify and look at the Relative Humidity provided by the forecast (or look at a portable guage) and with the known drought facter (currently on the maximum after 12 years of drought and only about 2mm of rain this year) and the estimated surface fuel loading, that tells us how bad things could get. Hard to tell from the photo what the fuel loading might be, so let's say it's high? So.

3. From data given and assumptions on my part we have a forward rate of spread of around 3 km/h (or 2 mph).

4. The points covered tell us that ignition probability is high. Resources available? That's like asking 'how long is a piece of string' - in my first response I said we knew at a fire that there were no resources available, so we didn't bother asking. But Luke has just asked us 'What do you call for?'

What time of day? That's critical for us, as we normally get a 90 degree wind change in the evening. On a 'normal' bad day, if the change was due to arrive then where the camera is in the photos would not be the place to be - it would put us right in front of the fire.

One thing we can be thankful for. The trees are pines, so spotting will be much less severe than if they were eucalyptus.

Have I answered the questions well enough Luke?

Now, what would I call for? If what we see is all there is, my original request would stand. And could be overkill except for the Caltex servo - not knowing the locale, or being able to see more, is a bitch!
Tony, thanks for filling in the fire behavior questions I had. Due to the conditions you descibe we would be at a staffing level of 5 and would automatically get 2 type 6 engines, 1 tender, 1 dozer, 1 10person handcrew and a medium or heavy helicopter. Also the local vfd would be responding along with any mutual aid they may order. As an ICT4 I would also order a higher ranking IC. This is what the response would be in my part of NW Mt.

Hard to tell but in the last photo it looks like the trees stop and it opens up into grass. If this is the case the fire will drop back to the ground. With the effective windspeed its going to run like mad.

Need to see more to get a good 360 view of the fire.
If it does go to grass, the rate of spread would be at least 11km/h (8 mpn) according to my meter. With the original question being on an interface fire, there's likely to be a well wooded suburb just down the road a bit. We like our trees...

Without the next down-wind photo, we can't say. On a Code Red day this fire would already be under the eye of a Level 3 ICC - They are always operational on such days. And the weather forecast would have this day as a Code Red and probably a Total Fire Ban.

What needs to be done immediately is protect that Caltex servo, the fire appears to be going straight past, but the radiant heat level would be very high.

Come on Luke, more info/pictures please!

And Luke? Thanks for this scenario, at first it felt too close, too familiar. But it's been helpful - helpful because I used to chat, dance and drink at the St Andrews pub with about twenty people from the Kinglake area. I know that one is safe, that's all so far.

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