Documentary on the Honda Canyon Fire fatalities

Firestorm Documentary Honda Canyon FireA documentary is being produced for a multi-fatality wildfire that occurred in the 1970s.

On December 20, 1977, three people were entrapped and killed on the Honda Canyon fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California, including the Base Commander Colonel Joseph Turner, Fire Chief Billy Bell, and Assistant Fire Chief Eugene Cooper. Heavy Equipment Operator Clarence McCauley suffered severe burns and later died from the complications.  A book about the fire, “Beyond Tranquillon Ridge”, was written by Joseph N. Valencia.

Mr. Valencia, one of the first firefighters on the fire, is serving as a technical consultant on the documentary, titled “Firestorm”, which is adapted from the book.

Here is how Mr. Valencia described the fire to us in an email:

A combination of hurricane-force winds and the snapping of an electrical pole starts the Honda Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, early in the morning of December 20, 1977. Over a thousand people consisting of professional firemen and military personnel fight the fire. Outlier winds would increase to over a hundred miles per hour, making the firefight almost impossible. Four fatalities and sixty-five injuries resulted. Ten-thousand acres burn, resulting in significant damage to the military installation infrastructure. Ironically and fortuitously, the fire will be out, a little more than 30 hours later, due to a rain storm-front coming in.

Others working on the film include producer Dennis R. Ford, and
Christopher Hite, Director of Photography and Cinematographer.

Many interviews have been filmed with people that were on the incident. One of the many reasons for making the documentary is to collect information about the catastrophe that occurred 42 years ago while the witnesses and participants are still available. You can view some of the interviews at the film’s Facebook page.

The trailer for the film is on Vimeo.

They are hoping to complete production by early 2020.

Mr. Valencia also wrote Area Ignition, the story of the 1979 Spanish Ranch Fire near Santa Maria, California.

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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.