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Incident Name: Grant West Prescribed Fire
Date: 10/02/04 
Personnel: Daniel Paul Holmes
Age: 26
Agency/Organization: Kings Canyon National Park
Position: Forestry Technician, Hotshot Crew Member

Summary: Daniel Holmes was a member of the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Crew. On October 2, 2004 at 1246 hrs he was working as a saw team member cutting dead trees in an unburned section of a prescribed burn in the Kings Canyon National Park in California. A dead tree near the perimeter of the controlled burn area was burning near its top, and falling embers from the tree threatened to spread the fire past the perimeter. Firefighter Dan Holmes and the members of his saw team were assessing how best to drop the tree and prevent the spread of the fire. Firefighters watching the team and the tree noticed that a section of the tree was breaking free and starting to fall. These firefighters called to Dan Holmes and his team and told them of the danger. Dan reacted immediately but was only able to take a couple of steps before being struck by the falling tree. Other firefighters provided medical assistance to Dan, and an ambulance was used to transport him to a helicopter landing zone for evacuation. Dan went into cardiac arrest during the ambulance ride to the landing zone. After consulting with medical control, he was pronounced dead at the helicopter landing zone. The cause of death was due to head injuries.

Dan Holmes Dan Holmes

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  • Official Press Release: National Park Service, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

    For Immediate Release – October 3, 2004

    National Park Service Grieves For Wildland Firefighter

    Wildland firefighter Daniel Holmes, age 26, of Bellingham, Washington was killed yesterday when he was hit by a falling dead tree on the Grant West Prescribed Fire in Kings Canyon National Park. Daniel's family has been notified.

    The accident occurred shortly after operations began at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 2. With four acres ignited, the top of a 100-foot white fir tree unexpectedly fell where firefighters were working, striking Holmes. Approximately 20 firefighters witnessed the accident and provided immediate medical assistance. Holmes was carried to a waiting ambulance by his fellow crewmembers, but passed away while being transported to a Lifeflight helicopter landing zone in the park. Daniel never regained consciousness after the accident and was pronounced dead by the Lifeflight medical crew.

    A three-person accident investigation team has already arrived in the park. Teams like this one are routinely dispatched for the Department of the Interior following serious accidents. Over the next few days, they will complete a standard investigation, interviewing witnesses and gathering documentation.

    "The National Park Service is heartbroken over this loss," said Superintendent Richard H. Martin. "My two priorities now are providing help for Daniel's family and supporting our park family here at Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

    Holmes was a crewmember on the Arrowhead Hotshots, an elite firefighting crew that responds to large fires across the country. The National Park Service has two such crews: Arrowhead Hotshots at Kings Canyon and Alpine Hotshots at Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • Obituary for Dan Holmes

    Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (CA)

    Passing of Arrowhead Hotshot Firefighter Dan Holmes

    Arrowhead Hotshot crewmember Daniel Holmes, 26, of Bellingham, Washington, was killed on Saturday when he was hit by a falling dead tree on the Grant West Prescribed Fire in Kings Canyon National Park.

    Born on January 16, 1978 in Springfield, Massachusetts, Dan was the son of Raymond E Holmes, Jr. and Delina J. Burke. Dan, his mother, and his brother Matt moved to Rochester, New Hampshire, in 1984. Dan grew up in Rochester, graduating from Spaulding High School in 1996. An athlete all of his life, Dan played Babe Ruth baseball and later excelled as a varsity hockey and football player at Spaulding.

    In addition to his love of athletics, Dan grew up enamored with everything related to the outdoors. He appreciated every aspect of wilderness, whether as an athlete snowboarding, mountaineering, and climbing or in his academic pursuits in which he went on to graduate from Johnson State College with a BA in environmental science.

    In recent years, Dan accomplished many a boy’s dream by combining his outdoor adventures with his passion to protect the environment by becoming a ranger with the National Park Service. He sought the wild natural areas of the West to begin this latest chapter in his life, beginning his career at Mt. Rainier. He spent several years there, first volunteering as a backcountry ranger, then being hire to work on trail crews and serve as a wildland firefighter.

    Dan became skilled at firefighting as his experience grew in the massive fires in the West. In 2003, he was selected to become a member of the National Park Service Arrowhead Hotshots, a crew which only selects the best of the best for fighting fires. Dan was with the crew when a large tree unexpectedly broke off during a firing operation and ended his too brief life. He will be sadly missed by his many friends and colleagues.

    Members of his family include his mother, Delina J. Burke of Rochester; his father, Raymond E. Holmes of Westville Massachusetts; and his brother, Matthew Holmes of Tampa, Florida. He is also survived by his girlfriend, Jules Sautter, of Bellingham.

    Donations may be made in lieu of flowers to the Sierra Club or to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation in Boise, Idaho. For information on the former, go to https://ww2.sierraclub.org/membership/donate/ and click on “Commemorative and Memorial Gifts” on the left side of the page; for information on the latter, go to http://wffoundation.org/default.asp?page_id=1&parent_id=0) and click on “Donations.”

    Calling hours will be from 6 to 9 p.m. this Wednesday at the R.M. Edgerly & Son Funeral Home, 86 South Main Street, Rochester NH 03867.

    Funeral services will be held on Thursday at 10 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 34 South Main Street, Rochester. Firefighters, rangers and others arriving in marked vehicles need to assemble at the Edgerly Funeral Home parking lot by 9 a.m. on Thursday for the short walk or motorcade to the church. Winter dress uniforms or clean and pressed firefighters uniforms should be worn. A reception with the family will follow the service.

  • A time to celebrate the life of someone with a purpose

    October 6, 2004 | Originally from Foster's Daily Democrat Editorial - Rochester (no longer online)

    The short life of Danny Holmes serves as a guidepost for us all.The dangers faced by the men and women in the front lines of public safety was brought home again Saturday with the loss of one of the Seacoast’s own a continent away.Daniel Holmes spent most of his life in Rochester, graduating from Spaulding High School. Saturday that life was lost.

    Danny Holmes lost his life fighting a fire at Kings Canyon National Park in northern California, struck by the burning top of a dead 100-foot tree that fell while firefighters were conducting a controlled burn. He died while being transported to a helicopter landing zone in the park.

    Danny Holmes was doing the work he loved — work that allowed him to contribute to the preservation of the environment. First a ranger with the National Park Service, he was part of an elite group of firefighters trained to go anywhere in the country to combat forest fires. He was only 26 years old when he died Saturday, but he set out and achieved an ideal, a challenge too few of us are willing to confront as we go through life. He was an "adventurer," his mother, Delina "Dee" Burke said of him.

    Thursday, Danny Holmes will be mourned in Rochester. Firefighters from across the country will come to the Lilac City to honor one of their own — one of a special breed of people who put themselves on the line every day in defense of lives, property and our environment.

    There are people who walk among us who go unnoticed as they perform their routine duties each day — invisible heroes we take for granted as members of our communities. We only see them when we, our properties or our surroundings are placed at risk. But they are always there for us —trained and prepared to come to our aid.

    A loss of life is almost always a tragedy for someone — loved ones, friends, neighbors. The loss of someone like Danny Holmes is something that makes each of us poorer. The people who knew him are especially poor for the loss.

    Danny Holmes was part of a special kinship — a kinship of men and women who have answered a call within themselves; a kinship few can understand because few are members of this unique class.

    Danny Holmes had a passion for the environment — an enthusiasm for all that is natural. The woods he hiked and the mountains he climbed were his world. His ardor for the environment led him to something more than a vocation; it led him to a purpose in life. He earned his degree in environmental services at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vt. in 2002.

    "Danny loved the environment and keeping our environment safe and beautiful," his mother said. It was a love of the environment that led him to become involved in outdoor safety, and eventually to becoming a ranger, she said.

    Danny Holmes has come home. Thursday, he will be mourned by his family, friends and other loved ones — by neighbors and comrades from near and far. But as the mourning takes place, let’s also think in terms of Danny’s life — a life with purpose; a life worthy of being celebrated; a life from which each of us can learn something.

  • Hundreds attend funeral of Rochester native who died fighting Calif. Fire

    October 8, 2004 | Online Article

    ROCHESTER — Danny’s smile was like the sun.

    His spirit of adventure and love of the outdoors were the "thread that sewed" his friends and family together.

    It was appropriate, they said, that the sun shone brightly at his funeral procession Thursday morning, in which roughly 150 uniformed firefighters marched through downtown in his memory.

    Daniel "Danny" Holmes, 26, was killed Saturday after being struck by the burning top of a 100-foot white fir tree that unexpectedly fell as his team conducted a controlled burn in Kings Canyon National Park in California.

    Danny, as his mother, Dee Burke, and his family called him, was part of the Arrowhead Hotshots, a National Park Service elite forestry firefighting squad based at the park. Nearly 20 of those who saw the accident and tried to save his life were present to bear his casket down Main Street to the mournful strains of the International Brotherhood of Firefighters Pipe and Drum Corps.

    In tears, Danny’s parents, brother, girlfriend, aunts and uncles followed his casket, but the separation of groups during the procession was not indicative of the common bond shared by everyone present. His family clearly went beyond the bounds of blood relations to include his team, friends from home and fellow firefighters from across the nation.

    "He’s just Danny ... people would meet him and walk away saying, ‘that’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met,’ and that’s just Danny," cousin Andy Sanville said. "I close my eyes and I see his smile— the smile and the laugh is the spirit of Danny, but he was even bigger than that. He lived his life in a way we all wished we could," Sanville eulogized.

    His brother Matt, who flew up from Tampa, Fla., said Danny was a unifying force for his immediate and extended family. "Danny’s love and energy was the thread that sewed everyone together. I know he thought of all of you (pointing to firefighters) as brothers," Matt assured them, speaking from the front of the United Methodist Church in Rochester.

    Those who worked with Danny, both as a park ranger and an Arrowhead Hotshot had nothing but thanks for the energy and commitment he showed on the job. Above all else was his infectious love of the outdoors, something everyone "blamed" on his mother.

    "Danny was always energized ... he was someone that genuinely loved the outdoors. I’ve never been around someone like that before him," said Climbing Ranger Dan Leonard of the Denali National Park in Alaska. The two were close friends who trained and were certified together in Washington state.

    Also present was Danny’s girlfriend, Jules, who flew out with the Hotshots for the funeral. The last picture taken of Danny was for her, but it showed the smile that blessed everyone who saw it. "They (the Hotshots) all pitched in to get me a ticket out here. I don’t know what to say ... I’ve never been loved so completely by anyone, and he’s gone ... this was my picture, he took it for me," Jules whispered, holding up the funeral bulletin with a picture of Danny in active duty gear on the front.

    It was Danny’s death while on active duty that drew firefighters from across the Seacoast, state and country. The procession of more than 150 firefighters, forestry rangers, National Park units, firetrucks and rescue workers began at Edgerly Funeral home just after 10 a.m.

    Color guard from the National Park Service led the way, as members of the New Hampshire firefighter’s color guard followed to the sound of bagpipes. Danny’s flag-draped coffin was borne by members of the Hotshots, who marched alongside Rochester’s funeral-draped Engine 2. His casket rested atop the engine.

    The parade presented his casket to the front of the church to the strains of funeral music, marking Danny’s all-to-quick return to the earth he loved. Sun shimmered along rows of medals and full dress gear, while the tracks of tears stood prominent on many somber faces.

    "We’re just glad it’s so beautiful. We know it’s Danny smiling down on us from this last great adventure he’s on now," Sanville said./p>

  • Brotherhood treats members like family

    October 8, 2004 | Online Article

    >ROCHESTER — Firefighters define themselves as a brotherhood. The word encompasses all facets of a bond forged through common experiences and hardships in one of the nation’s most hazardous professions.

    This mutual understanding makes a member treat fellow workers like family — like a brother— and is what drew firefighters from across the state and country to pay their last respects Thursday to firefighter Daniel Holmes, who died Sunday when a burning 100-foot-tall pine tree fell on him while combating a fire.

    The 26-year-old grew up in Rochester and graduated from Spaulding High School, before heading off to Johnson State University in Johnson, Vt., and eventually becoming a wildfire firefighter in Northern California.

    He died in the line of duty, a symbol area fire chiefs cite as the highest level of sacrifice a firefighter can make.

    "This is something we always say is a brotherhood. If a firefighter dies in another community, it’s like losing a brother. You understand because of the dangers of the job, because we serve and protect at the cost of our own lives. But everything is a team approach, there’s never an individual focus," Rochester Chief Mark Dellner said Thursday.

    When one of their own dies, whether in the local department or across the country, the loss is treated like that of a blood brother.

    "I’ve been in this business for 28 years, and this aspect hasn’t changed since I came in, it’s team thing that’s about helping each other, and this goes from funerals to putting a roof on your house," Dellner said.

    Beyond just helping, there is an understanding that a firefighter’s life can be taken at any time.The bond of brotherhood plays out in the tradition of a funeral procession, with full dress and aplomb. The march shows respect for the fallen brother, but also celebrates the survival of those "brothers" still alive.

    "I look at the procession as ‘there, but the grace of God go I,’ it could have been me. I think we look at that as it could just as well have been me. It could be the next time I go out that it’s me, or one of my brothers that is the next to go," Laconia Deputy Chief Deborah Pendergast said.

    The tradition is all too familiar for Pendergast, who recently participated in a similar procession ceremony for Laconia firefighter Mark Miller, who died in the line of duty on March 11.

    Miller was killed during cold water dive training, possibly because of faulty equipment. Regardless of the cause, it is an understanding of the officers sacrifice that draws firefighters from across the four corners of the country to pay their respects.

    "The point here is that it doesn’t matter necessarily where you’re from, but you’re always going to have the support of the fire service. It’s just a bond we have," Dellner said.

  • Tragedy on the fireline : Arrowhead Hotshots crewmember killed during prescribed burn

    October 8, 2004 | Originally from Foster's Daily Democrat Editorial (Rochester)

    The National Park Service is heartbroken over this loss.
    --Superintendent Dick Martin, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

    Flags were at half-staff this week at fire stations and throughout the National Park System, while Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks personnel wore black bands on their badges in remembrance of Daniel Holmes.

    Dan was a member of the Park Service family who died in the line of duty on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004. It is the first firefighter fatality in the parks’ history.

    Dan, 26, was a member of the elite Arrowhead Hotshots, which are based in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. The team fights wildland fires throughout the West, but were at the park working the Grant West Prescribed Fire when the accident happened.

    The Grant West fire was ignited Tuesday, Sept. 28, and had burned four acres of a planned 60. Dan was killed about 1 p.m. on Saturday when the burning top of a dead 115-foot-high white fir tree broke off and struck him in the head as he and co-workers were preparing to cut down the snag with a chainsaw.

    It is reported that about 20 firefighters witnessed the accident, and crewmembers immediately moved Dan to a safe location. First aid was administered and the park ambulance was summoned.

    Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful and Dan never regained consciousness. He died in the ambulance while en route to the LifeFlight helicopter-landing zone for transport to a Fresno hospital.

    Dan was pronounced dead by the helicopter-ambulance’s medical personnel at about 2 p.m.

    As a result of Dan’s death, ignitions have been halted on the Grant West burn. It is being manned by U.S. Forest Service crews as all staff assigned to the fire at the time of the accident have been released.

    A three-member investigation team — headed by Jim Loach, associate regional director of the National Park Service’s Midwest Region — has been assigned to the incident by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The purpose of the “Serious Accident Investigation Team” is to determine the circumstances that caused Dan’s death and to learn what can be done to prevent a similar accident from occurring in the future.

    The team’s functions include investigation, safety evaluation, and documentation. Throughout the week, the team has been conducting interviews with personnel, some of whom have also been meeting with critical-incident counselors for stress debriefing as a result of being on the scene of the accident.

    The team will produce three reports. The 24-hour report and 72-hour report have been issued; the final report is pending.

    Arrowhead Hotshots

    The Arrowhead Interagency Hotshot Crew has been in existence since 1981. Their primary duty is the suppression of wildland fires throughout the U.S. and Canada.

    The job is demanding and the crew works under extremely hazardous conditions for extended periods. They are described as the best of the best firefighters and are routinely assigned the most difficult and hazardous tasks.

    They are required to be in peak physical condition. A typical work shift is 16 hours, although working for 32 hours straight often occurs.

    During fire season, a Hotshot crew is together 24/7; eating, sleeping, traveling, and working as a unit. Under these conditions, it is easy to understand the camaraderie that exists between the crewmembers and thedevastating effect on all when one suffers an untimely death.