The burning of Camp 16

Allen Breed wrote a compelling article for the Associated Press about how the Station fire near Los Angeles completely destroyed Camp 16, and the story of the 55 inmate firefighters that watched in fear as the chow hall in which they had taken refuge burned around them.

This is how the article begins. Read the rest of it HERE. (Note and update on December 31, 2009: the article is no longer available. A more recent article about Camp 16 is on Wildfire Today HERE.)

As he reached the door of the chow hall, Henry Navarro looked to his right and uttered an expletive. Then he looked to his left and spat out an even stronger one.

Camp 16 personnel
Inmate firefighters with the Mount Gleason Conservation Camp 16 walk down a hill after eight hours of fighting a wildfire in the Angeles National Forest near Azusa, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009. Photo: Jae C. Hong/ AP

Many of the inmate firefighters at Mount Gleason Conservation Camp had been training for just this scenario for years. But nothing could have prepared them for the gantlet of fire they must now run.

The chow hall was supposed to be the “safety zone” for the more than five dozen people at the station. But it and every other building in the ridgetop camp were now engulfed in flames.

And their leaders — Capt. Ted Hall and Foreman Arnie Quinones — were somewhere out there in the inferno.

The order was given to make a run for the crew carriers.

As a swamper, essentially the senior inmate, David Clary had a radio and rode up front with the foreman. When everyone was in the small buses, he made a head count.

Meanwhile, the foremen were checking in with each other over the radios. Someone tried calling for Hall.

“Supe 16?” the radio barked.


“Supe 16?” the call went out again and again.

The men heard nothing except the pounding of their own hearts and the ferocious roar of seemingly insatiable fire.

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2 thoughts on “The burning of Camp 16”

  1. Inter-agency bickering, questioning and accusing is as natural to the firefighting world as the terms "fuel moisture" and "Pulaski" and no doubt a bunch of finger pointing is going to take place after the smoke clears. But I appreciate that this article gives these men in the camp crews the honor they have restored to themselves by the work they do on the line. They may wear the orange suit but on the line if you are facing flame you are united by the task at hand and convict or no, if you can swing a pulaski for 8 hours without demanding a lunch break, or put up with the scorching heat of a flame head, I’d be glad to sit down, call you a brother and share a beer with you.

    1. Thank You for this! My husband is one such “Convict” and was on this fire for weeks last year. It is rare that men like him get any recognition or respect, so thank you thank you thank you!


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