Rattlesnake Fire, 61 years ago

Stanford Patton Rattlesnake FireIt was 61 years ago today that Stanford Pattan threw a match into some brush on the Mendocino National Forest in northern California. A matter of hours later 15 firefighters that were working on the Rattlesnake Fire were dead.

ForestHistory.org has a copy of a very interesting article that appeared in American Forests in 1953 describing Mr. Pattan, the struggles he faced, his earlier attempt to start a major fire that day, and his movements before and after he started the fire. The article includes one graphic photo.

Below is a brief summary of the incident from our Infamous Wildland Fires Around the World publication.

On July 9, 1953 a New Tribes Mission firefighting crew under the direction of U.S. Forest Service overhead was trapped by flames as they worked on a brush covered hillside in Powderhouse Canyon on the Mendocino National Forest. The crew was working on a spot fire in a narrow canyon covered with 40 year-old Chaparral brush. They had just completed construction of a hand line around their spot fire when a sudden wind shift caused another spot fire to flare-up. This other spot fire was located up-canyon from the crew. However, the unusually strong down-canyon wind pushed the uncontrolled spot fire toward the crew’s location. Within 30 minutes the fire had run more than a mile down canyon, catching the crew while they attempted to fight their way through the heavy brush to safety. Fifteen firefighters perished on the Rattlesnake Fire that day. Nine fellow crewmembers barely escaped.

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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 “Rattlesnake Fire, 61 years ago”

  1. Thank you for the posting Bill, It was a long time ago but still a fresh memory to me I was 9 at the time.


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