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Incident Name:
Date: burnover on 8/20/2000; death date was 9/3/2000
Personnel: John Paul Pritchett, Sr
Age: 57
Agency/Organization: Mississippi Forestry Commission, Webster County, Walthall MS
Position: Forestry Crew Chief / firefighter

Summary: Forestry Crew Chief Pritchett and a forester from the wood products company that owned the land that was on fire were teamed together. The assignment for the pair was to use a tractor-plow (operated by Forestry Crew Chief Pritchett) to cut a fire break to tie in the rear and contain the right flank of the fire. As the tractor-plow worked, the brush between the tractor line and the burned area was set ablaze by the forester using a drip torch so that future spread could be prevented. The backfire became too intense, so the decision was made to stop the backfire part of the operation. As the forester continued to follow the tractor-plow, he encountered a bee's nest that had been plowed through by the tractor-plow. The forester, who was allergic to bee stings, made attempts to get through the area but was forced to return to the road to avoid them. About the same time, Forestry Crew Chief Pritchett made a turn toward the fire in an attempt to locate the perimeter. Visibility was poor due to intense undergrowth and smoke. He inadvertently positioned himself in front of a finger of the fire that was making a rapid run. By the time he saw the crowning head fire rolling toward him, it was too late for a retreat. He used his dozer to create a safety zone. He laid face down in the center and covered himself with dirt in an attempt to protect himself as the fire passed over him.

Forestry Crew Chief Pritchett was exposed for about 15 seconds. He rose from the ground, extinguished a small fire involving his tractor-plow, and drove the tractor-plow out to a point where he met some other firefighters. He sustained second and third degree burns to his arms, back, neck, and face. Forestry Crew Chief Pritchett was transported to a local hospital by a local police chief and later transferred to a burn center where he was treated for his injuries. He died suddenly and unexpectedly on September 3, 2000, two weeks after his injury. The cause of death was listed as massive bilateral bronchial pneumonia as the result of thermal burns with hospital immobilization.

Forestry Crew Chief Pritchett was either not equipped with or failed to use a fire shelter. The County Chief Medical Examiner's statement strongly recommended that all Mississippi Forestry Commission wildland crews be equipped with appropriate fire retardant/resistant protective clothing. The medical examiner stated that Forestry Crew Chief Pritchett would likely not have sustained his specific burn injuries had he been wearing protective equipment.

The County Line fire eventually consumed 288 acres. This fire and several others in the area were caused by arson.


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 Walthall, MS


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  • Mississippi Firefighter Succumbs to Wildfire Burn Injuries

    9/3/2000 | News (no longer online)

    John Paul (J.P.) Pritchett, Sr., Forestry Crew Chief for the Mississippi Forestry Commission, died of complications Sunday from burns he received while fighting a wildfire August 20.

    Pritchett had been running a bulldozer, plowing a firebreak on a several-hundred acre wildfire near the county line separating Webster and Clay counties, according to information officer Harold Anderson. A change in wind pushed a wall of fire toward him. Pritchett tried to use the blade of his bulldozer to clear an area around his position and scoop out a depression so he could take cover. But he was enveloped by the flames, causing him serious burns. Pritchett, 56, had been separated from other firefighters while working the fire on private property. No one else was injured in the blaze.

    Prior to coming to the forestry commission, Pritchett had worked 20 years for Weyerhaeuser until 1990. In both jobs he had been involved with all facets of forestry. The state forestry commission is responsible in Mississippi for all wildfires on state and private lands. They assist firefighters on federal property.

    Pritchett died September 3 while at the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center in Greenville, Mississippi.

    Pritchett, who lived in Bell Fountain, leaves a wife, two adult children and a 17-year-old daughter. The funeral was Sept. 6, at the Oliver Funeral Home in Eupora. A memorial has been established in his name at the burn center in Greenville.

    Firefighters Memorial Office: P.O. Box 935; Greenville, Miss 38702; (662) 332-3101

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