OKANOGAN COUNTY, Wash. - A new report has been released offering insight into the events that contributed to the death of Okanogan Assistant Fire Chief Christian Johnson during the Spring Coulee Fire in September of 2019.
According to the Spring Coulee Fire Facilitated Learning Analysis, September 1, 2019, started as a beautiful day with many enjoying Labor Day weekend with family and friends.
Johnson had spent the morning fishing with his family before the call came out that a fire was burning in grass and brush off B/O Road and was spreading rapidly.
Johnson arrived at the scene along with other crews about 15 minutes after the call was made.
During the effort to contain the flames, Johnson and another firefighter drove north to flank the fire from an above slope.
"Their intent was to keep the fire from crossing the cat trail and prevent it from closing in on the white-colored structures to the north," the report said.
Due to the flat terrain, the fire continued heading north as it was pushed by surface winds. However, there was an instant when the winds calmed and the fire didn't seem to be moving as fast.
A firefighter recognized the calm as an indicator of a potential wind shift and called out to his crew.
"It just laid down and I yelled 'Wind Shift!'" the firefighter is quoted as saying in the report.
The fire did indeed shift and fell inline with where Johnson and the other firefighter were working. The fire began burning the slope below them and rapidly spread toward their truck.
Johnson attempted to drive away from the flames with the other firefighter on the outside of the truck. However, after travelling five or six feet, the truck "lurched" and became stuck.
Johnson and the firefighter then took off on foot in an attempt to reach a trail. In Johnson's way, hidden by vegetation, was a substantial field of rocks and metal debris.
It is thought that Johnson may have become entangled in the debris before being overtaken by the fire, according to the report.
The other firefighter was able to reach the trail, but only just.
"I'm a very fast runner and I couldn't even remotely outrun it," the firefighter is quoted as saying in the report.
After becoming starved of fuel, the fire quieted and the firefighter immediately headed back to find Johnson. He found him approximately 150 feet from their truck and issued a MAYDAY call.
An emergency medical responder who was prepositioned in the area was able to quickly provide medical care for Johnson. He was eventually airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he passed away surrounded by his wife, family and friends on October 2, 2019.
The full Facilitated Learning Analysis includes an examination of lessons that could be learned from the event and further details. The full report can be viewed here: