Rapid City firefighter Dave Ruhl apparently was trapped by a sudden shift in the direction of the California wildfire he was scouting in July, according to a newly issued Forest Service report on his death.
The body of Ruhl, 38, was found July 31 at the scene of the Frog Fire in the Modoc National Forest, where he was on a temporary assignment away from his regular duties as an engine captain in South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest.
The 15-page preliminary report on his death describes a fire that quadrupled in size within 30 minutes after the arrival of firefighters and then shifted direction. Ruhl was scouting the fire’s west flank when the wind direction changed.
“It appears he was cut-off and overcome by fire during the period of time that the fire spread shifted dramatically toward the west-southwest,” the report says.
The report also notes that Ruhl’s fire shelter was not deployed. A fire shelter is a small, aluminum-based, tent-like apparatus that firefighters can pitch over themselves as a last resort when trapped by a fire.
The report, compiled by an 11-member board, is described as an attempt to “tell the story of events surrounding the death of Dave Ruhl.” The next step will be a “sensemaking phase,” the report says, followed by recommendations from a Learning Review Board and a final report.