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Incident Name:  Buckhorn Fire, OH
Date: 3/27/1989, 1115 hrs
Personnel: Ricke E Phillips
Age: 18
Agency/Organization:  Ohio Department of NR, Division of Forestry, Division of Civilian Conservation in agreement with US Forest Service
Position: CCC handcrew firefighter

Summary: On March 27, 1989, Ricke Phillips and his Riffe CCC Crew began building a fireline around a small, one-acre debris fire that had begun in an old, unused pig pen area behind a house. They began constructing line in the yard, but the fire was out of their sight up a small ridge burning in leaf litter and a small amount of larger fuel. As five members of the crew proceeded up the ravene, flames grew from a height of several inches to more than two feet. The fire suddenly changed direction and "blew up" with red, orange and blue flame lengths of 15-25 feet and creating an extreme "fire corridor" of 60 feet. Four CCC members ran uphill and escaped. Ricke Phillips was entrapped in the fire corridor and died from inhalation injuries. Melissa Ruby was airlifted with critical burn injuries to Cabel Huntington Hospital. Three other members of the crew were treated and released. It is thought that the fireball could have been caused by methane gas from old, abandoned deep and/or drift mines. Inspectoins two days later revealed no methane, but did not rule out methane at the time of the blowup.

 

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Maps

near the intersection of Route 93 and Negro Creek Road, Decatur Township, Lawrence County OH

(sketched map on last page shows the intersection)

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

Ohio Department of Natural Resources: Buckhorn Fire Report (1,780 K pdf)

Additional Investigation Team Comments:

  • Given everything else the same, fire retardant fire clothing or the availability of the fire shelter, commonly available on western US fires, would not have been helpful in preventing the death of Ricke Phillips, who was caught in the explosive "blow up" corridor. The coroner has ruled that smoke inhalation as the cause of death.
  • In the case of Melissa Ruby, it is the team's opinion that her burn injuries would have been reduced by wearing cotton jeans rather than polyester pants, and reduced further by wearing fire retardant trousers.
  • The team recommends that perhaps through special appropriation, the purchase of satisfactory fire retardant pants for all ODNR forest fire personnel be accelerated. Recent Industrial Commission standards for protective clothing give agencies and fire departments until March 1, 1993 to phase in compliance, but this incident points out the need for quick action. At minimum, effective immediately, firefighters should not wear polyester clothing, but cotton blue jeans and cotton long sleeve shirts instead.
  • The team recommends that physical fitness of personnel involved in forest fire suppression be addressed.

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Contributors to this article: Mellie

 

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