El Cariso Hotshots disbanded

The El Cariso Interagency Hotshots have been disbanded. El Cariso was one of the first two hotshot crews created about 60 years ago after World War II. For many decades they have been working out of the Trabuco District on the Cleveland National Forest in southern California.

El Cariso's logo
El Cariso's logo
El Cariso’s logo, a Ruptured Duck

The El Cariso Interagency Hotshots have been disbanded.

It pains me as an alumni to write that. My first job as a firefighter was on the crew. El Cariso was one of the first two hotshot crews created about 60 years ago after World War II. For many decades they have been working out of the Trabuco District on the Cleveland National Forest in southern California.

The crew ended the 2012 fire season as a fully certified Type 1 Hotshot crew. But they began the 2013 season as a Type 2 crew due to vacancies at critical positions. Throughout the year their organization deteriorated, suffering more vacancies, as well as a lack of consistent supervision and crew leadership according to a high-ranking U.S. Forest Service official we talked with.

The crew lost both of their captains, their superintendent was detailed to the Forest Supervisor’s office, and as the latter part of the fire season approached they were not even qualified as a Type 2 Initial Attack crew. Due to these issues and concerns for firefighter safety, the National Forest shut down the crew when they returned from working on the Rim Fire at Yosemite National Park. The remaining permanent personnel were transferred to engine stations, but the temporary crew members were laid off.

The Forest expects this situation to be temporary, and next year will begin rebuilding the organization. With the long list of interagency requirements for hotshot crews, it will not be an easy task. We wish them luck in reconstituting the El Cariso Hotshots.

The crew has endured other disastrous situations in the past. In 1966 12 people on the crew died as a result of burn injuries on the Loop Fire on the Angeles National Forest in southern California. And in 1959 three members of the crew and four others were entrapped and killed on the Decker Fire just a few miles from their base west of Elsinore, California..

1970 El Cariso Hot Shots
1970 El Cariso Hot Shots. Superintendent Ron Campbell is in the center of the front row (without a hard hat); Assistant Superintendent Al Kuehl is on the left end of the front row; Bill Gabbert is fourth from the right in the front row.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

30 thoughts on “El Cariso Hotshots disbanded”

    1. I will share this news with my husband Daren Howard who was an El Cariso Hot Shot many years ago……..

  1. Bill, heart breaking news, as the autumn fire season is upon Southern California now. As former CA natives now in Prescott, AZ, we hope El Cariso IHC will be rebuilt quickly. The Trabuco, and spots off Ortega Hwy., were cherished hiking areas for our families and friends, but the chaparral is very, very thick out there right now. Sends shivers up one’s spine to think about it. New mantra: “El Cariso IHC in 2014”.

  2. Like I said in the other posts, hopefully the higher ups recognize the need to get them and keep them around for another 60 years after this season. With their history, they should be a top priority to get the problems solved and fixed.

  3. This years fire hire for FS has been a complete nightmare, thanks to the new hireing system and the powers that be. Everyone has had a huge issue with filling positions on every district all across the board. Frustrating to say the least. And now this because of unfilled , unable to fil positions. Fix hireing issues and Lets bring back El Cariso IHC, they are much needed !!!

    1. This is way beyond fire hire issues…more along the lines of a couple bad apples spoiling the whole bunch. Individuals allowed for way to long to get away with things that they should’be been disciplined for and allowed to fester and get away even more things..allowed them to bring others into their sick game of rotten politics and then reprisal for being called out by people wanting them to be held accountable for their actions. FireHire has nothing to do with these vacant positions. Its extremely sad that two individuals could tarnish the long history of this crew.

  4. Another of the many nuances of the Federal workforce issues at hand today. It can be difficult to retain the right number of key position folks to continue on with certifications. I hope that El Cariso can rebuild and again be included in the elite of the crews existing and functioning in the US.


    1. .

      Whoever has read Christopher Burchfield’s book, ‘The Tinder Box’ chronicling the USFS’s transformation over the last three decades may be able to shed some light on the decision to disband the El Cariso Hotshots.

      Are there any readers out there who may care to enlighten us? It sure seems from this article that Burchfield, in his book, may very well have an explanation for this type of decision.



  5. Very upsetting news to hear. I am the person standing on the far right of the photo and was on the crew 69-70. I retired after 38 yrs. with USFS, all in fire management. I hope the powers to be on the Cleveland get severely questioned on how they could let this happen.
    Bill G. if you see this email me.

  6. I started on the crew back in 1981-82, we then were subject to cuts o a different kknd, but managed to sray alive and thrive through the years. It is sad to here that this may be a reallity to the end of one of the original hand crew’s of the nation disbanded because of staffing issues created by upper level management. Mind boggling, thinking back a couple of years we ha a retention problem this too, creates by upper level management bureaucratic bull. I am almost there age 53 three years left and i hopefully have left a impression upon my subordinates and have mentored individuals to stand firm, stay the course, support your troops, have honor and integrity in the things you do,and be professional in all things. Again very sad if this stands, and a true lost to the firefighting community. Lol

  7. ’71…..
    Was it just the alignment of the planets that so much occured in one season? I’ve been at places that were “tight” but then somebody or something new comes along that causes personalities at different levels to bump heads and something that was working becomes broken. Just curious…..


  8. Don’t be so quick to rush and blame management on this issue. There is far more going on than anyone is at liberty to discuss. Hopefully the issues that caused this disbanding of the crew for the remainder of this fire season will be swiftly corrected and the El Cariso Hotshots will be up and running next fire season.

    1. Management was in my thoughts but somewhere from crew member all the way to the top is what I was impying. Didn’t El Cariso have some serious issues back in the late 60’s? Not suggesting that other crews haven’t.

  9. If there are problems either inside or outside the team that impair their ability to work safely and effectively, I would far rather see those problems addressed before there is another fireline tragedy. I am not thinking of the Granite Mountain 19 here but rather some earlier fires (decades earlier) where safety was second to firefighting.

  10. Sad to hear that the crew has been having problems staying certified, I feel that the region has too many shot crews and maybe starting to take effect on some of the ones that have been around for decades. El Cariso is the 7th oldest Hot Shot crew in the region but the 5th still in existance (that is if they can come back from this.)
    I wish them luck.

  11. Such sad and shocking news! My fondest memories of fighting fire are while working on this crew (1991). Wish them all the best and hope for speedy resolution.

  12. I was on the crew in 1980. I am glad to see safety is a big and important issue. Especially after the recent wildland fire fire deaths. I always thought it was a waste for people to die from wildland fires protecting brush that would grow back next year and property that was insured. Can’t believe these young lives are still being wasted. The leaders in these agencies should be held criminally and civilly liable for these deaths the same as in a construction accident. The forest service needs to do it right or not at all. In 1976 I watched fellow crewman get burned for $2.81 per hour (GS-2) after I refused an order from my engine crew leader. The order he gave me was against everything he had taught me.My friends got burned I won’t ever get that picture out of my head. I retired as a firefighter and was glad when I could help when human life was the issue we where saving not some big fancy house that refused to clear brush around thier home. If safety is an issue for the disbanding then so be it I don’t want to see another life wasted from poor leadership decisions. If people’s houses burn from inadequate clearance cancel payment on their insurance and charge them for suppression cost! On a lighter note that time I spent on the crew was some of the best days of my life. There was so much pride on the crew I felt the crew ran the crew instead of the leaders. Reputation was everything and I wish I was in that good of shape again!! HAHA stay safe, stay focused on the risk versus gain!!

    1. Very well said John Sullivan. The majority of the problems in the Forest Service in the Firefighting aspect is that there are too many egos and stuck up people who love to play politics. It’s like if you’re not wearing a certain boot, drinking after work with them, putting down others who didn’t know fire questions that they may have not been taught, stupid stuff like those are the reason why the Forest Service has had a bad reputation among others and show poor service to the community in terms of human relations and learning to cooperate with one another. Otherwise, the Forest Service Wildland Firefighters are the backbones of forest firefighting, but like you said, they need to things right for the sake of others; otherwise, just like you said, they shouldn’t do it at all. I was glad to finally get away from that organization, as I had went to do another job at the time which involved in data collection, inventorying and identifying trees that could grow into powerlines, as well as identifying powerline poles hardware. I loved that job a lot. Well, have a good day.

  13. El Cariso Hotshots have been around for many years, and their accomplishments that they’ve provided over the years. Even the past two crews from years ago that they lost, they were still heros in fire a war on wildfires. It is truly sad to see that organization go down due to lack of funding and other issues. But hopefully for their sake that they’ll be up and running next season. But with the economy being the way it is right now, including government shut down, it’s going be a hard task to accomplish, unless the government can get their acts together and come to some agreement, and keep federal spending a must to fund workers, so that they can still make a living and support their families. Best of luck to the El Cariso Hotshots. Hopefully, Jay can still be hotshot superintendent. I’ve known him for a long time. I remembered when he first came to El Cariso from Montana, when I was a working out of Temescal Station.

    1. I’m a good friend of Jay’s from Montana. We worked on the Lolo together for years then he went to Cal and I got a job with the Missoula Fire Department. Can You tell me what actually happened? Also do you have Jay’s e-mail address or send him mine. Thanks.

  14. Sad to hear. When I First saw them in the 90’s they looked like the crew to be on the image and the way they worked impressed me! Well if they need help getting this started I will help. Maybe the bandaid on his face hurts but he will get through this with hard work — I mean the Duck.

  15. The El Cariso Hotshots have a long and distinguished history and some, like me, who live in Sylmar, near El Cariso Park, are very proud of those who served on this crew over the years.

    We hope the crew will be revitalized and never again disbanded. We are proud of the El Cariso Hotshots!

    One more note: I’ve researched the origin of “El Cariso” and here’s what I found. I wish this information was included on the web pages and posts about the El Cariso Hotshots and El Cariso Park as it’s a fascinating history (which I assume to be true):

    I understand the El Cariso Hotshots originally were based in Orange County. This is from Wikipedia:

    El Cariso is an unincorporated community in Riverside County, California. It lies along the “Ortega Highway”, just west of where it crosses the crest of the Santa Ana Mountains a few miles southwest of Lake Elsinore. It lies within the Trabuco District of the Cleveland National Forest. El Cariso Campground is north of the town across the highway from the El Cariso Fire Station.

    El Cariso is believed to be near the location of the mountain hideout of Juan Flores, the leader of the Flores Daniel Gang. Located just over the county line in Riverside County, its mountain meadows provided a safe place to keep horses stolen in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties outside the jurisdiction of their Sheriff before they were driven elsewhere to be sold.

    It is one of the sites believed to be the location of the 1857 shootout between the gang and a large posse from Los Angeles, and Temecula that found then killed or captured many of the gang.[1]

    1. I have asked people in the LA County Parks Dept. and former members of the El Cariso Hotshots and as I recall no one could tell me the origin of the name.

      The above information makes sense and, since it’s the only story I’ve been able to find about “El Cariso” I assume it’s true.

      Anyone reading this able to verify or clarify this information?

  16. Scotty , it’s me , James Armstrong. We went to the academy together, and worked El cariso together. ” I will help you bro ” !! Call me (818) 209-2253.

  17. FYI, El Cariso is working on the Carlton Complex, listed as a Type 2IA Crew. However, everyone that was working with them considers them a Type 1 crew.

    Deeds, not words.

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