One of the first times a fire shelter was used

El Cariso Hotshots entrapment, 1964

A former member of the El Cariso Hotshots, a southern California crew based on the Cleveland National Forest, sent us a copy of a newspaper article from August 9, 1964 that described a “new three-pound bodyguard” carried by U.S. Forest Service firefighters. It was one of the early versions of the tent-like aluminum fire shelters which are now standard issue for most wildland firefighters in the United States.

But what was news to me was an entrapment of 36 members of El Cariso on June 22 of that year when they deployed the shelters on a fire near San Bernardino County’s Cajon Pass. The article said they set an escape fire, then deployed the shelters in the freshly blackened area. No one was burned, except for one crewmember who was in a different location and did not use his fire shelter. He suffered serious burns which could have been worse, Lynn Biddison the Forest Fire Control Officer said, if he had not been wearing another new piece of equipment, a cotton shirt treated to be fire resistant.

The Hotshots were told at the time that it was the first time fire shelters had been deployed in a life-saving situation.

El Cariso Hotshots entrapment, 1964

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe when 12 members of El Cariso were entrapped and killed on the Loop Fire on the Angeles National Forest two years later on November 1, 1966, they were not carrying their fire shelters because a decision had been made that it was not necessary because the fire was relatively quiet.


(UPDATE November 13, 2013)

Concerning the use of fire shelters on the Loop Fire, below is a passage from the report on that fatal fire:

Loop Fire, shelters

Thanks go out to Rogers

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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.

2 thoughts on “One of the first times a fire shelter was used”

  1. The treated cotton shirt. Believe it or not, I still have one of those orange shirts in my closet. They were the thing in the late 60s.

  2. Someone who might know about the loop fire is Larry Boggs He was there and saw the burn over first hand. He told me about it and used it in his training. It happened so fast I don’t think they had time to deploy. But can’t remember specifics.


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