the 19 firefighters were found in an area that also had 19 fire shelters deployed. Some of those found were inside a shelter, which is typically used as a last resort to withstand the fire as it blows over. Some of the crew members were found outside the shelters.
I have read other cases of firefighters deploying their shelters and still dying. I cannot recall a case where the shelter is said to have saved the life of the user.
The Wikipedia entry tellingly describes them as a safety device of last resort.
So, my question is, do these fire shelters save lives?
I can think of several possibilities:
- Yes they do, but acts thereof are underreported for whatever reason.
- Yes they can, but because they are viewed as a tool of last resort they tend to be deployed in situations that are already beyond all hope. If used in less extreme fires they would be highly effective.
- No, they are ineffective.
UPDATE - in addition to the answer below, the following quote comes from a new article on the event by the Wall Street Journal:
[Wally Covington, professor of fire ecology at Northern Arizona University] added that the fire shelters used by firefighters offer limited protection—usually no more than 10 minutes or so under what he called moderate fire conditions. "But under an extreme condition, they may not work," he said, adding suffocation from smoke is often the cause of fatalities.