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Safety       Safety       Safety



MODULE ONE - Basic Fire Suppression & Safety

MODULE TWO - Equipment Operator Fire Safety and Fire Attack Techniques

MODULE THREE - Fire Entrapment Avoidance & Safety

MODULE FOUR - Risk Management & The Human Factor

Equipment Operator Fire Safety
Fire Attack Procedures

PART 3 - Section 3Causes for Wildfire Entrapment

Section 1       Section 2       Section 4       Section 5

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3.0 Causes for Entrapment

There are many causes of fire entrapment incidents.  AND it is very common to be  a combination of one or more of these causes that in the end, lead to a fire entrapment incident.

All firefighters know there are three main factors that influence how a fire burns (behaves)

These are;  Fuel, Weather & Topography

3.1  Hazardous Fuels

  • dense, close spaced fuels; slash and blowdown areas; areas of lots of ladder fuels and logs and branches on the ground
  • fine fuels such as grasses (especially on south facing slopes); pine needles and small branches on gound (be aware of the “dead red” needles as a result of the Mountain Pine Beatle investation.
  • any unburned fuel between the fire edge and the fireline (one of the main reasons Burning-Off should always be considered and conducted if safe to do so.  (Almost always)

3.2  Hazardous Weather

  • wind
  • thunderstorms can bring sudden and erratic strong gusts of wind - downbursts.
  • winds can suddenly change direction, changing a “flank” of a fire into the main “head” causing excessive smoke and heat for a firefighter
  • watch for “fire whirls”  (“dust devils” or micro tornadoes) Smalls ones can develop into very large ones and lead to fire entrapment
  • watch out for spot fires.  Burning embers can travel airborne over firefighters to ignite fires some distance away which can quickly lead to fire entrapment
  • temperature
  • rising temperatures will cause the fire to change behaviour - 
  • rising temperatures make it more difficult for hard, physical work to be carried out
  • relative humidity
  • a lowering of relative humidity will greatly affect how the fuel burns.  A very low RH (< 10% will cause the fine fuels to almost “explode”)  

(I have personnally seen fine, curred grass burn at a 3% RH and it behaved as though gasoline was poured on the grass! - and that was on flat terrain and with no wind!)

  • precipitation (lack of moisture over a long term)

the Drought Code (DC) of the weather indicies, continures to indicate drying fuel deeper in the soil and into the “heavier” woody debris, as the summer season progresses.  This occurs almost all of the time, but is accellerated if there is a long term lack of moisture.  (low winter snow pack and or drought-like conditions

during spring and summer)  

3.3  Hazardous Topography

  • steep terrain
  • rolling debris 
  • watch below for new spots fires as a result of burning rolling debris - which can lead to fire entrapment
  • more difficult to work and move around on
  • uses more physical energy
  • south facing slope (aspect)
  • drier, warmer fulls
  • usually lighter fuels
  • narrow, box or box-like canyons 
  • often no valid escape routes available
  • gullies and ravines, chimneys
  • often no valid escape routes available


Fires usually burn upslope much faster than a firefighter can run.

Fires WILL travel quickly upslope in draws, gullies, or ravines.

Never position yourself or crews directly above a fire.

Safe Zones must be downslope and “out to the sides” of the fire.


Several years ago a logger on the west coast of B.C. was attempting to escape a fire (caused by a spark from a haul-back block) by running upslope in a gully in an attempt to reach to a road where his truck was parked.  He was not successfull. 


This fatal incident is the primary reason all forest workers in British Columbia must be trained in the basic fire fighting safety skills (2 day S-100 Course) AND renew this annually with the S-100A Course.

S-100A, Annual Safety Renewal Course, is available online at,, a friendly competitor site.


Not understanding any one of the above factors may lead to a fire entrapment incident.

There are still more factors that may lead to fire entrapment.

3.4  Human Factor  (during times of great stress we can only focus on about 7 factors)

       Your Mind / Mental State

        Attitude - you must have a SAFETY FIRST ATTITUDE!

The attitudes below may kill!

These attitudes are often a result of inexperience and overinflated egos.  Being over aggressive is sometimes an attempt to cover for the lack of experience or knowledge required to safely carry out a job.

  • "rambo" or gung ho approach - ("mother nature" will almost always win if push comes to shove)
  • overconfident - not having a solid "situational awareness" - no idea as to how quickly a rank 1, small fire, can transition into a potentially fatal fire entrapment situation.
  • horseplay- stay focused and sharp! (save your energy and desire to "play" for another time ... and place ... or find another job!)
  • fear - can lead to very poor decisions and panic (believe in and trust your safety and emergency procedures plans and skills)

Bad Supervision

All the above may lead to very poor supervision

- this can be a tough one to deal with

- may be trying to “score points” for a promotion

  • may try to be know-it-all and talk “down” to crew 

  - lack of respect  toward his / her crew

- may have a “oh don’t be a wimp”  mind set                          

  • we’ll do er, no matter what approach
  • “green” inexperienced
  • “in over their head” but not admitting it
  • may be afraid thus fear based decisions (not burning off is a classic example that is occuring more and more

These type of supervisors usually don’t last long in the system - but ...


I can recall many many times (too many) when there were poor supervisors on the fireline.  In my earlier years as a firefighter it WAS often difficult to deal with.  In later years as an Incident Commander and staff person, it was much easier, and I found it rewarding to be able to take an individual aside and work with them (time and circumstances permitting) to help begin the process of changing a poor supervisor into a good one


Lack of knowledge

  • you must be properly trained in all aspects of your expected work load
  • you must know where you are working and what is around you (situational awareness)  
  • you should have a map of the area
  • if you are unsure or don’t know - ASK  That is part of the “C” in LAACES.  Communication.
  • you should not do a task if you have not been trained for it

Lack of experience

  • panic / fear
  • you will gain experience over time - listen and learn


           Your Body

  • fatigue (a tired worker is a liability to everyone)

       short term - you must get a good sleep after each shift

     - long term - (days and weeks especially with rigorous and long work hours) can have devastating and fatal impacts on yourself and or your crews.  Sleep deprivation is accumulative and can lead to poor decisions, physical accidents and illness

  • illness - illness can impede physical and mental abilities -   stay home or in camp

heat exhaustion

heat stroke


3.5  "Hardware"

Motor Vehicle

  • accident
  • breakdown
  • civilian accident
  • injury

Equipment - Not vehicle or heavy equipment

  • PPE - Personal Protective Equipment

       -  hard hat (date and style compliant)

       -  gloves

       -  cotton, wool, or nomex clothing (it is normal for fire crews  to be required to wear nomex)

       -  sturdy, high topped leather boots with “vibram” type soles

       -  no steel toes (check with your jurisdiction working in)

       -  no contact lenses

       -  safety goggles


Interface Fire Zones

There are some "special" precautions and considerations when working in or near communities.

  • bridges or cattleguards that may burn and trap crews
  • downedpowerlines between the fire crews and escape zones
  • motor vehicle accidents between the fire crews and escape zones
  • remains of burning structures that have collapsed across a road, trapping blocking the crews from getting back to their escape zones
  • large groups of civilians blocking roads and in desperate need of help
  • unknown fuels in buildings, (sheds, garages, factories, etc.) If encountered

-  stay upwind, do not breath the smoke, move away but don’t go into low areas

-  warn other crew and civilians 

-  prevent entry by other persons

-  communicate this situation to your supervisor

-  inadequate training

-  improper safety equipment

  • propane and or natural gas issues
  • burning vehicles, RVs
  • Hydrogen Sulphide Gas - oil & gas industry

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