Safety changes, training needed after firefighter Brian Hughes is killed by tree, report says

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The report explains in precise detail how Captain Brian Hughes and a sawyer worked to cut down the more than 100 foot tall tree. Park Service Fire Information Officer Mike Theune said the goal of the report is not to find blame.

"Part of the serious accident investigation report is that we honor Captain Hughes by reading and sharing the report," he said. "Learning from these incidents, finding better ways to fight fire but more importantly, safer ways to fight fire."

The report goes into great detail on how Hughes and another firefighter, called a sawyer, worked to topple the burning tree, but it didn't budge. When it finally started to fall, Hughes moved to what he thought was the safest direction.

The report reads:

The sawyer moved away from the snag toward Hughes and yelled, "Which way?" Hughes responded.

"This way." The two came together briefly. Hughes moved down the primary escape route, while the sawyer glanced up, saw the direction the snag was falling and immediately took a direct downhill path.

It took approximately 10 seconds from when the snag began to fall until it came to rest in its final position.


The falling tree hit and killed Hughes.

RELATED: Many pay respects at touching tribute to fallen firefighter Brian Hughes in Downtown Fresno

"When we look at these types of tragedies, firefighting is an inherently dangerous occupation," Theune said.

The accident report outlines steps to be taken to avoid future accidents, including extensive training on sawing and tree felling techniques. It also calls for determining what role fatigue and a lack of sleep can impact firefighters.

"The corrective action plan identified nine specific things for these interagency fire operations to look at, some of these are looking at additional training," Theune said. "Some of them are reassessing hazard conditions found within these areas like the Sierra Nevada and others are looking at better tools and functions we can find to fight fire in these changing conditions."

Brian Hughes was part of the Arrowhead Hotshots and elite firefighting team based in Sequoia National Park.

Forest conditions are looking like they could be busy with a potentially big fire season ahead.
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