USA — The Esperanza Fire was the worst single incident in wildland firefighting in more than 12 years. This year, 22 firefighters, pilots and volunteers have died in wildland blazes throughout the country. Each fiery disaster teaches firefighters a new lesson. Each is examined, studied and analyzed to determine what happened, and to see if any lessons that may save their lives in the future can be learned. The U.S. Forest Service and fire scientists always make an effort to find at least a small bit of good that can come out of such tragic events.
It’s from such disasters that the 10 Standard Firefighting Orders were developed, the unbreakable 10 commandments of wildland firefighting. Among them: Keep informed on fire-weather conditions and forecasts; know what your fire is doing at all times; identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known. In some of the infamous cases, some of those rules were ignored, and firefighters paid with their lives.
It won’t be known for some time exactly what happened to the five men who died on Gorgonio View Road near Twin Pines on Oct. 26 in Esperanza Fire. Pushed by howling Santa Ana winds, a raging firestorm snuck up and engulfed them so quickly they couldn’t make it to their fire engine or even deploy their fire shelters. They were men who took great pride in their training and wouldn’t put themselves or their colleagues at unnecessary risk.
Environmental factors are studied meticulously, including fuel types, slope and wind, but recent years have seen commanders held responsible for deaths. Experts are cautious about assigning blame, especially to men who died trying to protect the lives and property of others. Wildland fires, especially with chalk-dry fuel and high winds, are a crapshoot of danger, despite the high level of training firefighters receive, they warn.