Thirty Mile Fire

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Thirtymile Fire
Location Okanogan National Forest, Okanogan County, Washington, United States
Date(s) July 10, 2001
Ignition source Camper's fire
Fatalities Four, plus one severely burned
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Wildfire at night, behind silhouetted forest, and reflected in a river.
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The Thirtymile Fire started as an escaped picnic cooking fire on July 9, 2001, in the Chewuch River canyon, approximately 30 miles north of the town of Winthrop, on the Okanogan National Forest in the state of Washington. On the evening of July 9, the Libby South Fire was already burning 50 miles (80 km) to the south, and this fire exceeded 1,000 acres (4.0 km2). To the north on the Thirtymile Fire, four firefighters were killed in the fire: Tom Craven, Karen FitzPatrick, Jessica Johnson, and Devin Weaver.

Origins of the Fire[edit]

Those responsible for abandoning the campfire that started the fire were never found . High temperatures, low humidity, and severe drought conditions combined to allow an abandoned cooking fire to grow into a huge and fatal fire. [1]

The Thirtymile seemed at first to be a very controllable fire, and fire managers assigned a crew of 21 firefighters, estimating that the fire would be contained by nightfall. However, the temperature on the day of the blaze was nearing 100 degrees, and the fire was spreading fast. By mid-afternoon, the crew watched the fire crawl up the slope on the opposite side of the valley, and they called in for more help.[2]

Firefighting Difficulties[edit]

The area where the fire had started was not within a designated wilderness, but was located in a United States Forest Service-designated special-study area. The fire's location caused communication difficulties regarding the firefighters' request for helicopter support because of confusion over the legality of dipping water from a "protected" river. Details of the helicopter dispatch issues are explained in author John N. Maclean's book The Thirtymile Fire: [3]

"... the firefighters proceeded to break most all of the Forest Service's cardinal 10 Standard Fire Orders, failing to do everything from posting lookouts to identifying escape routes. Trapped when the fire began burning across the only road out of the area, the crew was not prepared for the suddenness with which it arrived," the Forest Service's accident report states. "A rain of burning embers was followed by a rolling wave of heat, fire , smoke, and wind." As the crew members frantically tried to deploy their portable fire shelters, the fire overtook Karen FitzPatrick, 18; Jessica Johnson, 19; Devin Weaver, 21, and squad boss Tom Craven, 30 — asphyxiating them in heat so intense that it transformed a pickup truck into a pile of molten aluminum."[4]

In 2001 the U.S. Forest Service released the Thirtymile Fire Investigation Report.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Malkin, Michelle. “Forest service blowing smoke over the deaths of firefighters.” Insight on the News 22 July 2002: 46. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.
  2. ^ Markels, Alex. “Cutting through smoke - As forest fires mount, one tragedy points to a system in trouble.” U.S. News and World Report 30 Aug. 2004: 28. NewsBank Access World News. Web. 16 Oct. 2009. <‌iw-search/‌we/‌InfoWeb?p_product=AWNB&p_theme=aggregated5&p_action=doc&p_docid=104AD225A3378035&p_docnum=1&p_queryname=2>.
  3. ^ Maclean, John N. "The Thirtymile Fire" <>
  4. ^ Markels, Alex. “Cutting through smoke - As forest fires mount, one tragedy points to a system in trouble.” U.S. News and World Report 30 Aug. 2004: 28. NewsBank Access World News. Web. 16 Oct. 2009. <‌iw-search/‌we/‌InfoWeb?p_product=AWNB&p_theme=aggregated5&p_action=doc&p_docid=104AD225A3378035&p_docnum=1&p_queryname=2>.

Coordinates: 48°47′28″N 120°04′16″W / 48.79111°N 120.07111°W / 48.79111; -120.07111