Research Paper RMRS-RP-9
Fire Behavior Associated with the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain, Colorado

Appendix B: Chronology, Fire Behavior, Weather, Distances, Firefighter Travel Rates, and Fire Spread Rates

The chronology and data tables in this appendix are based on witness statements, synchronous events, distances, and measured times from actual on-site reenactments of crew movement between key locations.

The information relies heavily on interviews conducted by the original accident investigation team, interviews conducted by the OSHA investigators, interviews by the author John N. Maclean, and follow-up interviews conducted by the authors of this report. Attempts were made to resolve conflicting testimony. However, in the event that the conflict could not be resolved, earlier interviews took precedent over later interviews, some of which were collected 1 to 2 years after the incident.

Certain key events and times were crucial because they linked so many people together. The first event was the initial column of smoke that was observed in the early development of the blowup. The small column developed into a large plume of smoke in a short time (about 60 seconds). Several firefighters saw fire spread up the east side of the West Drainage within 2 to 3 minutes. Firefighters Petrilli, Kelso, Shepard, Hipke, Erickson, and others saw this event, which initially synchronized their movements. Within a minute, Hotshot Gray noted the time as 1604 hours. The firefighters started to move to their safety zones. The next key synchronous event was when Smokejumpers Archuleta and Doehring took the picture of Smokejumper Mackey and two Prineville firefighters hiking up the West Flank Fireline. Although Erickson did not get a photo because his camera was out of film, his memory of what he saw through the viewfinder indicates that his attempt was made about the same time that Archuleta and Doehring's photos were taken. This links Archuleta and Doehring to Erickson. Hipke's testimony links him to Erickson and the first half of the Prineville Hotshots to arrive at the fire, and to Smokejumpers Roth, Thrash, and Mackey on the West Flank Fireline. Archuleta's testimony links him to the firefighters working on the Main Ridge (the Group consisted of the BLM/U.S. Forest Service firefighters out of Colorado and the second half of the Prineville Hotshots to arrive at the fire; we have labeled them the Main Ridge Group). The Main Ridge Group headed into the East Drainage at 1614. Firefighters Blanco and Shepard and Helitack Crewmembers Browning and Tyler can be linked together because they moved some red personal equipment bags near H-2 as the Main Ridge Group was going into the East Drainage.

Distances between most locations were measured on site. Others were estimated from measurements on topographic maps. We used the measured distances and travel times to calculate rates of travel between specific locations and to estimate the sequence of events. Taking into account the sequence of events and physiological constraints on firefighter travel times between geographic points, we estimate that, while the times in the narrative are not absolute, they are accurate to within 1 minute and in many cases within 15 seconds.

Chronology, Fire Behavior, and Weather

We have attempted to include a reference to the primary information source for each time segment in table B-1. In many cases this is a single witness statement. However, we also use the original accident report quite frequently. In the table we use the acronym SCR (South Canyon Report) to designate the original investigation team report (USDA, USDI, and USDC 1994). When the source is listed as time: Putnam, then the time is calculated from reenacted travel rates.

Table B-1 -- Chronology, fire behavior, and weather.


Table B-2 -- Measured distances along West Flank Fireline from Zero Point.

Table B-3 -- Other measured distances.

Firefighter Travel Rates

Firefighter travel times were estimated in two ways. Table B-4 presents actual travel rates for two physiologically different adult males (J. Cohen and T. Putnam). Their times probably bracket the actual transit times of the West Flank Fireline Group. We also reenacted the firefighter travel times for other routes (tables B-5 through B-7). All of these other rates were reenacted by Putnam except for the time between the Longanecker position in the Double Draws to the Lunch Spot, which was reenacted by Butler.

Table B-4 -- Reenacted travel rates on West Flank Fireline.

Table B-4 presents the transit times on the West Flank Fireline. This is the route followed by the smokejumpers and the first half of the Prineville Hotshots as they traveled along the West Flank Fireline from the Lunch Spot to the top of the line at the Main Ridge (the Zero Point). Table B-5 presents reenacted travel times and rates for the BLM/U.S. Forest Service firefighters and the second half of the Prineville Hotshots who traveled from the intersection of the West Flank Fireline and the Main Ridge Fireline south toward H-1, turned around near the rocky outcropping below H-1 then back along the Main Ridge toward H-2. Table B-6 presents times, distances, and rates for the smokejumpers in the Double Draw area. They traveled from a point southwest of the Lunch Spot, to the Lunch Spot, then up the ridge to their deployment site. Table B-7 presents times, distances, and rates for the two helitack. Their path started at the red bags, led north of H-2 along the Main Ridge toward the Drop Zone, and then northwest into the narrow chutes on the northeast side of the West Drainage.

Table B-5 -- Reenacted firefighter travel rates on Main Ridge.

Table B-6 -- Reenacted smokejumper travel rates in Double Draw Area.

Table B-7 -- Reenacted travel rates along Helitack route.

Fire Spread Rates

Table B-8 is a compilation of distances, times, and estimated fire spread rates. The rates were estimated by dividing the distance that the fire traveled by the time that it took the firefighters to move from one point to the next or by observations at estimated times for each specific event.

Table B-8 -- Estimated fire spread rates.

Main Page | Executive Summary | The Authors, Acknowledgements, and Preface
Introduction | Fire Behavior Overview | Fire Environment | Fire Chronology | Fire Behavior Discussion
Conclusions | References | App. A | App. B | App. C | Abstract | About RMRS
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Title: Appendix B: Chronology, Fire Behavior, Weather, Distances, Firefighter Travel Rates, and Fire Spread Rates: RMRS-RP-9 - Fire Behavior Associated with the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain, Colorado
Publish Date: February 5, 1999
Last Update:
December 22, 2005

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