Canadian Forest Service Publications

Wildland firefighter safety and fire behavior prediction on the fireline. 2016. Alexander, M.E., Taylor, S.W., Page, W.G. Proceedings of the 13th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit & 4th Human Dimensions of Wildland Fire Conference International Association of Wildland Fire, Missoula, Montana, USA

Year: 2016

Available from: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 36659

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Abstract

Using the 2013 Yarnell Hill fatality fire in Arizona as a backdrop, this paper considers whether the global wildland fire community has failed on-the-ground firefighters. To begin answering this question two specific lines of inquiry are addressed: (i) was the fire behavior during the major run beyond what would be predicted by currently available guidelines? and (ii) what fire behavior knowledge and tools are available to allow wildland firefighters to assess their ‘margin of safety’? A set of three recommendations are offered in light of our findings.

Plain Language Summary

Using the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy as a backdrop, this paper raises the general issue of whether the global wildland fire community has failed on-the-ground firefighters. Two specific questions are addressed: (i) was the level of fire behavior experienced beyond currently available guidelines; and (ii) what knowledge and tools are available to allow firefighters to assess their ‘margin of safety’. We conclude that the observed fire behavior was not beyond what would be expected using accepted models, but that there are few practical tools to help firefighters use this information to estimate a margin of safety. We also propose that, as the time available for decision making narrows with escalating fire behavior and tempo of events on a critical day, firefighters may switch from a rational “System 2” to an intuitive “System 1” decision mode, and discuss implications for fire behavior prediction. A set of three recommendations are offered in light of the findings.

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