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Incident Name:  Missionary Ridge Fire, San Juan National Forest
Date: July 2, 2002, 1745 hours
Personnel: Alan Wyatt of Ontario, Oregon
Age: 51
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service
Position: firefighter, faller

Summary: Alan Wyatt was felling fire-damaged trees - "hazard trees" - on 7/2/02 on the Missionary Ridge Fire in a fire-damaged area when he was hit on the back of the head by a tree that looked green and healthy but apparently had its roots burned away. No one witnessed the accident. It was not until someone spotted the Alan laying on the ground under the tree that four other firefighters ran to help. In spite of efforts to save him, he died.

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Missionary Ridge Fire Origin

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Wildfire Death: Alan Wyatt

    7/4/02 | Forest Service News Release

    An investigative team has begun its inquiry into the death of a firefighter who was struck by a tree while working at the Missionary Ridge fire in southwestern Colorado near Durango. Alan Wayne Wyatt, 51, of Ontario, Ore., was cutting down fire-damaged trees Tuesday when he was hit on the back of the head by a tree that looked healthy but apparently had its roots burned away. Colleagues said Wyatt was not working with a spotter who could have warned him of the falling timber. No one witnessed the accident. It wasn't until someone spotted the rancher and part-time firefighter laying on the ground under the tree that four other firefighters ran to help.

    A five-member investigative team began reviewing evidence Thursday afternoon and was expected to deliver its preliminary report within 24 hours. An expanded report was expected within three days.

    Fellow timbermen say Wyatt was merely the victim of bad timing, bad luck or just plain fate. "Nothing he did caused that," said Mike Fortin, an old friend of Wyatt's from Durkee, Oregon, who was working the same fire. "Anybody standing there at that time would have gotten whacked."

    The 73,145-acre wildfire north of Durango, which has destroyed 56 homes, was 75 percent contained.

  • US Forest Service: 24-hour Report
  • US Social Security Death Index: Alan W Wyatt
  • US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: Alan Wyatt

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  • They Said It: begins 7/2/2002 and scroll up
  • They Said It: Leigh Ann (Wyatt) Evans comment on 9/11/02 in the middle of a felling discussion; mention of PSOB (Public Safety Officer Benefit); another comment on 9/15; Alan's family initially was denied benefits but after several years of legalities, they did get the benefit.
  • They Said It: more on PSOB begins on 7/1/2004; the Wyatt family won after 17 months of appeals and set a precident for AD fallers being covered.

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Firefighter dies at blaze in Colorado

    July 3, 2002 | Online Article (CNN article, no longer online)

    BAYFIELD, Colorado (CNN) -- A firefighter died Tuesday evening at the Missionary Ridge wildfire in the San Juan National Forest, fire officials said. A helicopter ambulance was flown at 5:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m. EDT) to the eastside of the 73,000-acre fire, about 15-20 miles northeast of Bayfield in southwestern Colorado. "When medical assistance arrived, the patient was down and critical. The patient had no pulse," said a statement from the fire incident management team.

    No other information was immediately available and an investigation is being conducted, fire officials said. Information on the individual's identity is being withheld until the family is notified, according to the statement.

  • Probe Begins Into Firefighter's Death

    7/5/2002 | Online Article (no longer online)

    DURANGO, Colo. (AP) -- A firefighter who died while working on a 72,935-acre wildfire was killed by a falling tree, fire officials said Wednesday.

    A preliminary investigation indicated Allan Wyatt was looking in a different direction when the tree fell on him Tuesday.

    "Accidents like this are unfortunately common on large wildfires," said forestry supervisor Mark Stiles.

    Wyatt was at least the ninth firefighter killed on the job nationwide this season and the sixth to die in Colorado.

    Wyatt, 51, of Ontario, Ore., was part of a four-member private contracting team working on hazardous tree removal north of Durango.

    "You hear different things about situations that happen on fire lines but you never expect someone to seriously get hurt," said Steve Hart, the fire's incident commander.

    An autopsy was ordered, Stiles said.

    The blaze, which has destroyed 56 homes, was 55 percent contained.

    Larry Floyd, operations manager for the east flank of the fire, said there was a significant risk that it still could blow up.

    "This is my fourth fire this year and I'm caught in new territory because I've never seen such a dry fuel source," he said. "This is actually outside our realm of experience." (more at the link)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • USFA Memorial Database: Alan Wayne Wyatt --Has an excellent description of the incident.
  • Oregon Fallen Firefighters Memorial: Alan W Wyatt

    Alan Wyatt remembered in Oregon Alan Wyatt remembered in Oregon


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Contributors to this article: Vicki Minor, John Miller, Mellie


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