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Incident Name:  Lakeport Flats grass fire
Date:  June 23, 1999
Personnel:  Matthew Alan Black
Age:  20
Agency/Organization:  Lakeport Fire Department
Position: firefighter

Summary: A large branch from a mature oak tree fell on some power lines and brought them down. The Lakeport Fire Department was dispatched to control a grass fire that resulted from the fallen power lines. Firefighters were advised upon dispatch that power lines were down. Firefighter Black's place of work was about one and a half miles from the fire scene so he responded directly to the scene in his personal vehicle and joined up with an engine company. Firefighter Black asked if he could advance a booster reel line and extinguish a pile of burning debris, permission was granted. According to witness accounts, Firefighter Black appeared to stumble after heaving on the hose after it hung up. Firefighter Black fell face down on the live wire and was electrocuted. Other firefighters on the scene used a hand tool to remove the wire from under Firefighter Black and dragged him away from the wire. He was found to have no pulse or respiration. CPR was begun immediately, ALS arrived within nine minutes, and Firefighter Black was transported to the hospital. Despite aggressive efforts to revive him, Firefighter Black was pronounced dead at the hospital. The cause of death was listed as electrocution. (From the USFA Memorial Database)

Photo from Matt's parents' NFFF page about him

Matthew Black Matthew Black


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Lakeport Fire Department


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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • NIOSH Report: Volunteer Fire Fighter Electrocuted While Fighting a Grass Fire - California (480 K pdf)


    1. Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters stay away from downed power lines at a distance equal to at least one span between poles until the line is de-energized.
    2. Fire departments should ensure protective shields, barriers, or alerting techniques are used to protect fire fighters from contacting energized electrical conductors. Alerting techniques should include safety signs and tags, barricades, or if no other means are available, an attendant stationed to warn and protect fire fighters.
    3. Fire departments should ensure fire fighters are aware of the hazards when working around energized parts or equipment.
    4. Information and analysis included in the Firefighter Fatality Report for 1999
  • Video discusses the dangers of wildland firefighting near power lines: Training video produced by the Salt River Project (SRP) with help from USDA FS, Coconino National Forest. (18 min)

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  • Theysaid: 7/28/11 Matt's grave recently was vandalized and the wildland firefighting community was asked to help apprehend the vandals.

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • Firefighters Mourn Lakeport Volunteer | June 25, 1999

    Firefighters across the North Coast on Thursday were mourning the death of a young volunteer who was killed when he stepped on a downed power line while fighting a brush fire near Lakeport.

    Twenty-year-old Matt Black died as he was racing to put out hot spots at the wildland fire just north of town near Park Way late Wednesday afternoon.About a year into his tenure as a volunteer firefighter with the Lakeport Fire Department, where he started as a cadet four years ago, Black...(more for a fee)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes


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