The need for new wildland fire shelters

Bill Gabbert, at Wildfire Today, wrote a post about fire shelters titled, “Hope for a better shelter”.

A company called SunSeeker Enterprises, is currently in the early stages of designing a new wildland fire shelter with much better protection than current shelters can offer.  Until then, hear and see what the company in the video below has to say about their innovations and future fire shelter.  SunSeeker Enterprises is also seeking donations to help with their development efforts, starting at $25.  Their donation page can be found in the link above.

I don’t know why we had to wait until Yarnell Hill for someone to start really trying to make a better wildland fire shelter.  Surely with the advances in industrial textile fabrics and flame resistant technologies through NASA and others, a better, higher heat tolerant fire shelter can be made.  Current fire shelters fall apart around the 500°F mark, and during the entrapment and ensuing burnover on the Yarnell Hill Fire that killed the Granite Mountain 19, temperatures exceeded 2,000°F.

The U.S. Forest Service made it mandatory for wildland firefighters to carry fire shelters on their person in 1977, the year after the fatalities of the 1976 Battlement Creek Fire near Grand Valley, Colorado that killed 3 members of the Mormon Lake Hotshots.  Since 1976, the fire shelter has been updated three times, and the current shelter, the so called New Generation fire shelter, is over a decade old, having been released in 2002.

It’s way past time for a new and better fire shelter.

Note: The Yarnell Hill Fire Serious Accident Investigation Report, which was released September 23rd of this year, can be read here, though it leaves an awful lot of questions left unanswered – namely the human factors.  Another report from Arizona State OSHA is due out early next year.

On second thought, do US wildland firefighters really need to be carrying fire shelters?  Firefighters in Canada stopped carrying fire shelters in 2005, thus making them think twice about engaging high intensity wildfires, which decreased greatly the number of entrapments and fatal burnovers.  Major changes in the US wildland fire culture are needed.

In almost twenty years of being involved in many fire investigations the promised improvements were rarely implemented, human factors were largely ignored and the
whole truth seldom told.”  – Dr. Ted Putnam


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