By Don Thompson, Associated Press
Two firefighters critically burned while trying to set backfires to slow the spread of a Southern California wildfire in October likely shouldn’t have been there in the first place given the extraordinarily dangerous conditions, according to an investigation of the incident.
It appears, but is not certain from the report by the Orange County Fire Authority, that wind-driven embers spreading from the backfires themselves are what trapped the agency’s firefighters. It says firefighters left themselves in danger from unburned fuels, increasing erratic winds and frequent spot fires.
“Their burnout may have backfired,” said Timothy Ingalsbee, a former federal firefighter who reviewed the report at the request of The Associated Press. “That’s a horrible thought.”
The wind was blowing so hard it kept extinguishing the drip torches the crew was using to ignite fires intended to create a wider buffer against the advancing flames by preemptively burning the available fuel that was feeding the Silverado fire that would grow to 12,466 acres.
The speed at which the fire could spread under conditions at the time was at “historical levels,” nearly three times as fast as the previous record for that location, and was “the main factor” in the crew becoming trapped by a spot fire that jumped the safety line, according to the report.
”These were explosive fire conditions — the classic what we call ‘blowup conditions’ — and the crews were really, really pushing the envelope” by trying to set backfires, said Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology.
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