USA — RAPID CITY A “chance conjunction of events,” not human error, caused the death of a forest firefighter in western South Dakota last fall, investigators have concluded.
Trampus Haskvitz, 23, of Buffalo Gap, died in the Coal Canyon Fire last August. The lightning-sparked blaze that burned about 5,200 acres, or eight square miles, of U.S. Forest Service land in the Black Hills injured four other firefighters.
The investigation was conducted by a 12-person team representing the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado State Forest Service, the South Dakota Fire Marshal’s Office and the National Federation of Federal Employees.
“Everything that I read shows there was no human fault,” Jay Esperance, director of the South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire Suppression, told the media.
Haskvitz, a seasonal employee with Wildland Fire Suppression, died when fire trapped the vehicle he was riding in in a narrow canyon on Aug. 11, 2011. The vehicle was traveling on a predetermined escape route when it came around a sharp bend and was met by a wall of fire.
Investigators believe Haskvitz died almost instantly when he took a breath as he was hit by an intense burst of superheated gases and flames.
“The burst of heat missed the driver by only seconds, or he may have been holding his breath as he passed through it,” the report said.
“Many decisions and actions on the Coal Canyon Fire were manifestly heroic, demonstrating the best of wildland fire professionalism,” the report said.