Report: Conditions hindered response to Waterfall fire
August 3, 2004
CARSON CITY – Fire officials who have reviewed response reports say they did everything possible to attack the Waterfall fire in the first few hours, but were hindered by the early morning hour and explosive conditions.
“I think the federal, state and local resources adequately responded to that fire, given the information we had, resources and given the severe fire conditions at the time,” said Carson City Fire Marshal Stacey Giomi, who was acting fire chief during last month’s incident.
A U.S. Forest Service spokesman for the Carson Ranger District said response was rapid, considering the unusual, late-night fire report.
“From what I’ve seen, it was an overwhelming response,” said spokesman Franklin Pemberton. “That’s a lot of resources for a fire that early in the morning. I don’t think you’re going to see too much more of a rapid response anywhere.”
Area fire agencies responding to wildland fire are more prepared for a fire that starts midday, when the temperatures are highest, the humidity is at its lowest, and winds begin to pick up, Giomi said.
According to a fire-response time line published today by Carson City officials inside the Nevada Appeal, the fire was first reported at 2:57 a.m. July 14 by a sheriff’s deputy. Carson City Fire Department brush engines left stations within three minutes, but had trouble locating the fire.
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Within the first 10 minutes, the Nevada Department of Forestry was asked to respond. Two state forestry hand crews were the first to arrive and begin attacking the fire nearly 50 minutes later.
Helicopters were ordered at 3:42 a.m., and arrived three hours later. A single-engine airtanker arrived at 6:52 a.m., and was the first aircraft to begin fighting the fire.
Federal regulations prohibit aircraft from fighting fires until first light and are restricted by several rules. Aircraft can’t fly more than eight hours a day, for instance.
“There are all sorts of flight restrictions mandated,” Giomi said. “We have to follow those flight restrictions. That’s not appropriate for wildland fires.”
Beginning at 11:44 a.m. during the morning attack, airtanker operations were suspended when firefighters became injured and trapped on a rock outcropping at the end of Kings Canyon Road. Helicopters were diverted from fighting the fire to provide protection for the trapped firefighters.
By 7:20 a.m., U.S. Forest Service crews joined the fire operation, followed by a crew of Bureau of Indian Affairs Hot Shots.
At the height of the incident, 1,901 firefighters were called in from agencies spanning the western United States. The operation employed 123 fire engines and 26 aircraft at its peak to attack the 8,799-acre fire.
The biggest lesson the city will take away from the incident is the value of creating defensible space, Giomi said.
“People have to be an active participant in helping us to help them,” he said. “They have to create survival space around homes and look at how homes are built. The reality is, if you live in the environment, you’re going to get a call from wildland fire someday. It’s not a matter of if they’re going to come, it’s when they’re going to come.”