While some have blamed chaparral as causing the wildfire problem in California. The real issue is that wildfires driven by strong winds do not need much fuel to cause significant damage.
One of the common denominators in firefighter fatalities is the presence of fine, grassy fuels
The million acre grass fire
Non-native grass and weeds are a significant source of fuel in California Wildfires
Firefighter Fatalities in Huge Grass Fire, Greece
The fire started at 13:20 in an area with low shrubby vegetation called “phrygana” bordering agricultural vegetation. According to the official announcement of the Greek Fire Corps, the total firefighting forces mobilized were 11 fire trucks with 30 firefighters, a Kamov-32 helicopter, two Canadair amphibian water bombers, and two handcrews of 8 firefighters each. It is unlikely that all these forces were on the fire at the time of the accident.
The fire was probably due to arson. Such events are common in Crete where shepherds regularly burn (illegally) the low thorny shrubs (mainly Sarcopoterium spinosum) on the overgrazed rocky land, in an effort to stimulate growth of new palatable forbs and grasses for their goats. The wind was not very strong and fire behavior in the phrygana vegetation did not appear threatening.
The accident happened just before 17:00. Based on the images projected on TV reports and on interviews of firefighters immediately after the accident, the firefighters tried to control the fire at the bottom and left side of a narrow steep canyon, using hoses from a fire truck that had stopped midslope on an unpaved road. They achieved this and retreated back on the road while there were small flames at some points on the opposite site of the canyon where the vegetation had not burned.
Four firefighters of one of the two handcrews moved on that slope trying to extinguish these small flames with backpack pumps. At that moment the fire moved unexpectedly to unburned fuels under them at the
The three firefighters fell after running for about 200 m. The fourth firefighter managed to climb a little further and protect himself in a little cave-like depression. According to the TV reports he suffered damage to his lungs in addition to receiving second degree burns over 40% of his body. His condition is still critical. According to the accounts of the firefighters who witnessed the evolution of the accident, the time between the blow-up and the fatality was not longer than five minutes. The four firefighters were 34 to 40 years old with 5-7 years of experience. According to their comrades they all were in good physical shape.
Although it will be a long time before any official investigation reports, it appears that the two main reasons behind this accident are topography (box-canyon, Y-shaped near the point where the firefighters fell) and light flashy fuels. A third factor that may have played a critical role, since it was mentioned in some witness reports, is the firefighting activity of the Kamov-32 helicopter which produces a very strong downdraft. If it did make a drop in the canyon close to the area where the firefighters were operating, it could very well be the cause of the fire spotting to unburned fuels below the four firefighters and starting the blow-up.
From Firenet (International Association of Wildland Fire).