USA — Fire conditions were so dangerous where a local fire chief was killed Saturday that had the full firefighting crew been asked, they would have refused to go back to the ridge, a source said.
Speaking with KOMO News on condition of anonymity, the source, a wildland firefighting expert who is close to the firefighting crew involved, said the firefighters made the decision in a vote after a dangerous battle with flames the night before Chief Daniel Packer was killed.
The next day, Packer either volunteered or was ordered to go back to the same dangerous ridge to survey fire conditions.
That’s when Packer, chief of East Pierce Fire & Rescue, and another firefighter faced a blow-over — a fast-moving fire that you can’t outrun.
“Mr. Packer had deployed his shelter on a ridge and the other gentleman had deployed his shelter on a roadway, like a logging roadway in the area,” said Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Susan Gravenkamp.
The fire shelters are a last resort for firefighters who have no way to escape an advancing fire.
The shelters “get extremely hot, they are extremely dangerous,” said Tim Perciful with King County Fire District 44. “You don’t want to use these unless you absolutely have to.”
The firefighter who deployed his shelter down on the road survived.
Packer, 49, was killed when flames overran his shelter. An autopsy conducted Tuesday determined that he died of burns and smoke inhalation.
Packer was an experienced firefighter who had received national recognition for his firefighting skills. He led teams of firefighters into huge fires for years, and was preparing to take command of a large team on Sunday at the Panther Fire in Siskiyou County before he was killed.
“Chief Packer had a tremendous amount of experience in the wildland fire realm and was very well versed on those kinds of hazards,” said East Pierce Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief John McDonald. “But… there’s always a bit of unknown and always a bit of danger there.”
Packer is survived by his wife, four daughters and two grandchildren.
Several members of the department are staying with the family to help as they cope with the loss, McDonald said.
“Although all of our families recognize the danger of our jobs, nobody really expects it to happen to them,” he said. “(Packer) talked constantly about his family. His family was his number-one priority in his life. He taught a lot of people — myself included — how important it is to balance your work life with your professional life.”
U.S. Forest Service spokesman Duane Lyon would not comment on whether Packer, a senior-ranking member of the fire’s incident command team, volunteered or had been ordered to survey the fire from the ridge. Lyon said investigators expect to release their preliminary findings later this week.
Members of East Pierce Fire & Rescue have traveled to California to escort Packer’s body home.
“Chief Packer was a dynamic leader of this organization,” McDonald said. “He was very much loved and respected by everybody who worked here. This has been a devastating loss.
“He was father, and a husband, and a grandfather, and an exceptional friend to an awful lot of people.”