Incident Name: Bradley Fall Fire
Date: August 21, 2008 10:30
Personnel: Curtis Jessen
Agency/Organization: North Carolina Division of Forest Resources, Region III
Summary: On August 20, 2008, personnel from the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources were dispatched to a very small wildland fire. Firefighters found a slow moving fire in an area with extremely rough terrain and dangerous rock cliffs. With nightfall approaching, firefighters constructed a containment line around the fire to hold the fire until the next morning. On the morning of August 21, 2008, Assistant District Forester Jessen joined other firefighters in preparations to mop up the fire. Curtis Jessen advised the IC that he was going to scout around the other side of the fire. Approximately 15 minutes later, the IC unsuccessfully attempted to contact Curtis Jessen by radio and cell phones. Firefighters were sent to check on the safety of Curtis. He was found at the bottom of a 66 foot ravine. When firefighters reached Forester Jessen, he was obviously deceased. A complicated recovery process was executed by firefighters to remove him from the ravine.
Big Bradley Falls, North Carolina, site of fatal fall
Google Maps location of the falls (with a google photo that shows the steepness of the terrain): Big Bradley Falls
Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned
- North Carolina Division of Forest Resources: 24 Hour Briefing (34 k pdf)
- USDA Memorial Database: Curtis L Jessen
- WLF Hotlist Thread: NC-DFR-LODD-North Carolina Loses One of its Own
Media Articles and Reports:
- Firefighter dies at Big Bradley Falls
8/22/2008 | Online Article
North Carolina Division of Forest Resource workers are mourning the loss of one of their own today after Curtis Jessen fell off Big Bradley Falls on Thursday and died. Jessen, 32, was the division’s assistant district forester in Asheville.
He suffered critical injuries after falling at least 50 feet from the Big Bradley falls near Saluda at about 10:30 a.m., Thursday. The falls are about 65 feet tall. Medical personnel pronounced Jessen dead a short time later.
“This is a very sad day for the entire Division of Forest Resources and all of our fire-fighting partners,” said Wib Owen, director of the Division of Forest Resources. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Curtis and his family.”
Jessen was helping to put out a brush fire when he fell from the cliff. Authorities are investigating the circumstances surrounding his fall and the fire. Jessen began working with Forest Resources in February 2002. He was a forest inventory analysis forester and a service forester before being promoted to assistant district forester.
Rescue workers and firefighters pulled vehicles up to block the view as the rescue effort came to an end Thursday. The ambulance, which had backed up to a trailhead entrance at Bradley Falls, pulled away silently, escorted by a sheriff’s cruiser.
The flag at the Saluda Fire Department was being flown at half staff on Thursday afternoon after Jessen’s body was taken from the scene. Jeremy Gregg, a spokesperson with Saluda Fire and Rescue, confirmed at 1:35 p.m. Thursday that rescue workers had reached Jessen.
Gregg said members of the Saluda Fire Department noticed a brush fire at about 6 p.m. Wednesday in the area of Bradley Falls. “The firefighters contacted the county ranger, and along with the Forest Service, began fighting the fire,” he said. As night started to fall, firefighters decided to cease their work and come back Thursday morning, according to David Brown, public information officer with the Forest Service.
“The victim was here mopping up the fire Wednesday morning when the accident occurred,” Brown said. “The victim was scouting the perimeter of the fire when he fell. The fire was near the top of Big Bradley Falls." Brown said the fire was on the south face and at the very top of the falls. It was contained Thursday afternoon.
At least 40 rescue workers used all-terrain vehicles to reach Jessen. Rescue workers estimated the falls are a 25-minute hike from Holbert Cove Road. “This is steep terrain in a rugged area. Any rescue we perform in this area is tough,” Gregg said. “It’s in the middle of a gorge with a rock face on either side,”
One firefighter who responded suffered heat exhaustion but refused medical attention from EMS after his vitals were checked and were found to be OK. Another firefighter had an allergic reaction to a bee sting and was being treated. Bradley Falls has proven to be treacherous terrain, as other accidents and deaths have occurred at the site.
In December, fire departments and rescue workers from Henderson and Polk counties spent more than four hours rescuing a man who fell off a trail near the falls. In that case, the man, who was not identified, survived. North Carolina has had nine wildfire-related deaths since 1960, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The Polk County Rescue Squad, Henderson County Rescue Squad, Mountain Home Fire Department, Valley Hill Fire Department, Green River Fire Department and Dana Fire Department responded to the scene at Bradley Falls on Thursday. The Blue Ridge Fire Department assisted by manning the Saluda Fire Department on Thursday.
Photos, Videos, & Tributes:
Curtis Jessen Relaxing:
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