Previous attempts to identify the environmental factors associated with firefighter entrapments in the United States have suggested that there are several common denominators. Despite the widespread acceptance of the assumed commonalities, few studies have quantified how often entrapments actually meet these criteria. An analysis of the environmental conditions at the times and locations of 166 firefighter entrapments involving 1202 people and 117 fatalities that occurred between 1981 and 2017 in the conterminous United States revealed some surprising results. Contrary to general assumptions, we found that at broad spatial scales firefighter entrapments happen under a wide range of environmental conditions, including during low fire danger and on flat terrain. A cluster-based analysis of the data suggested that entrapments group into four unique archetypes that typify the common environmental conditions: (1) low fire danger, (2) high fire danger and steep slopes, (3) high fire danger and low canopy cover, and (4) high fire danger and high canopy cover. There are at least three important implications from the results of this study; one, fire environment conditions do not need to be extreme or unusual for an entrapment to occur, two, the region and site specific context is important, and, three, non-environmental factors such as human behavior remain a critical but difficult to assess factor in wildland firefighter entrapment potential.
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