Historic late October California wildfires

Late October has historically seen many large destructive wildfires in California. In addition to the Esperanza fire that killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters seven years ago today, October 20 through November 1 at times has been an extremely busy period of the year for firefighters.

  • October 20, 1991. The Tunnel Fire (or Oakland Hills or East Bay Hills Fire) killed 25 people (23 civilians, 1 police officer and 1 firefighter), injured 150, and destroyed 2,449 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units in Oakland.
  • October 21, 2007. Witch, Harris, Poomacha, Horno/Ammo, Rice, Ranch, Buckweed, Santiago, and Slide fires in the Southern California counties of San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura.
  • October 21 to 26, 2003 Piru, Grand Prix, Old, Paradise, Padua, Simi, Roblar 2, Verdale, Mountain, and Otay.
  • October 25, 2003. The Cedar Fire east of San Diego is still ranked as the largest fire in the recorded history of California. It started late in the afternoon and the first night killed 14 people living in Wildcat Canyon and Eucalyptus Hills who had little or no warning. Eight of those killed died while they were evacuating. The fire burned 273,246 acres, and destroyed 2,232 homes in San Diego, Alpine, Harbison Canyon, Crest, Cuyamaca, Julian, and Santa Ysabel. While trying to defend a house near Santa Ysabel, fire Captain Steven Rucker, 38, from the Novato Fire Department was overrun by the fire and killed on October 29.
  • November 1, 1966. On the Loop Fire, the El Cariso Hotshots were trapped by flames as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacoima Canyon on the Angeles National Forest. Ten members of the crew perished that day. Another two members succumbed from burn injuries in the following weeks. Most of the nineteen members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Historic late October California wildfires”

  1. A deep, somewhat dry (some wetting rain) low is passing through Northern California. Although professional long range forecast don’t indicate the possibility of Devil Winds in So. Cal. I “feel” different. Keep your fire weather eye tuned to So. Cal. about November 1st. I hope I’m wrong.

  2. Bill, I recall a couple of major fires late Oct. 1993 in Southern California. Bill got off contract that year about mid-Oct. Even though I’d worked in the industry, I was naive enough to not even image he would be recalled. Well, within a week after we were married on the 22nd he was recalled and was gone for at least two weeks. The first fire was south of Hemet and that’s the base they flew out of. Also flew the Laguna Fire out of Hemet, then on to Santa Barbara for the Malibu fire. I remember him telling me they were all sitting on the ground waiting for dispatches, watching homes burn on the television, while the agencies argued over who was going to pay for the tanker support. I’m sure someone out there has the data on these fires. This is all I could find: http://www.absconsulting.com/resources/Catastrophe_Reports/SouthernCAFire1993.pdf

  3. We vividly remember all of those fires, except the Loop Fire, as we were only 6 and 7 years old at the time.

    The 2007 Santiago Fire is a yet-unsolved arson-caused incident, and 12 of our OCFA had to deploy. We were riveted listening to the feed. They survived. We lived and worked near the incident.


    Almost from birth, we were taught that wildfires were a part of the CA ecosystem, and that all firefighters were (are) our heroes.

    Sadly, we now mourn the 19 GMHS, in Prescott, AZ, our home town now.

    Thank you, Wildland firefighters, both active, retired, and those forever in our memory. We appreciate you more than words can say.

  4. The Old Fire started the same day as the Cedar. But, the Old fire started earlier in the morning. That was a Saturday. I was listening on my scanner when it started, and watched it from Yucaipa, as it burned east then south into the Del Rosa area of San Bernardino. The Grand Prix was already burning west of the Cajon Pass area. The aircraft out of San Bernardino tanker base were already comitted to a fire on Camp Pendleton. Also BDF engine 36 was comitted to the Grand Prix fire already or else they would have been at the start area in about 5 minutes. This is also happened with the Panorma Fire in November 1980.

  5. Some corrections to your post:

    OFFICAL ACRES: 273,246

    Incident Date: 11/1/1966 not 1996


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