Memories of Thirty Mile Fire resurface in wake of Twisp tragedy

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OKANOGAN COUNTY -- As the region mourns the loss of three firefighters in Okanogan County, we are reminded of another of Washington's deadliest firefighting tragedies that occurred over a decade ago.

The Thirty Mile Fire raged in the Okanogan National Forest in July of 2001. Started by an escaped ember from a picnic cooking fire, the fire which was centered about 30 miles north of Winthrop killed four fighters.

Tom Craven, Karen FitzPatrick, Jessica Johnson and Devin Weaver were all killed in the blaze.  Many were new to firefighting, and all were 30 years old or younger.

The tragedy spurred a bevy of changes in firefighting rules, as confusion remained at the time whether or not it was legal to grab water from specialty designated protected rivers. Crew leaders at the blaze were accused of making dozens of mistakes, including letting young, inexperienced firefighters scramble up a rocky slope they could not get down as the fire closed in.

The fire crew boss on the scene, Ellreese Daniels, was charged with manslaughter and making false statements following the tragedy. The fire crew chief pleaded guilty to making two counts of false statements. He was sentenced to three years of probation.

Since the Thirty Mile Fire, all firefighter deaths are investigated by a federal agency.

The fire was the second deadliest wildfire in Washington state history. In 1974, five firefighters died when a vehicle overturned.

For more on the Thirty Mile Fire, click here. 

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