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Wildland Fire Entrapment Investigation Research Paper

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Updated: May 6th, 2022

Unmistakably, it would be the objective of every firefighter team to put out wildland fires before it causes more damage. However, the objectives may be hindered by some factors, especially entrapment. Wildland fire entrapment is linked to grave destructions, serious injuries, and even fatalities of firefighters (Wesley and Bret 1).

This paper discusses a wildland fire entrapment that caused the deaths of nineteen firefighters. The entrapment occurred in 2013 in central Arizona and the affected firefighting team was from Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC), hosted by the Prescott Fire Department (Gabbert 1).

The wildland fire entrapment and the subsequent catastrophe happened when the team of firefighters was moving along an unburned area heading to a safety zone. Unfortunately, the team had not accurately predicted the speed and behavior of the fire. The fire moved rapidly and with considerable intensity. The rapid-moving fire overtook the team and trapped it. The team could neither reach the safety zone nor return to the black. Direct flame contact and extreme temperatures resulted in the demise of the all the team members deployed that day (Gabbert 1).

Significantly, the paper put considerable focus on fire behavior and tactics that resulted in entrapment, fire behavior, clues, and possible predictions, and the 10 standards fire orders and the 18 situational watch outs.

Background Information

According to a report, the entrapment resulted from a wildland fire, which started on June 28, in Yarnell, Arizona (under the Arizona State Forestry Division) (Gabbert 1). The wildland fire was caused by lighting in terrain that is relatively inaccessible by vehicle. Initially, multiple fires covered one-half acre of the terrain and the preliminary responders, including an Arizona State Forestry Division (AZSF) firefighter, a competent Type 3 Incident Commander (ICT3) who had more than two decade experience on the local area and a supportive air team, had observed minimal fire activity and therefore foresaw no possibility of fire spread. However, firefighters were deployed to monitor the fire overnight with preparation for full subdual the following day (Gabbert 1).

On 29 June, ICT4 and ICT3 officers worked together to mobilize responses to the wildland fire. Notably, the fire had significantly increased in intensity, especially from the evening. The management went on throughout the night (Gabbert 12).

On 30 June, the wildland fire intensity increased prompting amplified management approaches. Additional personnel, comprising the OPS1, OPS2, SPGS1, a fire behavior analyst, among other fire specialist gather at the Yarnell Fire Station for strategizing. Area review was done and safety zones, and command channels established. In the meantime, the wildland fire complexity escalated. As a result, the response and management shifted drastically from a type 4 to a type 1 incident. There was a briefing at 7.00 am, which was permitted full deployment and action command made at 10:22 am (Gabbert 16).

Drastically, the wildland fire spread northeastern, putting structures and human at heightened risks. Later, a more aggressive fire, which was heightened by strong winds, shifted to the southeast. Evacuations were made. However, the Granite Mountain IHC remained on the opposite side. Communications were made to the team and it was assumed that the team would remain in the black. Unfortunately, the Granite Mountain IHC had left the black for the southeast through unburnt region.

The intensity and direction of the fire was significantly changed, especially by thunderstorm. As a result, the crew could not reach the safety zone and could not go back to the black. Moreover, the crew was too late to deploy fire shelters. The fire overtook the crew with their deployment site unsafe. Later, the bodies of the deceased were found almost 600 meters from the safety zone (Gabbert 31).

A Description of the Fire Behavior and Tactics that Resulted in Entrapment

It is imperative to note that the conditions at Yarnell Hill played a significant role in the fire behavior. The seasonal conditions were characterized by typically hot temperature, fluctuating humidity, abundant storm, and widespread cloud-cover. In addition, and most importantly, there were unpredictable speed of wind and drastic changes in directions (Gabbert 30).

According to weather updates, the fire was expected to change direction in the afternoon to head the east-southeast, showing extreme fire behavior that exhibits long flanks.

According to the crew’s observation, fire behavior during the day was pulse and variable, which is considered not constant fire spread direction. All though, the crew observed the fire behavior the whole day, it had no clue that there was an imminent approach of outflow boundary and the related considerable fire behavior changes (Gabbert 35).

As such, the most appropriate tactic was to leave the black, where the crew started to move from the flank they were working on, some minutes past four pm. During their movement, the crewmembers could observe the fire and its behavior.

However, the crew could no longer see the fire as they moved further.

In the meantime, the fire behavior had drastically changed. The changes appeared because of drastic change on wind direction. The fire had amplified intensity and flame lengths, and accelerated speed (Gabbert 35).

The Change in Fire Behavior the Firefighters Failed to Predict

Before moving away from the black, the crew must have made an educated guess by traveling through the unburnt region to the safety zone having the anticipated speed, and direction of wind in mind. As such, the members estimated that they would reach the safety zone faster than the fire would reach them.

However, it is difficult to estimate with accuracy crucial factors, including the fire acceleration, direction, and speed, and the firefighters speed in relation to the fire speed (Gabbert 53).

Unfortunately, the Granite Mountain IHC’s could not predict all these variables with accuracy. First, the crew did not predict the possible change of fire direction. Although there was weather forecast about possible changes of wind, the forecast was inaccurate, especially on the time specification. Therefore, the crew made the decision of moving even with imminent change of fire direction. Second, the crew could not predict the drastic change in the speed of wind and the related accelerated fire speed. Third, the crew could not predict their speed in relation to the fire speed.

The crew misestimated their speed from the black to the safety zone. Probably, this was due to their lack of experience with the terrain (Gabbert 53; Campbell, Dennison and Butler 884). It seemed that the safety zone could be accessed easily and speedily but it turned out to be hard to move with adequate speed.

The Clues that the Firefighters Missed that Would Have Allowed Them Predict the Behavior and Avoid Entrapment

Although it is impossible to understand the reasoning of the Granite Mountain IHC’s command and motivation for their movement from the black, considering they all perished and there was no one to give a proper account, it is probable to highlight some of the possible clues that the team missed. First, the climatic, and the weather condition would have greatly influenced the decision of the team not to leave the black. It was almost evident that the weather conditions were a prerequisite for possible drastic changes of fire behavior.

In addition, a weather forecast would have given the crew a clue on the possibility of change in the direction. Second, the vegetation would have provided a hint on the possibility of intensified fire speed. Third, the Granite Mountain IHC crew should have considered the terrain and gotten the clue of slowed movement. As such, they would have seen the possibility of the fire reaching and overtaking them before they would reach the safety zone.

A Description of some of the 10 Standards Fire Orders and the 18 Situational Watch outs that Related to this Incident

Pundits link most of wildland fire entrapment to noncompliance with the 10 Standard Fire Orders and the inability to recognize or appropriately alleviate the 18 Watch out Situations (Goodell 1). As such, it is paramount that all firefighters comply with the orders and carefully identify the watch outs. Obviously, not all wildland fires are the same and, therefore, different watch outs could relate to different fires.

The Yarnell Hill Fire management team complied with most of the 10 Standard Fire Orders. First, the team was relatively informed on the fire weather conditions and it obtained regular weather forecasts. This was critical in ensuring that fire behavior was predictable. Nevertheless, some of the information, especially on weather forecast, was overlooked.

Second, the team knew what was the fire was doing apart from the most important time, when they had moved out of the black and could not go back. Third, all the crew’s actions were based on fire behavior. The crew relatively complied with the other seven orders.

The Yarnell Hill Fire could be linked to some of the 18 watch out situations. The most pertinent watch out was the watch out on the increases in the intensity of wind and the change in direction. The crew would have paid critical attention to the possibilities of changes in direction and speed of wind before moving out of the black. Another pertinent watch out on the Yarnell Hill Fire was the terrain and its potential to make escape difficult. Moreover, the crew would have paid attention the possibilities of not observing the fire and its behavior and some point.

How the Firefighters Could Have Used the 10 Standards Fire Orders to Prevent Entrapment

Apparently, the crew observed the 10 standards fire orders with considerable measure. However, severer observation may have prevented the entrapment. For instance, full compliance with order on being informed on the weather conditions and forecast would have helped in the decision making process when the crew was at the black (Gabbert 1). Moreover, the crew would have complied with the order on the knowledge on hoe the fire was doing, especially with the changed wind direction and intensity.


Entrapments in wildland fire are huge setbacks in firefighting since they are linked to huge damages and fatalities. As such, it is vital that entrapments are prevented. Non-compliance with the 10 Standards Fire Orders and the 18 Situational Watch outs has been linked to many wildland fire entrapments.

This paper examined an entrapment that occurred in June 2013 in Arizona. The firefighting crew was trapped between the black and a safety zone. The crew could have misestimated the direction, and intensity of the wind that drastically changed the fire behavior. As a result, the whole team, of 19 members died as they were deploying fire shelters.

Works Cited

Campbell, Michael J, Philip E Dennison and Bret W Butler. International Journal of Wildland Fire, vol. 26, no. 10, 2017, pp. 884-895. Web.

Gabbert, Bill. 2013. Web.

Goodell, Craig S. 10 Standard Fire Orders and Watch Out Situations: There is a Better Way. 2005, Web.

Wesley, G, Page and W, Butler Bret. “An empirically based approach to defining wildland firefighter safety and survival zone separation distances.” International Journal of Wildland Fire, vol. 26, no. 8, 2017, pp. 655-667.

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