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Incident Name: Twisp River Fire, on state of Washington DNR land near Twisp
Date:  8/19/2015
Personnel:  3 lives lost
Age: 
Agency/Organization:  US Forest Service working with the State of Washington
Position: engine firefighters

Summary: 

Those who died:
Tom Zbyszewski, 20
Andrew Zajac, 26
Richard "Wheels" Wheeler, 31

Survivor, but critically burned and recovering:
Daniel Lyon

On 8/19/2015, Richard Wheeler, Andrew Zajac, and Tom Zbyszewski were killed and firefighter Daniel Lyon was critically injured when the Twisp River wildfire trapped them in their FS engine on state forest land. The firefighters, members of an engine crew from the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, were involved in initial attack operations and protecting homes on the fire near Woods Canyon and Twisp River Roads in Washington State. When the winds suddenly shifted 180 degrees, their engine missed a curve on the narrow road and crashed down a 40' embankment. The fire overtook the vehicle: the three firefighters in the front perished. Daniel Lyon who was in the back seat survived, He remains in the hospital in critical condition. Several other firefighters with dozer crews were also reported to have been injured. Investigation into the fatal incident continues.

As more info becomes available, we will post it.

Photos from King5.com Tom Zbyszewski, Andrew Zajac, and Richard Wheeler

Tom Zbyszewski Tom Zbyszewski
Andrew Zajac Andrew Zajac
Richard Wheeler Richard Wheeler

Photos from the Brotherhood of Fire Facebook page and Wildland Firefighter Foundation Facebook page : Tom Zbyszewski, Andrew Zajac (family photo), and Richard Wheeler with wife Caleste

Tom Zbyszewski Tom Zbyszewski
Andrew Zajac Andrew Zajac
Richard Wheeler & wife Celeste Richard Wheeler & wife Celeste

Daniel Lyon, critically injured

Daniel Lyon Daniel Lyon

 

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Maps

About 8 mi from Twisp at the east end of SR 20; Woods Canyon Road and Twisp River Road

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • We are devastated by the tragic loss of three of our Forest Service firefighters,” said Mike Williams, Forest Supervisor on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. “We are working with County and State partners to notify the families of those lost. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and fellow crew members of these brave firefighters.

    Mike Williams

    Forest Supervisor, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

  • From the Chief of the Forest Service
    FS Shield FS Shield

    It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the news that we lost three firefighters Wednesday afternoon battling the Twisp Fire on state forest land in Washington. The firefighters were members of an engine crew from the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest who were involved in initial attack operations when the fire overwhelmed their vehicle. Three additional firefighters were injured; one Forest Service member with life threatening injuries, and two Department of Natural Resource firefighters who are still fighting to recover.

    Our agency has been hit hard this year. There is no way to overstate the impact of losing so many of our people within such a short time. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died, and I will keep those still fighting for their lives in my thoughts and prayers, as well. I hope you will do the same.

    We will face many more challenges this fire season. Let’s continue to look out and care for each other.

    Chief Tidwell

  • The three firefighters died while fighting a wildfire near Twisp are Tom Zbyszewski, 20; Andrew Zajac, 26; and Richard Wheeler, 31. Critically injured is Daniel Lyon, 25.
    We are mourning the loss of Tom, Andrew, and Richard and are in connection with and closely monitoring the recovery process of Daniel. This was a tragic incident, and our hearts go out to their families, friends, and colleagues.

    Mike Williams, Forest Supervisor, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

  • Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Web Page announces fatalities and critical injury.

    Okanogan-Wenatchee NF Announcement Okanogan-Wenatchee NF Announcement

  • US Forest Service: Twisp River 72 Hour Report
  • WA State and USFS: Twisp River Fire Fatalities and Entrapments ; Interagency Learning Review Status Report (1,595 K pdf)
  • All of the documents and reports on this incident are available for download at the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center: Twisp River Fire Entrapmenta and Fatalities

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

Twisp River Fire Twisp River Fire

 

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Twisp fire kills 3 U.S. Forest Service firefighters

    8/19/2015 | Online article

    The 1,500 acre fire was burning eight miles west of the town and threatening 20 nearby buildings.

    TWISP, Wash.— A fast moving wildfire near Twisp, Wash. killed three firefighters Wednesday afternoon as two nearby towns were forced to evacuate.

    DNR said there were reports of burn victims around 4:30 p.m. Okanogan Co. Sheriff Frank Rogers said three to four firefighters were burned and transported from the scene. Rogers said the firefighters suffered "non-life threatening injuries."

    Around 5:30 p.m., Rogers later confirmed that three firefighters had died. By 6:30 p.m., the coroner was on scene according to Rogers who said the three firefighters were engaged in the initial attack. Brian Schaeffer with the Spokane Fire Department later confirmed that the firefighters were with the U.S. Forest Service. The firefighters were engaged in initial attack operations and were involved in a vehicle accident when it is believed that the fire overtook the vehicle according to officials .

    “We are devastated by the tragic loss of three of our Forest Service firefighters,” said Mike Williams, Forest Supervisor on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. “We are working with County and State partners to notify the families of those lost. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and fellow crew members of these brave firefighters.”

    Four other firefighters were injured. One works with the U.S. Forest Service, two are with DNR and one is a contractor with DNR. At least one of the firefighters was transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle in critical condition. (Much more at the link including news videos)

  • Update: Firefighters died in a vehicle overtaken by wildfire

    8/20/15 | Online Article Wenatchee World

    Update 10:30 p.m.: The three firefighters who died fighting a wildfire near Twisp Wednesday were engaged in initial attack operations and involved in a vehicle accident when it is believed the fire overtook the vehicle, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said in a news release issuer this evening by the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forest.

    Rogers told The World this evening that the firefighters’ next of kin are still being notified. The victims’ names will likely be released Thursday. All were U.S. Forest Service firefighters from the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forest, the news release said.

    “We are devastated by the tragic loss of three of our Forest Service firefighters,” Mike Williams, forest supervisor of the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forest, said in the news release. “We are working with county and state partners to notify the families of those lost. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and fellow crewmembers of these brave firefighters.”

    The deaths ocurred on state Department of Natural Resources land near Twisp, Rogers said in the news release. A Level 3 (get out now) evacuation notification had been issued near that area for Twisp and Winthrop, the news release said.

    Four additional firefighters were injured, officials confirmed in the news release. One was with the U.S. Forest service, two with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and one with a DNR contractor.

    A national incident management team has been ordered to manage the fire.

  • Firefighters killed near Twisp: ‘three big heroes protecting small towns’

    8/20/2016 | Online Article

    Officials said the firefighters had been involved in a vehicle accident and that the crew was apparently overtaken by the blaze they had been battling. (Much more at the link, including a slideshow...)

  • Firefighter injured in Twisp fires recovering at Harborview

    8/20/2015 | Online article

    SEATTLE -- One of the four firefighters severely burned while fighting wildfires near Twisp was recovering Thursday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

    Daniel Lyon, 25, of Puyallup, was airlifted to Harborview Wednesday in critical condition. Doctors say he suffered third degree burns to over 50 to 75 percent of his body.

    Doctors said he was in the resuscitation phase, receiving... (more at the link)

  • Firefighter Zajac killed in Washington state was from west Chicago suburbs

    8/21/2015 | Online article

    Before battling dangerous wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, Andrew Zajac was a well-liked and active student at Downers Grove North High School, where he played football, performed cello in the orchestra and signed up for exciting trips abroad with fellow classmates.

    “He was someone you saw everywhere around campus,” said Brayer Teague, fine arts department chair. “He had a great personality. You'd see him on the football field, the wrestling mat or the concert stage. He was an all-around contributor to our school community.” ... (More at the link)

  • Stevensville Family Thankful of Support of Firefighter Son Burned in Washington

    8/26/2015 | Online Article

    The only survivor of a four-person engine crew that was caught in a fast-moving wildfire last week in Washington State is fighting for his life in a Seattle hospital with burns over 60 percent of his body.

    His parents, Dan and Barbara Lyon of Stevensville, want their community and nation to know they appreciate the outpouring of support that has come their way since the accident.

    This was Daniel Lyon’s first year as a wildland firefighter.

    The 25-year-old was a member of a small engine crew protecting homes near Twisp, Wash. when the winds shifted 180 degrees. The vehicle missed a curve on the narrow road and went down a 40-foot embankment.

    The fire overtook... (More at the link)

  • Injured forest firefighter making progress
    8/29/2015 | Online Article

    Daniel Lyon, the injured forest firefighter from Puyallup, was upgraded to serious condition but remained in intensive care Saturday night at the University of Washington Burn Center at Harborview. Hospital officials said he was alert and breathing on his own after two successful burn surgeries. More surgery is planned next week. (More at the link.)

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

Twisp River Memorial at fatality site Twisp River Memorial at fatality site
Twisp River Memorial at fatality site Twisp River Memorial at fatality site
  • Statement from Inslee about fatalities of three firefighters in Twisp

    August 19, 2015

    “I was just told that three firefighters died while battling the Twisp fire and four were injured. My heart breaks over the loss of life. I know all Washington joins me and Trudi in sending our prayers to the families of these brave firefighters. They gave their lives to protect others. It was their calling, but the loss for their families is immense and I know the community will come together to support them. We will also keep the injured firefighters in our prayers. The conditions throughout the area remain extremely dangerous and I hope residents and visitors will heed evacuation orders or other emergency directions.”

    Contact: Jaime Smith
    Washington Governor Inslee’s Communications Office

  • Facebook Message from the Tatanka Shots, of which Richard Wheeler was a member 2007-2013
  • Richard Wheeler & wife Celeste Richard Wheeler & wife Celeste

  • Celeste: Firefighter husband "was not afraid of anything"

    6/22/15 | Online Tribute to Rick Wheler

    More than 45 fires were burning Saturday in five states. In Colorado, smoke from wildfires triggered a health advisory for the northern part of the state, including the Denver area. (snip) CBS News' Carter Evans spoke to the widow of one of those men in Omak, Washington. (More at the link...)

  • Jenn's Tribute to husband Andrew Zajac at the memorial service: Zajac and  Jenn were married last year after hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Coast Trail together in 2013.

    Jenn, in a statement read by Zajec’s mother Mary at the memorial service:

    “Andrew was my calm and my strength; my belay (climbing) partner, my fishing buddy, my hiking companion, my love. Just under a year ago we made a promise until death do us part. I just never imaged it would come so soon. I’ll miss him forever.”
  • USFA Memorial Database: Tom Zbyszewski | Andrew Zajac | Richard Wheeler
  • Zajac Family Statement 8/22/15 YouTube
  • Memorial Service
    Twisp River Memorial Twisp River Memorial

    Date/Time: Sunday, August 30, 2015 at 1 p.m.

    Location: Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee.

    US Forest Service officials: "Once family members and agency personnel have been seated, the public will be seated as space allows."

  • For directions on how to watch live streaming of the memorial
  • Memorial Brochure 8/30/2015 (4,180 K pdf)
  • Biographies: Richard Wheeler | Andrew Zajac | Tom Zbyszewski
  • Thousands mourn firefighters in Washington state

    8/30/2015 | Online Article

    WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) — Several thousand people gathered Sunday to honor three U.S. Forest Service firefighters killed battling wildfires in Washington state. “They dedicated their lives to protecting our national forests and the people in the communities surrounding them,” Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a eulogy. “And for that we should be grateful.”

    The memorial service for 20-year-old Tom Zbyszewski, 26-year-old Andrew Zajac, and 31-year-old Richard Wheeler took place in Wenatchee. That’s about 90 miles south of where they died Aug. 19 near Twisp in eastern Washington when flames consumed their crashed vehicle. More than 80 vehicles took part in a procession leading to the memorial service Sunday where more than 100 firefighters stood at attention. Dozens of civilians also took part, many holding U.S. flags and others with signs that said “You are heroes!” (more at the link)

  • Wildland Firefighter Foundation Facebook page on the memorial including photos and comments
  • Injured firefighter's father to throw first pitch at Mariner's game

    9/15/2015 | Online Article and Video

    The Mariners are recognizing our state's wildland firefighters at tomorrow's ballgame. The father of a local firefighter severely burned in the Twisp River Fire will step up to the mound in his son's honor. Dan Lyon is nervous. "I'm apprehensive,” he said with a smile. “I don't want to embarrass the whole state of Washington." But he is sure he can handle anything after witnessing his son’s fight to live. Wildland firefighter Daniel Lyon barely escaped the Twisp River Fire. The 25-year-old was burned over 60 percent of his body. Three of his fellow firefighters died. Daniel has already undergone six surgeries... (more at the link)

  • Daniel Lyon survivor

    Daniel Lyon, survivor Daniel Lyon, survivor
  • USFA Memorial Database: Richard Wheeler | Andrew Zajac | Tom Zbyszewski
  • US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: Richard Wheeler | Andrew Zajac | Tom Zbyszewski
  • USFS, Methow Valley and extended community 8/19/2016:

    In honor and memory of Andrew Zajac, Rick Wheeler, and Tom Zbyszewski, who lost their lives while fighting the Twisp River fire on August 19th 2015, the public is invited to the one year anniversary memorial event on Friday, August 19th, 2016.

    From 1-2 pm: The U.S. Forest Service - Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest welcomes the public to gather at the Winthrop Red Barn for refreshments and guest speakers. People are also invited to visit the Fallen Firefighter Memorial at the Winthrop Park and the Reflection Site at the Winthrop Ranger Station. Please join hundreds of others in observing a "Moment of Silence" at 3:02pm on Friday the 19th, to send love and support to the families of Tommy, Rick and Andrew.

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Contributors to this article:  Mellie, John Miller, JB, RJM, WFF, Sammie

 

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