There is a stigma that comes with the idea of being “American heroes” and stepping up to fight enemies head-on. This can lead to disaster when the enemy is a wildfire and the heroes are wildland firefighters. Wildfire can be unpredictable. It will move to the closest fuel in the easiest path possible and can be easily driven with weather and topography. Firefighters can train to be prepared to move if and when a fire moves but there are few times when that training is not enough to get away from the flaming front.
This is why along with the training, there must be a safety protocol to help firefighters stay safe and keep fighting the fire in a safe manner. For the events of the 1994 South Canyon Fire, as depicted in the 2014 WFSTAR: Pt 1, 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain video, there were many points where the LCES (Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones) guidelines (developed in 1991) were not followed. Many of the veteran firefighters of the South Canyon Fire stated that they had felt unsafe about the situation as they were fighting the fire, key weather factors were never communicated in advance, and safety zones were out of reach constantly for the firefighters on the ground.
It was in the 2014 WFSTAR: Pt 2, 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain video that all the decisions of the present fire crews were met with the flaming front. It was the accumulation of the decisions that trapped 14 wildland firefighters on the side of Storm King Mountain while the fire blew over. This fateful event cost lives but for future firefighters, this was a moment to look back on for guidance on how to fight fires safely. From this fire, there have been changes in training to accomodate for more emphasis on LCES procedures that can save lives.
This point was re-emphasized in the America Burning: Inside the Yarnell Hill Fire Tragedy video. The video describes how 19 hotshots lost their lives in the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire when they left their safety zones and walked into a box canyon as fire conditions changed. From 2013 to 2017 there were 86 wildland fire related fatalities in the US alone. This number tells us that firefighter safety always needs to be reassessed, especially since more deadly fires are raging every year.
National Interagency Fire Center. 2014. 2014 WFSTAR: Pt 1, 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqWa7QhhkMg
National Interagency Fire Center. 2014. 2014 WFSTAR: Pt 2, 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FZ98XJDzj0
National Interagency Fire Center. 2017. Historical Wildland Firefighter Fatality Reports. Retrieved from https://www.nifc.gov/safety/safety_HistFatality_report.html
Weather Films. 2013. America Burning: The Yarnell Hill Tragedy and the Nation’s Wildfire Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=begTiksUwqc