The four Northern California firefighters were in serious trouble almost immediately after a helicopter dropped them near ground zero of what they thought would be a small fire.
All four were badly burned last month in the Lake County fire, and a new report by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection raises questions about their equipment and training.
It notes one firefighter removed his protective gloves and another had problems with his emergency shelter.
The report published this weekend details the trouble the four faced, how they were rescued and the serious injuries they suffered.
The men were among the first victims of a wildfire that turned into one of the most destructive in California history, destroying more than 1,000 homes, killing four people and growing to more than 100 square miles.
The four firefighters hiked up an access road with the expectation of battling a 20-acre fire, according to the review. But the blaze took off unexpectedly, forcing them to flee to a barren goat pen. A nearby hillside then turned into a “wall of fire,” and the intense heat chased the men from the goat pen to a nearby metal barn.
“They could feel their faces burning from the radiant heat,” the report said.
While crouched under the fireproof shelters they got from their backpacks, one of the firefighters tried to sip some water he had with him but found it “too hot to drink.”
Thick smoke prevented aircraft from dropping water on the men’s position.
The report credits division Chief Jim Wright, who lives in Lake County near where the fire started, and two other firefighters with responding to the trapped firefighters’ mayday call and racing through the fire in a pickup truck to scoop them up.
All four firefighters suffered serious burns and required hospitalization. Two remain hospitalized, one in critical condition.
Wright didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The report raised concerns about the firefighters’ gear and training.
“All firefighters are required to have a safety zone and to communicate the safety zone’s location to everyone,” said Bill Gabbert, a retired firefighter who operates the website Wildfiretoday.com. “They obviously didn’t have a safety zone.”
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