Calaveras Enterprise

Unfit escape routes led to Schicke death

A final report on the Sept. 12, 2004, death of Arnold firefighter Eva Schicke says escape routes were inadequate and too difficult in fighting the Tuolumne County blaze that overran Schicke and her crew.

Schicke, 23, worked for the California Department of Forestry in Arnold and with the Helitack crew out of Columbia.

She and her six other crewmembers were battling the Tuolumne Fire in a steep canyon near Groveland when the wind shifted, sending the flames back toward the firefighters.

Schicke and another firefighter ran back toward the safety of a nearby road but she was last seen about five feet from safety when she was overcome.

She died within seconds after breathing super-heated air, according to the report released last week.

In listing factors that were a direct cause of the emergency, the report says escape routs were inadequate to allow sufficient time for firefighters to reach safety zones.

The terrain also was too steep and lacked good traction, making it even more difficult to flee in the event of an emergency.

And helicopter water drops were available, but not used.

In reviewing contributory factors, the report states that Helitack Capt. Jonah Winger had limited experience in indirect and downhill line construction.

Contributory factors are items that affected the occurrence, but whose elimination would not necessarily prevent the outcome.

CDF spokesman Michael Jarvis said he could not go through the report line by line, but said the investigation determined no individual was at fault.

The report will be used in future training courses and possible modification of polices “to prevent a similar or even more disastrous accident from occurring,” Jarvis said.

Schicke was the first female CDF firefighter killed in action. She received a full honors procession and funeral Sept. 12 that culminated with services at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds attended by about 3,000 people.

Battalion Chief Jeff Millar, who recruited Schicke, noted at the time that she had all the skills needed for the job.

“She was the poster child for a model firefighter,” Millar said in September 2004. “(She was) smart, had a great work ethic and was aggressive.”

CDF Director Dale T. Geldert echoed that sentiment in a prepared statement.

“The commitment to society by Eva Schicke through her courage and compassion lives on today in the hearts and minds of her colleagues in CDF,” Geldert said.

Contact Craig Koscho at

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