The report on the tree falling incident in which Captain Brian Hughes of the Arrowhead Hotshots was killed in 2018 recommended that an analysis of tree falling accidents be conducted “to assist in setting priority actions to reduce similar incidents.”
Captain Hughes died when a 105-foot tall Ponderosa Pine fell in an unexpected direction on the Ferguson Fire on the Sierra National Forest near Yosemite National Park in California.
A Tree Falling Accident Analysis was completed by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center at the request of the the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. Their study compares 53 incidents from 2004 to 2019 in which firefighters were injured or killed in the process of falling trees.
Anyone involved in tree falling should read the entire 17-page report, but here are some of their findings:
- 53% of the time the tree fell in the intended direction.
- 28% of the time, the tree impacted another tree during its fall—including 2 of the 8 fatalities.
- 19% of the time, the top broke out and came back—including 2 of the 8 fatalities.
- Of all the reports that included recommendations, 21% recommended enhancing training related to tree conditions (like rot) and species-specific traits.
- 19% of the time, the sawyer was working on a hung-up tree— including two of the eight fatalities.
- 51% of the time, the incident involved a direct helmet strike.
- Of the reports that include recommendations, 24% recommended research and development related to wildland fire helmets.
- 42% of the time, the person struck was not cutting—including in 5 of the 8 fatalities.
- 24% of the reports recommended somehow improving safe work distance and compliance.
- 40% of the time, the person struck was in the traditional escape route—including in 5 of the 8 fatalities.
- 79% of the reports recommended improving risk assessment.
- 13% of the time, the tree strike happened during training— including in 2 of the 8 fatalities.
- 26% of the reports recommended improving faller training.
- 21% of the reports recommended enhancing training related to tree conditions (like rot) and species-specific traits.
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Author: Bill Gabbert
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