The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), U.S Forest Service and the Los Angeles Fire Department published a joint paper on last year’s Mendocino Complex Fire PDF 7.2 MB, discussing openly the multitude of problems facing teams assigned to the incident.
Several firefighters were injured after winds shifted, forcing them to run. This report details this incident and some of the actions leading up to it.
An overarching theme of the lessons learned, especially from those on the fireline, relates to communication. Multiple people commented on speaking up about safety concerns and even saying to leadership flat out that an operation is dangerous or not viable. Many did not feel they could bring these issues up, which led in part to actions that put firefighters at risk for their lives.
In addition, the response was managed by two full Type 1 Incident Management Teams due to the large size of the fire. These two teams were joined, which is not common. It caused problems due to duplication of duties and jobs, communications issues, and competing operational mindsets. General consensus was that joining teams could have been handled better.
A third identified issue was the problems between the U.S. Forest Service and CAL FIRE. Some firefighters referred to it as a rivalry causing even more problems with logistics and communication and adding to the general confusion.
Lessons learned from this incident can assist other federal, state and local agencies to avoid similar problems in their own wildfire incident management. Agencies should review this report and discuss the implications to their own best practices.