National Tree Climbing Program


California Giant Sequoia Fire


Todd Franzen-Climber
Mike Feliciano-Climber
Todd Haynes –Ground Crew
JT Belton –Ground Crew
7/25/06 – 7/28/06


John Carothers, FMO for the Tule River Indian Reservation, had a unique problem with suppressing a fire in a single extremely large, (22 feet dbh, 260 feet tall) 2000 year old sequoia tree. The fire was burning in a “catface” approximately 200 feet high. John’s knowledge of our tree climbing expertise and arborist skills learned through the APHIS Longhorn Beetle Project resulted in his request for Smokejumpers for assistance in this unique fire assignment. Due to the unavailability of Red Carded climbers in region 5 the order went unfilled for two days before NICC passed the order onto EGBCC and the McCall Smokejumpers. We received the call through Dispatch/Coordination Center and four McCall jumpers arrived in California on July 25. We met with John, and after a thorough briefing, went to the tree to assess the problem. With binoculars and using various vantage points, we conducted a complete and thorough size-up. We discussed at length the best methods for climbing, identified safety zones (on the ground and in the tree), decided on the proper gear needed for the climb, and developed an overall game plan. We conducted a hazard analysis and how to mitigate risks. Once we established this plan, we decided we could do the job safely.

We secured a climbing rope around a large live branch approximately 50 feet below the fire. This was achieved using a “slingshot” type device and two throw lines connected to each other. This took some time to get the rope set safely and securely anchored. Again we reviewed our plan, contingencies, and each of our designated roles. The next morning we reassessed the fire and inspected our rope and climbing equipment. I used a jumar (a climbing device used by professional arborists) to ascend to the branch. I tied off to the limb with a safety lanyard (standard procedure) and proceeded to use a throw ball to secure another line around another branch further up. I transferred over to this rope and would use this as my working line. I advanced the line to a spot where I could see into the cat face and determine I could safely work the fire. As it turned out, the fire was just smoldering and I determined it would not jeopardize further operations. I gave Mike Feliciano the ok to ascend the first line. He was then in place to assist me raising equipment.

With climbers and ground crew in place, we proceeded to haul 200 feet of ¾ inch fire hose up to the “cat-face”. As pre-determined, there was more than enough water pressure to thoroughly extinguish the fire with 250 gallons. We monitored the fire for 1 hour and declared the fire out. Mike and I then started down to our main rope, sent down our other ropes and equipment, and rappelled safely to the ground. Our plan went accordingly, and took six hours to complete the assignment.

This was a great opportunity to make use of smokejumper expertise and skills in a safe, professional manner. The tribal members were very pleased with the outcome and expressed their thanks. Given the high value and tradition placed upon these unique trees by the tribe, it was an excellent public relations opportunity for the Forest Service. John also felt it was a wise, economic use of resources, considering the alternative of having to continually monitor the tree and the possibility of a worsening situation later.

Todd Franzen
McCall Smokejumpers

For more information, contact Rae Watson at or (541) 767-5717

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