On the 18th day of the US Forest Service plan el dorado fire that will burn A fire was to break out to destroy 22,680 acres and five homes in San Bernardino and Riverside counties that would protect Angelus Oaks and ignite the flames to drive the Big Bear away.
On September 17, 2020, at approximately 7 p.m., following wind gusts of 60 mph on Bulldozer Line and Highway 38, Charlie Morton, a crew boss In the Forest Service Big Bear Hotshot team, his crew left and went alone to inspect the fire at the scene, along with the unburned portion of the bulldozer line.
He radioed to his captain that his crew, supported by some engine companies, could quell these new threats.
But just then, the wind picked up again, and an aggressive fire-suppression policy made the flames more intense, burning through the vegetation growth that had accumulated over the years. The captain asked Morton if he would be able to get out. “We’ll see,” replied Morton.
Moments later, Morton told the radio that he was stuck in a “corner”. He was the last one would hear from him.
Hours later, at around 11:40, searchers found Morton’s body with his scorched fire shelter next to it, barely uncovered. Almost all of the clothing from Morton’s body was burned. He was still wearing what was left in his pack. The flames had consumed the wooden handle of the spade.
Two reports released this month by the Forest Service detailing not only the ground actions and circumstances leading up to 39-year-old Morton’s death, but the Forest Service’s policies, culture and lack of experienced firefighters are what worries officials. Morton’s death and could endanger others over future wildfires.
Reports generated through interviews with firefighters and others – El Dorado Organizational Learning Report and El Dorado Learning Review Narrative, Posted on wildfirelessons.net — Do not specifically blame any one person, strategy or policy for Morton’s death.
This may be important as a lawyer prepares defenses for Refugio and Angelina Jimenez, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter And the arson crimes followed officials said the pyrotechnic device he used in his gender-reveal photoshoot at Yucaipa Park opened fire on Sept.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson has said he can prove a straight line from the accident to Morton’s death.
Jimenez has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Messages were left on Tuesday, January 11, along with his attorneys Michael Scafidi and Anderson seeking comment.
Strong winds ‘out of nowhere’
For Oceanside native Morton and other crew members, Big Bear was their “turf”—even though few crew members could actually afford to live there—and they believed the mountain town. was to be protected.
But the behavior of the San Bernardino Peak fire on the day of Morton’s death was alarming. The fire was heating up and lookouts were concerned that the fire was about to threaten the Big Bear Lake area. Bulldozers were lining up behind Angelus Oaks, but the crew exited after seeing the fire.
Still, the operation to redirect the El Dorado fire to the burn mark of the 2015 lake fire was going well… until it was.
“Out of nowhere, winds (some said it felt like 60 mph gusts) appeared and blew spots on both Highway 38 and the bulldozer line,” the narrative report said.
Firefighters usually working in the San Bernardino National Forest later commented that they were surprised by the intense fire behavior.
“Soon after the second gust of wind, a strike team leader … called for everyone to step off the line and part ways. What started as a walk turned into a downhill run. Members of the Cal Fire Strike team Described a feeling of panic as the intensity of the fire in the dark side of the burn had increased dramatically and the number of fires in the (unburned area) were increasing.
Yet when members of Morton’s crew looked behind him, Morton was “calmly using (hose) to put spots on the way down.”
It was then that Morton went back towards the bulldozer line to better see how much fire had crossed it.
Morton broadcast his recommended plan of attack to the radio followed by his indefatigable “we’ll see” remarks to his captain.
And then something went terribly wrong.
The next time the captain radioed Morton, there was no response. “He then heard Charlie call out in desperation, ‘I’m in a corner.’ ,
Organizational Learning reports that the spinning tornado, created by the extreme heat from the burn operation, looked like “Charlie was walking along the Dodger line, right when he was walking there.”
How the Forest Service determined that this happened on Tuesday was unclear, as Morton was the only witness.
Morton no longer answered his captain’s call. Radio traffic about a missing firefighter began to spread through the crew on the mountain. The captain boarded a truck with a superintendent and went back upstairs, calling for Morton over a loudspeaker. Morton’s cell phone was pinged. Law enforcement helicopter crews attempted to use their heat sensors to locate Morton, but the flames made this impossible. A helicopter crew called Morton over their loudspeakers.
A security officer and a doctor consider hiking to search for Morton. The situation was so dangerous, the doctor later said, that he used his phone to send a PIN to another medic to mark his location, just in case he didn’t return. Ultimately, the pair called off their search after encountering a bedraggled by an engine company crew.
“The members of the engine company had watery eyes, they were coughing and spitting with nostrils. The road over the bulldozer line was incredibly uncomfortable, difficult to see and dangerous. The growth did not seem to be alive,” the narrative report said.
Late that night, when the situation improved, a National Forest battalion chief and a Big Bear fire captain began a search, each taking one side of the bulldozer line.
“An accordion at the edge of the bulldozer line near a bend and the jobless fire shelter caught a quick reflection of light from[the battalion chief’s]eye. They stopped 25 feet away and were able to determine that Charlie was not alive.”
Forest Service officials called Morton’s fiancée, Monica Tapia of Irvine, and told her they needed to see her.
Before their arrival, Tapia had called the Forest Service Superintendent.
“Charlie’s fiancé told (her) that Charlie was fine, that he was not lost, that he was fine,” the narrative report said.
But the superintendent could not bear to deliver the bad news, so he hung up the phone. An aid service worker told Tapia that Morton had died in the line of duty.
forest service problems
The Organizational Learning report said Morton’s death highlighted issues in the Forest Service, which are not new:
• Its fire behavior models cannot predict this type of fire behavior and none of its analysts have been trained to recognize under which conditions spinning tornadoes – called counter rotating vortex pairs – form.
• Agencies and organizations like PG&E that use firefighting specialists are tempted to leave experienced Forest Service workers with better pay and better work-life balance.
• The fire burned a high accumulation of fuel which is difficult to extinguish. “Our current paradigm of treating fire as an enemy contributed to the state of the wild at the time of the fire,” the report said.
• Viewing fire as the enemy could also have the effect of “trying to defend our home turf” on local resources, the report said. “We continue to ask our wildland fire responders to protect communities that are becoming increasingly vulnerable. At what point do we declare communities not worth the risk of trying to protect them under extreme fire behavior conditions without any semblance of defensive space?