With all the news lately about the smoke and the Great Dismal Swamp Fire getting lost at least in the news from the East was yet another tragedy in the wildland firefighting world.
A South Dakota wildland firefighter was killed and four others were injured after they were caught in a burnover Thursday afternoon.
The wildfire that claimed a Buffalo Gap firefighter's life Thursday is still burning in rugged canyon and hill country northwest of Edgemont.
The Coal Canyon Fire trapped five firefighters, killing Trampus S. Haskvitz, 23, on Thursday afternoon. Firefighter Trampus Haskvitz succumbed to his injuries and firefighters Austin Whitney and Kevin Fees were airlifted to Rapid City Regional Hospital. Whitney suffered burns to his arms and third-degree burns to his hands and neck and has been transferred to a burn center in Greeley, Colo. Kevin Fees suffered minor burns to the back of his hands and neck and has since been released. Two U.S. Forest Service firefighters were also treated for injuries at the hospital and released.
"Yesterday was a very dark day for the Division of Wildland Fire Suppression," Joe Lowe, director of the South Dakota firefighting agency, said during a news conference Friday morning.
Haskvitz's death rocked the close-knit firefighting community. Firefighters not only had to deal with the tragic death of one of their brotherhood but continue the battle to stop the fire that killed him.
Haskvitz was one of three Wildland Fire seasonal firefighters involved in the incident.
The firefighters were on one of three engines sent to attack a fire sparked by lightning in Coal Canyon that was reported about 3 p.m. Thursday.
The firefighters were attacking the flank of the fire on a mid-slope road when an ember started a spot fire behind them, Lowe said.
The winds as erratic and the air mass as unstable. Fire travels rapidly uphill. The firefighters turned to attack the spot fire behind them, but the fire moved quickly up hill, trapping them.
Lowe said the firefighters were forced to use their emergency fire.
"The surface fire flame lengths were somewhere between 14 and 20 feet. It was a lot of heat."
The fire engine was destroyed. Its aluminum bed was completely melted off, Lowe said.
The Coal Canyon Fire grew to about 400 acres by Friday afternoon.
As firefighters WE MUST remain vigilant and keep situational awareness and our safety a top priority. As residents of those areas where wildfires are occurring or have the potential to occur WE MUST remain vigilant and do all we can to prepare ourselves, our property and our homes for a wildfire should one naturally occur (from a lightning strike) AND we MUST follow Smokey Bear’s words of wisdom … ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT WILDFIRES. We are talking here about those wildfires caused by human carelessness, lack of knowledge and compliancy.
This wildfire in the swamp is not now a super-fast moving wildfire that might catch firefighters off guard like the one in South Dakota BUT it still has the potential to be a killer. There are a thousand things that can go wrong from the news making, Kodak moment wall of flames to a very remote, very quiet tree falling because all its support has been burned away. Firefighters put their lives in danger every time they strap on their boots.
Please keep them in your thoughts and do your part … DON’T LET A WILDFIRE START and BE WISE, BE VERY WISE, BE FIREWISE!