Draper firefighter death caused by flame retardant drop, report says

Draper Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett and team deployed to California. Photo courtesy Draper City Fire.

DRAPER, Utah — A report released Friday by Cal Fire says that a fire retardant drop caused a tree to uproot, resulting in the death of Draper City Fire Batallion Chief Matt Burchett.

According to a “Fire Injuries and Fatality GREEN SHEET,”   Burchett was working on the Ranch Fire in the eastern portion of Mendocino County on July 29.

At approximately 1:00 p.m., aircraft were requested to drop fire retardant to help reinforce a line that had been made by bulldozers, the report stated. At approximately 3:40 p.m., firefighters were warned that “airtankers will be working in the area,” and crews were asked to clear out.

Aircraft continued to drop fire retardant, trying to get closer to the fireline made by bulldozers, the report stated.

During the final drop at around 5:25 p.m., an unexpected rise in elevation “resulted in the retardant drop only being approximately 100 feet above the treetops and the accident site,” the report said.

The force of the retardant drop caused an 87-foot tall Douglas Fir to uproot, and hit Burchett, causing fatal injuries. The report said the drop also caused another Douglas Fir, which was 89-feet tall, to uproot, causing “extremity injuries and broken ribs” to another firefighter.

“Within seconds after the accident, an Incident Within an Incident (IWI) was declared,” the report said. “Injured personnel were treated by Advanced Life Support (ALS) providers assigned to resources on the division and then transported to the hospital for further treatment.”

To view the whole report, click here.