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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Water Tender rollover on wildland fire

Bolli Incident,WaterTender Accident; 72-hour Briefing

Sharon Heywood, Forest Supervisor, Shasta-Trinity

Arlen Cravens, Fire Management Officer, Shasta-Trinity


Preliminary factual findings: On May 25th, contract Water Tender (WT) E41 was assigned to dust abatement on Forest Road 35N18 on the Bolli incident on the Shasta-McCloud Management Unit of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. E41 was driving southerly along 35N18 towards Curl ridge. The vehicle’s left tires left the hardened surface of the roadway causing the vehicle to roll and slide down the embankment approximately 200 feet. Cab & chassis were separated from the water tank and came to rest right side up approximately 200 feet down the embankment. The driver was discovered outside the vehicle and about 50 feet above it. The driver had lacerations to the head and was bruised with possible fractures. Rescuers performed extraction procedures and a medical evacuation to Mercy Medical Hospital. The driver was treated and kept overnight for observation and released on May 26th.

Narrative: WT E41 is a type 2 water tender, 1974 Kenworth 900, license number SE505316, with 2500-3000 gallon capacity. At 1130 at the Water Tender Group briefing in the field, water tender E41 was assigned to continue watering 35N18, the main access route to the fire. WT E41 proceeded southerly from the bottom of Sheep Camp access road to begin dust abatement where the previous water tender had left off.

At 1208 a call from WT E59 indicated that a water tender had gone off the road and that the driver was found outside the vehicle trying to climb back up the hill. Tracks indicate that WT E41 was headed southerly up a relatively straight stretch of road 35N18 when the left wheels of vehicle went onto the soft shoulder and the vehicle could not return to the hardened travel way. Apparently, the vehicle rolled upside down and slid down hill until another obstacle flipped it back upright. It is unclear when the cab/chassis and the water tank became separated. The roof of the cab was ripped off, remaining attached only at one corner, and the top of the water tank was severely scraped. However, damage to the vehicle was not as severe as expected: the water tank was not ruptured; the truck tires were all intact except the left inside dual; the dash, steering column, and seat were intact; and the fuel tanks were intact. Debris from the descent was distributed in a fairly narrow corridor. There was no water left in the tank and no evidence of loss of a large quantity of water at the scene. The road bed at the scene was not wet when the responders arrived.

It is unclear when and how the driver got out of the vehicle. It is also not clear if the driver was wearing his seat belt at the beginning of the accident or removed it during the accident. When found by E59 contract water tender driver, E41’s driver was told to remain in place until medical assistance could arrive. Due to the driver’s injuries and the difficult nature of his location, CHP worked with Incident Command on a helicopter extraction. Bolli Incident staff prepared the driver for extraction; the CHP Helicopter extracted the driver and transferred him to the life flight helicopter (REACH) for transfer to Mercy Medical Hospital for evaluation and necessary medical care. The driver suffered lacerations, bruises and a fractured thumb.

At this time there is no evidence that any other vehicles were involved in the accident. Road 35N18 is a level 2 road in steep terrain. Road conditions at the accident site were unremarkable: road alignment grade in the direction of travel was 4-6% uphill; there is no outsloping evident on this stretch of road; and the hardened travel way is 11 feet wide. As you are facing the direction of travel, there is a sheer rock cut bank on the right side of the road and the embankment on the left drops off at about an 80% slope. Turnout opportunities were available about 100 feet before the site and another visible farther south up the road at the next spur ridge.

Records indicate that appropriate vehicle inspections had occurred prior to the incident. There is no information available about the speed of the vehicle.

Vehicle inspection will occur after recovery and a coordinated CHP and Law Enforcement investigation is still ongoing.

/s/ Donna F. Harmon

Donna F. Harmon

District Ranger South Fork Management Unit

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