Wenatchee, WA — Mike Williams, Forest Supervisor of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and John Phipps, lead of the Coordinated Response Protocol, conducted a press briefing about recent firefighter fatalities and injuries and the ongoing wildfire situation today. Williams’ statement is included here. Also included is a diagram and photo of a Type 6 engine, which is the kind of vehicle involved in the incident.
Statement of Mike R Williams, Forest Supervisor, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
My name is Mike Williams, and I am the Forest Supervisor here on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Service. Today I’m representing the leadership on this forest, and every employee who works here. And we are all heartbroken.
As you know, three of our firefighters died Wednesday on the Twisp River Fire: Tom Zbyszewski, Andrew Zajac, and Rick Wheeler.
Another Forest Service firefighter was injured, along with two employees and a contractor from Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Daniel Lyon, 25, remains in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and we have Forest Service representatives with him and his family there. I ask everyone to continue to remember Daniel and the others in their thoughts and prayers. Daniel is in critical condition, and has third-degree burns on about 60-65 percent of his body.
Daniel’s parents want you all to know that they are thankful for all the prayers and support they have received. They also want all of the firefighters to know that they are praying for their continued safety and success.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and I met with the families of Tom, Andrew and Rick. I am in awe of these amazing families. Some of them have been in the press, and I’m sure you have seen their strength. But I do want to ask that the press respect their privacy and the privacy of their extended families as they go through this deeply personal and sad time.
We are receiving a tremendous amount of support from agencies in the wildland fire community to assist us in working with the families of the fallen and injured firefighters, and we will continue to be there for them.
We also have people who are helping fight the wildfires that continue across the forest and the state. Nearly 1,800 people are assigned to four large fire complexes across the forest, and the fires exceed 380,000 acres with 86 structures lost.
One of teams here is a U.S. Forest Service team focused solely on learning from this tragic event. The Coordinated Response Protocol (CRP) Team leader John Phipps is with me today and John will brief you in a moment about their work.
The team has worked to develop a summary of the confirmed events from August 19. This chronology is approximate, but it is the best information we have right now:
· At 12:30 p.m., the Twisp River Fire was reported by the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office to the Northeast Washington Interagency Communications Center (NEWICC) in Colville, Washington. The fire was about two acres in size.
· NEWICC notified the Central Washington Interagency Communications Center (CWICC) in East Wenatchee, Washington. CWICC dispatched multiple resources, including Engine 642, from the Methow Valley Ranger District on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
· Between 2:45 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., fire activity increased as winds and smoke shifted.
· At 3 p.m., dispatch was notified of an entrapment on the incident.
· At 4 p.m., incident personnel reported fatalities and injuries and requested Life Flight. A U.S Forest Service firefighter was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, WA.
· Engine 642 was located on a hillside about 40 feet below Woods Canyon Road. The engine was upright and burned over with three deceased U.S. Forest Service firefighters inside.