Thursday, November 29

Ohio House Fire Kills Woman, 3 Children

The Associated Press: Ohio House Fire Kills Woman, 3 Children
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A fire started by a candle swept through a two-story house, killing a woman and three children, fire officials said.

The woman's body was found on the lower level. The children, two girls and a younger boy, were found together in an upstairs hallway, according to fire officials.

"They may have become disoriented and tried to huddle together and tried to get out," said Deputy Fire Chief Luis Santiago.

The fire started around 10 p.m. on Wednesday and was contained within an hour, according to fire officials. Authorities said it appeared there were no smoke detectors in the house.

Neighbor Mike Matzinger, 49, said he was doing dishes when he saw flames shooting out the home's first-floor living room window and ran outside. He tried to break through a steel back door but it was locked and wouldn't budge, so he called to the children, who he thought were upstairs.

Matzinger said he yelled for them to come to the back window so he could catch them, but they never came.

He then ran to the front of the house, where a man who lives there was outside without shoes, screaming, "My kids, my kids, they're in the house." Matzinger told him, "We can't get them out."

The man ran toward the home, where flames and smoke were pouring out the windows, and collapsed as if in shock, Matzinger said. The man was taken away by ambulance, but his condition was not known.

The fire blackened the walls and ceilings of the home, melted its plastic siding and charred its wood frame. It also melted the siding of Matzinger's home a driveway away.

Wednesday, November 28

Fighting Fires With a Pop and Splash

The Associated Press: Fighting Fires With a Pop and Splash
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — William Cleary believes aerial firefighting could become child's play.

Five years ago, his son drenched him with a water balloon — and got him to thinking.

"He was three stories up and I was walking, and he still managed to hit me square in the head," said Cleary, a Boeing engineer. "I thought, why can't we be this accurate with water on fires?"

So he started working on a system to use giant water balloons to put out wildfires.

Now, Cleary has a shared patent, the support of two Fortune 500 companies and a small team of designers and engineers at his disposal on a project that could change the way fires are fought from the air.

The basic concept is simple: Biodegradable plastic balloons four feet in diameter hold 240 gallons of water; they are enclosed in cardboard boxes that are torn open by the wind when pushed out the back of a cargo plane; the balloons burst in midair, making it rain in the desert.

With the use of GPS coordinates and wind-speed calculations, the balloons could be dropped with precision from a safe altitude high above the flames, the developers say.

The balloons — which have yet to be tested on a real wildfire — would be used in addition to the usual aerial firefighting equipment: helicopters with water buckets, and air tankers.

After the inspiration from his son, Cleary started tossing water balloons off a parking garage to study their fall. But his project really took off when a paper he wrote about his concept won a Boeing innovation contest and $100,000 in research and development funding that went with it.

Paper products giant Weyerhaeuser designed the corrugated cardboard container that prevents the balloons from leaking or sloshing around in a plane's cargo hold.

"Our packages are designed to stay together and he was asking me to have this package blow apart — completely backwards from what we're used to doing," said Rick Goddard, Weyerhaeuser's bulk-packaging sales director.

The system has evolved over five years from hard plastic beachball-size balloons to the enormous water bladders made by Flexible Alternatives, a Simi Valley plastics company that also makes the straps that attach to the box lid and pull the balloon apart in midair.

The water balloons could make any plane with a ramp, a cargo bay, and a specialized GPS system into a firefighter. A C-130 cargo plane, which the Air National Guard uses to drop supplies, could fit 16 water balloons, or more than 3,800 gallons of water or fire retardant per trip.

An ordinary firefighting helicopter can hold more than 2,000 gallons of water or fire retardant, while the Forest Service's air tankers can hold 2,700 gallons of liquid in a tank permanently installed on each aircraft.

"This is like calling in the cavalry," Cleary said.

Most important, said Cleary, the planes would drop the water bombs accurately from high above the flames instead of precariously skimming the smoldering hills, the way air tankers do now.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, there were 20 aerial firefighting accidents and 13 fatalities between 2006 and 1996. Cleary said it is easy to convince the pilots who fly these missions that there's a better way.

The system is ready to be tested on a real fire on private land, Goddard said. The government requires extensive testing before new firefighting technology can be used on federal land.

The Forest Service has not yet run the numbers to see if buying thousands of disposable box-and-balloon kits at an initial price of $300 each can save enough money on equipment, manpower and other costs to make the technology worthwhile.

"It costs several millions of dollars to install a tank on an aircraft, and that lasts at least 15 years," said Carl Bambarger, an expert in aerial firefighting with the Forest Service's Technology and Development Center in San Dimas.

Bambarger said Cleary is not the first to come to him with the idea of packaging fire retardant in containers to drop from planes, but he's "the only one who's gotten this far."

While Cleary and Goddard say the cardboard and plastic will naturally break down, the debris could still prove to be an obstacle.

"There's a lot of boxes, plastic bags and lanyards that are going to land in the forest," Bambarger said. "The first person who gets hit by a fluttering piece of cardboard and sues the Forest Service — and we've had sillier things happen — the cost savings is gone."

Newspaper Carrier Alerts Family to Fire

The Associated Press: Newspaper Carrier Alerts Family to Fire

File this under...we don't need no stinkin' smoke detector!
LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (AP) — A family in eastern Tennessee credits a newspaper carrier with saving their lives from a fire that was consuming their log cabin — and they weren't even subscribers.

"I know that woman will be rewarded in heaven one day," Charlene Dunsmore said of the 29-year-old carrier, Carston Jane McKee.

McKee was driving her route for The Knoxville News Sentinel on Saturday morning when she spotted flames on the porch of the Dunsmores' home on a country road. She was about 45 minutes earlier than usual because of an early press run.

McKee called 911 but didn't wait for a response.

"I ran to the log cabin and started beating on the windows," she said. "As soon as the lady opened up the front door, the fire was right next to the door."

Dunsmore, her husband, Shawn, and their 8-year-old son, James Paul "J. P." Dunsmore, fled the house barefoot but unscathed, though their two poodles died in the blaze, which quickly swept through their two-year-old home.

"We can't thank her enough," Shawn Dunsmore's aunt, Mary Ruth Dunsmore, said of McKee. "She went above and beyond. They're alive today because of what she did."

McKee remained at the scene for nearly an hour answering authorities' questions before resuming her paper route.

"It could have been anybody," she said.

Fire service 'could face charges'

BBC NEWS | UK | England | Coventry/Warwickshire | Fire service 'could face charges'
A fire service could be charged with corporate manslaughter over the deaths of four firefighters, police have said.

Ashley Stephens, 20, John Averis, 27, and Darren Yates-Badley, 24, were found dead in the gutted remains of a warehouse in Warwickshire.

Ian Reid, 44, died in hospital following the fire on 2 November.

Police said Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service could face charges and they were "ruling nothing out". The fire service has not commented.

Officers have spent the last four weeks searching the shell of the Atherstone-on-Stour warehouse and are treating the blaze as suspicious.

Cause unknown

At a news conference held on Wednesday morning, Warwickshire Police said a "meticulous" search of the site had not provided clues to the cause of the fire so far.

Asked whether the fire service would face charges, Det Supt Ken Lawrence said: "It is possible. We are exploring every single possibility and ruling nothing out."

He added: "I still don't know what started it. I am erring on the side of caution, treating it as if it was arson, but clearly I would add that I am open-minded about that."

A fire service spokesman told the BBC it "would be inappropriate" to comment while the investigation was ongoing.

Mr Lawrence said initial reports that migrant workers had been sleeping in the warehouse on the night of the blaze were untrue, although it might have happened on previous occasions.

He added that the search of the site could take at least until the end of January.

Police officers are still interviewing warehouse workers and have drawn up a list of 400 people who were on the site in the days running up to the fire, on 2 November.

Ch Supt Paul Mason Brown, in charge of operations at the scene, said the building was still unstable and the safety of those working there was a priority.

He added that an air raid-style siren was being used to warn people of any movement in the warehouse.

Floral tributes have been laid in front of the site.

Feinstein criticizes fire planning for region > News > Metro -- Feinstein criticizes fire planning for region
City and county leaders need to do a better job preparing for the type of firestorms that devastated the region last month, even if that means raising taxes, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said yesterday at a public hearing she chaired at San Diego City Hall.

If changes aren't made quickly, Feinstein warned the result could be “a loss of life on a major scale.”

Feinstein, D-Calif., was joined by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, and Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego. The federal lawmakers are trying to correct problems that surfaced during the October wildfires.

About a dozen people testified, including San Diego City Council President Scott Peters, county Supervisor Ron Roberts and former San Diego fire chief Jeff Bowman.

The 3½-hour hearing opened with Feinstein criticizing the city and the county. Feinstein said the city doesn't have enough firefighters or fire stations. She said San Diego County is one of the largest in California without a unified fire department.

Peters pointed out that voters have twice refused to pay for more fire protection. Feinstein suggested “the third time might be the charm.”

“I think people now see this is a pattern, and everything they hold dear could go,” she said.

What seemed to trouble Feinstein most was finding out that the fire station in Rancho Bernardo is responsible for protecting 24 square miles. Standards set by the National Fire Protection Association, which accredits departments across the country, say a station shouldn't cover an area larger than 9 square miles.

All of the 365 homes burned in San Diego last month were in Rancho Bernardo. Most were destroyed, which Feinstein said indicates that firefighters didn't get in.

“Obviously, the fire wasn't fought there,” she said.

She asked Peters if an additional fire station in the area would have helped. Peters said the city is trying to answer that question.

At least four stations – in Paradise Hills, Tierrasanta, La Jolla and University City – cover areas larger than 9 square miles, fire officials said.

The National Fire Protection Association has set a five-minute response goal for firefighters. In Rancho Bernardo, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department meets or exceeds that goal 37 percent of the time. Across the city, the department meets or exceeds that mark 47 percent of the time.

In Mission Valley, an area lined with strip malls and office buildings, firefighters have trouble responding to 911 calls within 10 minutes, Fire Chief Tracy Jarman testified.

Some municipalities in the county steer more resources to fire protection than San Diego.

In Escondido, for example, five fire stations cover 50 square miles. In Chula Vista, nine stations defend approximately 52 square miles, although there has been talk of closing one of those stations due to budget concerns.

After the 2003 wildfires, the National Fire Protection Association studied the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department to see if it qualified for accreditation. It didn't.

The city needs at least 20 additional fire stations, the association said. It would cost about $100 million to build and staff the stations, and $40 million a year to run them.

Since the 2003 wildfires, two stations have been built, including a temporary structure at the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot. A third station is expected to open in January in Carmel Valley.

Money, or a lack of it, has been the biggest stumbling block. San Diego is hamstrung by a mountain of debt and other financial problems that have made borrowing money an expensive exercise.

The fire department has a $181 million annual budget, up from $171 million a year ago. If the stations were built, about 240 firefighters would be hired to join the 924 men and women who staff 46 stations.

But that still wouldn't be enough manpower to turn back firestorms like those that burned across the county last month, department spokesman Maurice Luque said.

“It's unfair to put the onus of solving all the fire protection issues on the backs of the city,” Luque said. “This is a regional issue that's going to take state and federal support to resolve.”

Luque said the lack of personnel isn't nearly as worrisome as the lack of fire engines.

“We had firefighters trying to sneak on engines because there weren't enough,” he said.

As much as Feinstein would like to see more resources in the city, she said she's just as concerned about the county's decision not to form a regional fire department.

During the hearing, when Roberts interrupted the senator and said he had a suggestion, Feinstein pointed at him, smiled and took a playful stab.

“Like a county fire department in your district?” she said.

Roberts, chairman of the board of supervisors, has said he is reluctant to focus on that goal because of resistance from several rural fire protection districts.

However, he said he is interested in improving the use of military aircraft, which barely got off the ground during the first two days of last month's fires. He also wants Cal Fire, the state agency, to use more military technology to gauge the direction and magnitude of wildfires. And Roberts said he would like military assets to arrive before the fires start, instead of days afterward.

Roberts also expressed interest in an idea that Bowman, the former fire chief, raised at the hearing. Bowman suggested that the county buy 50 fire engines and spread them among the fire departments.

After the meeting, Roberts said he'll take the first step toward making such a purchase in the next two weeks and ask the board to approve a proposal to review funding options and legal obligations. Roberts said it's possible that federal funding could be used. It's an idea he plans to discuss further with Feinstein.

“It doesn't necessarily hinge on federal funding, but she seems determined to assist in making some changes, and I'm delighted with that,” Roberts said.

Bowman, who resigned 18 months ago as San Diego's fire chief, in part because he couldn't get more resources, reminded Feinstein that the two of them were members of the Blue Ribbon Commission formed after the 2003 wildfires to determine what needed correcting. The commission came up with dozens of recommendations, but several suggestions were only partially implemented or ignored.

One called for adding 150 engines to Cal Fire's fleet. To date, 19 have been ordered.

“This is like déjà vu – we have these meetings, but nothing happens,” Bowman said. “What needs to happen here is action.”

Feinstein thanked Bowman for his candor.

“Now the challenge will be to see whether there is the leadership to take us where we need to be,” she said.

Preparations Before Malibu Fire Hailed

The Associated Press: Preparations Before Malibu Fire Hailed
LOS ANGELES (AP) — When the first flames appeared in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu over Thanksgiving weekend, officials were waiting.

A crew was on the scene within three minutes of the fire's start, and within 15 minutes, six helicopters were up, said Fire Inspector Sam Padilla.

The blaze, which was 97 percent contained Monday, would destroy 53 homes and damage more than 30 others. But officials said the damage could have been worse had it not been for their preparations and a break in the weather.

"All the elements were there for something really bad and catastrophic to happen. We wanted to be better safe than sorry," said Michael Richwine, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The planning for the Thanksgiving winds began more than a week ahead of time, with state, local and federal fire officials meeting to review maps of the projected winds and the moisture levels of vegetation.

Water content in shrubs and trees was below 40 percent — a critical level — and strong winds were forecast to last several days.

Hundreds of firefighters were dispatched to locations across Southern California, with big concentrations in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

By Thanksgiving Day, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had more than 3,000 additional firefighters in place on 400 engines, 89 firefighting crews and 28 bulldozer crews, Richwine said.

"We do this quite frequently, but this one was just a little bigger than what we've done in the past because of the fuels and the winds," he said.

More than 100 aircraft were also waiting around the region, and more than 350 inmates were deployed to help clear fire lines. The Los Angeles County Fire Department, which took the lead in Malibu, had 100 extra personnel on hand and eight aircraft — two 1,200-gallon SuperScoopers and six helicopters — at the ready, said Padilla.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but authorities have said it was either accidentally or intentionally started by someone.

Fire officials said they wanted to deploy more resources before any potential blazes after last month's firestorm in Southern California that destroyed 2,196 homes and burned 800 square miles.

"The event in late October, we pre-positioned whatever we had and we moved it to Southern California," said Mike Jarvis, a spokesman for the state forestry department. "But if you've got wind of the extreme nature that it was last month, that really restricts what you can do."

The winds in those fires whipped at up to 100 mph — twice as fast as top speeds over Thanksgiving — and lasted days instead of hours.

Because of the lighter winds this time, pilots were able to get up and stomp the flames down early, authorities said.

On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was expected to hold a hearing that will focus on whether more preparations are needed for wildfires.

"We're trying to get a sense of what needs to be done to prepare Southern California for what are going to be increasingly virulent fires," Feinstein said.

Sunday, November 25

Crews gain upper hand on Malibu fire 

UPDATE 1-Crews gain upper hand on Malibu fire | Bonds News |
MALIBU, Calif., Nov 25 (Reuters) - Firefighters gained the upper hand on Sunday against a fierce wildfire that destroyed 49 homes in the exclusive beachside community of Malibu, where residents were allowed to return and assess the damage.

The fire, which officials said was the worst to strike Malibu in 15 years, was the second there in just over a month. It had lost much of its power with dying Santa Ana winds and was 40 percent contained by Sunday afternoon.

The flames no longer threatened homes in the enclave hugging the Pacific Ocean and some firefighters and air support personnel were sent home, though officials said it was too early to declare victory.

"I could say we're in the clear, but anything could happen, said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mike Brown.

The blaze erupted early on Saturday, charred 4,720 acres (1,910 hectares) and forced more than 10,000 people to evacuate the community, popular with many of Hollywood's biggest stars.

Tuesday, November 20

Last Moments of FDNY Firefighters Revealed -

Last Moments of FDNY Firefighters Revealed - In The Line Of Duty
NEW YORK-- "Mayday, mayday, mayday! . . . Engine 75, 15 feet in, running out of air."

Veteran FDNY Lt. Howard Carpluk spent his last conscious moments pleading for air and desperately trying to communicate his position after being buried in a floor collapse, says an FDNY report on the tragic Aug. 27, 2006, Bronx blaze that also killed rookie firefighter Michael Reilly.

"You see where the line went in? There's a hole for me to get air - we need a mask toward the back," Carpluk told searchers minutes after his initial "mayday."

A mere four minutes later, he gasped: "Mask. Get it back here. I'm out of air . . Keep coming straight back here, we only need a mask. There's a void for me, come here, you'll see it. All I need is air, bro."

Carpluk, Reilly and eight other firefighters tumbled into a trash-filled abyss while fighting a blaze in a 99-cent store.

According to transcripts of FDNY handie-talkie recordings made at the scene and included in the report, which was obtained by The Post, Reilly was never heard from after the collapse.

But Carpluk, 43, almost immediately began calling for help, calmly and heroically communicating at least a dozen distress calls from 1:01 p.m. until he was found at 1:26 p.m.

Amid the chaotic radio chatter, some of Carpluk's mayday calls went unheard.

"All handie-talkie traffic cease," a Division 6 commander barked in frustration at one point. "Unit with the mayday, go ahead."

Carpluk responded with directions, trying to lead frantically digging firefighters through the harrowing maze.

"75 to Alpha . . . you have to go further back. Mayday, further back," he said.

Later, as his 40 minutes of oxygen ran out, he pleaded with the firefighters that he could hear rummaging around him.

"Come on, see the guy with the line. Forget the water, give me the mask first and turn around and hit it. You go down the left side, 75 mayday, go down the left side. You'll see me sticking out my hand."

Carpluk finally grabbed the leg of a firefighter crawling past him - and got his air mask.

"Save my probie," he urged. "He's underneath me."

The fallen firefighters were hidden beneath a massive air-conditioning unit.

The motion sensors on their bunker gear - designed to beep and flash when a firefighter has not moved in 30 seconds - failed to alert rescuers to their location, the report revealed.

One by one, eight other entombed firefighters were freed.

But Carpluk and Reilly, trapped face down, bent forward from the waist and partially wedged under a splintered girder, were all but unreachable.

By the time Carpluk was freed at 2:15 p.m., he was in cardiac arrest. He died the following day from asphyxia and head trauma.

Reilly, buried for one hour and 40 minutes, died at the scene of asphyxiation due to "compression of the chest," the FDNY said.

The Bronx DA's investigation into the deaths continues. The FDNY report concluded that the engineer hired by building owners in 2000 to repair prior fire damage had illegally removed some support beams from the basement and failed to notice the remaining ones were significantly weakened by decay and termites. The city allowed the engineer to self-certify his work.

Click the link above for more information about this incident.

Thursday, November 15

Burned San Diego Firefighter Describes Cheating Death - Wildland Firefighting

Burned San Diego Firefighter Describes Cheating Death - Wildland Firefighting
A female firefighter critically burned in the Harris fire returns home and recounts the moments when she thought she would die.

Brooke Linman was cared for at the UCSD Burn Center for three and a half weeks before going home -- at one point she was put into a medically induced coma. This week, she went home to her family and daughter in Mira Mesa, though, and she celebrated a birthday.

"When I came home, I told her, 'I know Mom looks a little funny,' " Linman told NBC 7/39. "She said, 'You look perfect to me.' "

Linman's ear is still healing, as is a burn on her face, which, with the help of donor skin, will grow back. Doctors say her badly burned lungs are now 100 percent.

"I'm a work in progress, but I'm healing," said Linman. "I'm better off than I was three weeks ago -- that's for sure."

Linman and her crew were trying to protect a home in the remote East County community of Potrero when they found themselves in trouble. The crew and 15-year-old Richard Varshock took refuge in a fire truck when the windows exploded.

"There was a moment when I thought, 'I cannot believe I'm going to die in this engine right now,' and then something else clicked in: 'You're not. You're getting out of this engine now,' " Linman said.

Linman got out of the truck and soon was trying to put the fire out on her face and get under her emergency shelter. Then she heard Varshock scream.

"We got into my shelter, and I just wanted to calm him down," Linman told NBC 7/39. "He was severely burned. He kept asking me if we were going to die. I said, 'No, were not going to die.' "

At that point, Linman said, she focused on what she has wanted to do since the age of 7 and dressed up as a firefighter: help others.

As she celebrated her 33rd birthday on Tuesday, she was thankful to all those who have helped her.

"I have a new appreciation -- not just for life but for the people in it," Linman said at the party.

She told the well-wishers at the party that she was thankful to be alive.

"Yeah, this was a birthday that almost didn't happen," she said. "It was a special one. It's going to be a good year."

Like most heroes, Linman said she is not a hero, even when pressed about how remarkable she was saving Varshock. She said she was just doing her job. Linman also said that the real heroes are the people at the burn unit who she said never left her side.

Friday, November 9

Tomgram: Mike Davis, Who Really Set the California Fires?

Tomgram: Mike Davis, Who Really Set the California Fires?
You can't have too much of a good thing, so let me just quote Mike Davis from 1998 to introduce Mike Davis 2007 on the California fires. In Ecology of Fear, his 1998 book on southern California, he wrote just about everything you'd ever need to know if you didn't want to be surprised by the raging Santa Ana-driven wildfires of 2003 or 2007. After all, there's nothing new about the burning phenomenon on what Davis then dubbed "the fire coast." "A great Malibu firestorm," he wrote, "could generate the heat of three million barrels of burning oil at a temperature of 2,000 degrees." No wonder Cold War era researchers used those California fires to model the behavior of nuclear firestorms.

What remains eternally new (and yet utterly predictable, once you've read Davis) is the increasing amount of tinder we put in the way of such fires in "the suburban-chaparral border zone where wildfire is king" -- and then the fierce fire-suppression campaigns that new, wealthy homeowners in their privatized, gated communities, McMansions, and McCastles demand, which only build further the fuel for the fires that, even in the 1990s, were "becoming ever more apocalyptic." Oh yes, and another thoroughly predictable thing: After hundreds, or thousands, of houses burn, the search for villains begins not among the politicians and developers, pushing human habitation ever deeper into the lands of the firestorm, but for arsonists, "although probably not more than one in eight blazes is caused by arson." The shape of the shape-shifting arsonist has changed over the years: more or less in historical order, according to Davis, they have been Indians, sheepherders, tramps, Wobblies, Okies, "Axis saboteurs," and, in our own time, environmentalists, (indirectly) endangered and protected species, gays, and terrorists. The search for arsonists is, of course, on again -- and one has so far been identified, a boy, possibly only 10 years old, playing with matches whose case is now being turned over to the district attorney for possible prosecution.

And finally, it's predictable that "the essential land-use issue, the rampant, uncontrolled proliferation of firebelt suburbs," is ignored; while, in the rush to fight the ensuing fires, vast sums of taxpayer money are functionally spent on luxury enclaves and gated hilltop suburbs. As Davis concluded back in 1998, but might as well have written last night, "Needless to say, there is no comparable investment in the fire, toxic, or earthquake safety of inner-city communities. Instead, as in so many things, we tolerate two systems of hazard prevention, separate and unequal."

And the worst of it is that "fire itself accelerates gentrification" in those former wildlands. Charred hillside? All the better to build, my dear…

Read the article San Diego Builds a Statue to an Arsonist:
Developers with Matches
by clicking HERE.

Report Details Calif. Wildfire Drama

SAN DIEGO — Powerful winds were driving flames through the rugged hills along the U.S-Mexico border when Thomas Varshock and his son drove up to a fire engine near the highway and asked for help saving their home.

The fire, just two hours old, was chewing through chaparral west of Potrero, about 40 miles east of San Diego. Varshock told a fire captain there were residents still in a house near his.

The captain told Varshock to obey evacuation orders and get out of area, and the engine set off down the dirt access road toward Varshock's mobile home.

Within an hour, the captain, three firefighters on his team and Varshock's teenage son were severely burned; Varshock was dead.

A preliminary report released Thursday by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection offers the most detailed official account of events that led to a dramatic helicopter rescue.

The report gives the following account:

Varshock and his son followed the firefighters. When their vehicle stalled, the firefighters let them hop into the engine cab.

Firefighters met thick smoke but kept going after Varshock told them there was water and a good place to turn around near his ridgetop home.

Flames licked the side of the fire engine when they arrived at the home, where the living room was already being consumed and attic vents were exhaling smoke.

The fire captain ordered his men to abandon the operation and get back in the engine, but the truck didn't have enough room to back out of a small clearing and stopped running.

The heat blew out the passenger windows of the engine cab. Three firefighters took cover with Varshock's son in a rocky area, where they began sending radio distress calls that alerted helicopter pilots above.

A fourth firefighter ran the other way after being overtaken by wind-driven flames. He was found about 40 minutes later behind another rocky outcropping.

One firefighter remains in a medically induced coma and two others are being treated at UCSD Medical Center in San Diego. The fourth firefighter has gone home.

The body of Varshock, 52, was found next to the fire engine. His son was critically burned and remains at the hospital. Calls to family members were not immediately returned.

The department said it will review how firefighters respond to information provided by residents and how they decide which homes to protect. A final report may take months to complete.

The report did not indicate whether other residents were nearby, as Varshock had told firefighters.

The region's fires directly killed nine people, destroyed about 2,200 homes and burned more than 500,000 acres. Seven other deaths involving evacuees fleeing the blazes have been indirectly linked to the fires.

Also on Thursday, firefighters contained a 2 1/2-week old wildfire in Orange County. The fire, set by an arsonist Oct. 21, burned more than 44 square miles of canyon and forest land and forced thousands from their homes.

A $250,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arsonist.