Cal Fire report: Retardant drop led to Draper firefighter’s death

Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett. Photo: Draper City; Mendocino Complex Fire. Photo: BLM

SACRAMENTO, California, Sept. 15, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — A recent report sheds new light on the death of Draper, Utah, Fire Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett, who was fatally injured while fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest wildfire in California history.

The Green Sheet, a summary report on serious Cal Fire injuries and accidents, says Burchett and two other firefighting personnel were “struck by falling tree debris resulting from a retardant drop.”

According to the state-issued report, released Thursday, a Boeing 747 capable of carrying 19,200 gallons of retardant was flying only 100 feet above the trees when it dropped thousands of gallons of the fire suppressant on the area.

CBS Sacramento said that, according to the report, “the pilot in a small lead plane nearly ran the jetliner into the trees because the pilots failed to recognize a hill in the middle of the flight path. Firefighters were working on the hill.”

Because of the failure to adjust for the rise in elevation, the report says, “The force of the retardant drop uprooted an 87-foot tall Douglas Fir with a 15-inch diameter at breast height.” The tree fell on Burchett, causing fatal injuries.

An 89-foot-tall, 18-inch diameter at breast height Douglas Fir was sheared off 29 feet above the base by the retardant drop, and the debris from that caused serious injuries to another firefighter.

Two others were moderately injured when they were struck by falling branches.

The United States Honor Flag will be stopping in Draper on Monday to honor Matthew Burchett. The event is open to the public. For details, click here.


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