Anyone who is following the controversy behind the deaths of the Granite Mountain 19 has probably asked the question at least once: Why didn't the fire shelters save their lives?
When handed one of the first prototypes in 1977, my crew and I all were skeptical, and swore we would run rather than deploy. We also resented having to carry more weight, which slowed us down and meant carrying less drinking water - downright deadly when firefighting in the desert southwest. That skepticism prevails among fire crews today.
The original fire shelters were designed to withstand temperatures of 500 degrees F. Considering forest fires can reach temperatures up to 2000 degrees - what's the point? While we have the technology to build a better fire shelter that can withstand these high temperatures, they would be weight prohibitive, adding 40 lbs. to a firefighters gear. That is an unreasonable amount of weight to carry in addition to gear and water when you are trudging up steep slopes.
Researchers are working hard to come up with a better option without all the weight. The safety of firefighters on the line is more than carrying a better fire shelter, however. Had communications between the fire boss and the Granite Mountain 19 been better, someone would have recognized sooner they were in a dangerous place, and removed them before the tragedy hit.