An unusual staffing structure, poor communication and an interagency rivalry led a group of firefighters to get trapped and burned while fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire in August 2018, according to a new report out from the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire and the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Six firefighters — one from Cal Fire and the others from the LAFD — were performing firing operations, burning vegetation between the fire and a dozer line, on Aug. 19, 2018.
But many of them were confused about what exactly their task was and who was in charge. They were also unfamiliar with the part of the fire they were battling and were concerned that they couldn't identify escape routes if things went south.
Several firefighters involved thought, "What are we doing? Why are we burning?" according to the report. The "bad feeling" they had about their assignment turned to reality as the fire jumped the dozer line and came toward them.
"Conditions changed rapidly as a crown fire exploded around them," according to the report. "Trees ignited instantaneously from the bottom to 100-foot flame lengths stretching off the tops. It went from daylight to pitch black night instantly. Embers and ash swirled around them. The roar of the fire silenced everything."