Romero fire memorial site rebuilt to honor 4 killed in 1971 blaze

After 2017 Thomas Fire destroys longstanding tribute to crew members Thomas Klepperich, Leonard Mineau, Delbert DeLoach and Richard Cumor, firefighters and neighbors pitch in to replace it

Romero Fire Memorial rebuilt
A crew of firefighters gathers for a moment of silence after completing the restoration of the 1971 Romero Fire Memorial site above Summerland. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

This article by guest author Ray Ford was first published in Noozhawk, and is used here with permission.

[Noozhawk’s note: The first part of this story is taken from the author’s book, Santa Barbara Wildfires, published in 1990. The author participated in the building of the new memorial site.]

On Oct. 6, 1971, Pat Russ was driving to San Jose to visit his estranged wife when the urge to start another fire overwhelmed him.

Near Goleta he turned off Highway 101 and began driving along Cathedral Oaks, Foothill and other back roads looking for just the right spot — one that was isolated enough, with thick brush and a steep enough slope for the flames to take off.

He found the spot at about 3:30 p.m. near Bella Vista Drive between Romero Canyon and Ladera Lane in Montecito. Patrols had driven by at 9 and 10:30 a.m. and again at 2 p.m., just 90 minutes earlier.

But there was no one there to see Russ at that moment.

Turning around, carefully looking around to make sure that no one was watching, he lit the fuse on a small homemade firebomb, tossed it out the window and drove off slowly so as not to attract any attention.

He then continued on his long drive north, unaware of what he had left behind.

The fire was discovered at 3:57 p.m. by a neighbor who reported it immediately to the Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Department.

Fire Blows Up
Within five minutes after the report of the fire, the smoke column had risen to 1,500 feet. Photos taken about that time indicated that the Romero Fire had already blackened 30-40 acres. During the initial attack period, lasting from 4:08 to 5 p.m., firefighting forces poured in to the area from all over the South Coast.

Romero Fire Memorial rebuilt
Stone markers are now in place at the north, east, west and south spots in the Romero Fire Memorial circle. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

But by 6 p.m. the wildfire had already spread to the crest of East Camino Cielo, burning rapidly through the grass-covered fuel break. Thankfully, because the break was wide, and the grass was burning at a low intensity, the pumpers were able to douse the flames there.

Shortly after dark, a sundowner developed, and as in the 1964 Coyote Fire, the fire line turned and began to make a downhill run, burning on a hot, wide front that swept across Bella Vista and Ladera Lane, destroying four homes.

By daylight Thursday, the fire had burned through all of Toro Canyon, from its base at Highway 192/East Valley Road to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains, an eastward spread of about 2 miles during the night. As of 6 a.m., 3,600 acres had burned.

Weather Forecast
The plan for Thursday was to hold the fire at the fuel break on the top and construct a line along the bottom flank to keep the fire from spreading down into Summerland and the Carpinteria foothills.

Continue reading “Romero fire memorial site rebuilt to honor 4 killed in 1971 blaze”

Pressure from politicians was resisted during investigation of the Thirtymile Fire

Thirty Mile Fire Memorial
Thirty Mile Fire Memorial. USFS photo.

In the world of wildland fire the Thirtymile Fire established a turning point and a cascade of unintended consequences.

On July 10, 2001 the fire in the Chewuch River Valley in Washington took the lives of four U.S. Forest Service firefighters and triggered a series of events and knee-jerk reactions that have been affecting firefighters ever since.

Killed that day were:

Tom L. Craven, 30, Ellensburg, WA
Karen L. Fitzpatrick, 18, Yakima, WA
Devin A. Weaver, 21, Yakima, WA
Jessica L. Johnson, 19, Yakima, WA

The tragic event set a precedent for charging a wildland firefighter with felonies for making mistakes during an emergency fire response. After the fire politicians passed a federal law making it mandatory for the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which had no experience in wildland fire, to investigate fatalities of U.S. Forest Service personnel that occurred on a fire to decide if any federal laws were broken by firefighters during the suppression of the fire. In order to avoid being swept up in lawsuits or criminal charges, some firefighters started refusing to participate in fire investigations, purchased professional liability insurance, and at times felt the need to lawyer up. Overnight it became more difficult to unearth lessons to be learned after close calls, injuries, or fatalities on wildland fires.

But it might have been even worse.

The website The Smokey Wire: National Forest News and Views, has an article by Sharon T. Friedman and Jim Furnish that describes how the lead investigator for the Forest Service had to fight off political pressure when the team was preparing to unveil the findings of the investigation.

The piece covers in general how government agencies have to deal with interference from  political appointees, then has  examples from Former Deputy Chief for National Forest Systems, Jim Furnish.

This subject is especially relevant now, days after leadership in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration failed to resist pressure from politicians, and threw National Weather Service employees under the bus for providing a forecast for a hurricane.

The article from The Smokey Wire is below, used here with permission.

Political Appointees, The Good and the Bad: Guest Post by Jim Furnish. 1. Mt Wilson and Thirtymile Fire

August 29, 2019 by Sharon T. Friedman, Ph.D.

I think it’s important for folks who haven’t worked in the agencies, or with politicals, to hear what the interface between politicals and career civil servants can be like, in terms of the day-to-day management of the agency. For the Forest Service, anyway, pressure by politicals can be less like an assembly line of policy from DC to Ranger District, and more like the Administration punching a pillow, where the pressure dissipates through time and space.

To open the discussion, I asked Jim Furnish, former Deputy Chief of the National Forest System, to share the good and the bad of his experiences with politicals. For those of you who are not Forest Service folks, the chain of command goes like this: the Secretary of Agriculture (now Sonny Perdue) is over the Undersecretary over the Forest Service (now Jim Hubbard, formerly State Forester of Colorado). Those are political folks, and under that is the Chief of the Forest Service (not technically political, that’s a historic discussion in and of itself, but new Administrations of a different color tend to get rid of the old ones, in more or less dramatic ways), and the Deputy Chief for the National Forest System is the next layer down. There are other Deputy Chiefs, e.g. State and Private, that are over state and private programs and Fire, and Research and Development, Administration and International Programs, but the main issues that concern us here (other than fire) are all within the purview of the Deputy Chief for NFS. For example, the Director of Ecosystem Management Coordination (EMC) where litigation, NEPA and Planning are housed, works for that person in DC.

Continue reading “Pressure from politicians was resisted during investigation of the Thirtymile Fire”

Flyover of the Walker Fire

Take a flyover tour of the fire via Google Earth

Walker Fire photo

Below is a flyover of the Walker Fire via Google Earth. The red line was the perimeter mapped by a fixed wing aircraft at 10:16 p.m. PDT September 9, 2019. The fire was 17 miles south of Susanville, California and had burned 47,340 acres.

The flyover begins at the southwest corner of the fire near the “Walker Fire” pin on the map below the video.

If you’re having trouble viewing the video, you can also see it at YouTube.

Map Walker Fire
Map of the Walker Fire. The red line was the perimeter mapped by a fixed wing aircraft at 10:16 p.m. PDT September 9, 2019.

(Click here to see all articles about the Walker Fire on Wildfire Today, including the most recent.)

Coast Guard helicopter uses hoist for night rescue of injured firefighters

It happened September 6 in Northern California

Coast Guard Hoist Rescue firefighters
Screengrab from the video below.

On the night of September 6 a Coast Guard helicopter conducted a hoist rescue of two firefighters that had been injured by a rolling rock while battling the Middle Fire in Northern California on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Press release from the Coast Guard:

The Coast Guard rescued two injured firefighters from a ridge near Canyon Creek in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area early Friday morning.

At 9:14 p.m. Thursday the U. S. Forest Service requested the Coast Guard’s assistance with the rescue of two injured firefighters. The firefighters had been hit by falling rocks and reportedly sustained serious head, back and leg injuries while working in steep terrain on the Middle Fire.

MH-65 Dolphin helicopter Coast Guard
An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay. (Coast Guard file photo by Chief Petty Officer Brandyn Hill)

Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay launched an MH-65D Dolphin helicopter crew who flew to the area and located the injured firefighters within 10 yards of the fire line in a clearing that the fire crew on scene had cut in the forest to allow for an extraction. The helicopter crew approached the extraction zone and made a high-altitude, tree-top hoist from 240 feet, the helicopter’s maximum hoist range.

The injured firefighters were flown to Weaverville airport and transferred to emergency medical services.

“This rescue was extremely challenging due to the proximity to an active fire, the high elevation and the rugged terrain,” said Lieutenant Commander Derek Schramel, the pilot in command of the mission. “I’m very proud of how our crew worked together with our fire service and law enforcement partners in Trinity County to save these two men.”

If you’re having trouble viewing the video, you can see it on YouTube. reports that the two firefighters worked for GFP Enterprises, a company that provides contract fire crews. According to Paul Asher, spokesman for the company, “One had a broken femur [on his] right leg. The other one had an injury not as bad to the shoulder area.”

The Middle Fire started September 5 and was listed at 223 acres on September 8, one of 26 fires on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Our Opinion:

These two firefighters were lucky that the Coast Guard helicopter was available for a hoist rescue at night. Too often that is not the case. The federal and state agencies with major wildland fire programs need to develop this capability on their own, either by contracting for it or developing it in-house. Few U.S. Forest Service helicopters can fly at night and very few if any have hoists, although some can perform short-haul operations during daylight hours. CAL FIRE has installed hoists on all of their state-owned helicopters and the new Firehawks they are purchasing will also have hoists and most likely will have have night-flying capability. Kudos to CAL FIRE for setting the example.

A firefighter injured at night in a remote area during the day or night should not have to depend on luck. They deserve to have extraction services by air available within an hour.

The article was edited September 10, 2019 to include the fact that some U.S. Forest Service helicopters can perform short-haul operations during daylight hours.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chad and Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Firefighters conduct firing operations on north end of the Walker Fire

The fire has burned 47,340 acres

Walker Fire
The Walker Fire as seen from the Reno, Nevada area, 9-7-2019. InciWeb.

(UPDATED at 7:12 a.m. PDT September 10, 2019)

The Walker Fire grew Friday but not as much as as in previous days, adding  3,409 acres to bring the total up to 47,340. Part of the increase was a result of firing operations along County Road 176 and other roads on the north end of the fire, south and southeast of Antelope Lake.

Take a flyover tour of the Walker Fire.

From the Incident Management Team Monday night:

The fire held on the north side and dozers continued building line to mitigate the spot fire on the northeast. Crews continued mop-up operations on the southeast flank of the fire north of Ingalls Peak utilizing aircraft and engine resources for water delivery. The west flank of the fire is holding along Wheeler Ridge. Containment lines held on Forest Road 25N42, Flournoy Road. Crews will continue structure defense, containment operations, and holding what’s in place through the night.

(Click here to see all articles about the Walker Fire on Wildfire Today, including the most recent.)

The map below only shows the north end of the fire where some of the firing operations are underway. Scroll down to see a map of the entire fire and the surrounding area.

map Walker Fire
Map of the north end of the Walker Fire. The red line was the perimeter mapped by a fixed wing aircraft at 10:16 p.m. PDT September 9, 2019. The white line was the perimeter at 10:57 p.m. PDT September 8, 2019. Scroll down to see maps that show the entire fire.

Based on the weather forecast for Tuesday the fire activity should be slower than in recent days. There is a 60 to 70 percent chance of precipitation and the minimum relative humidity will be in the high 40s. The temperature will max out at 55 after plunging to 43 overnight at the Pierce weather station 5 miles north of the fire.

(UPDATED at 11:18 a.m. PDT September 9, 2019)

Walker Fire Susanville California
Map of the Walker Fire. The red line was the perimeter mapped by a fixed wing aircraft at 10:57 p.m. PDT September 8, 2019. The white line was the perimeter at 7:35 p.m. PDT September 7, 2019.

The maps of the Walker Fire produced by data from the mapping aircraft Saturday and Sunday nights indicate that the fire grew incrementally along approximately 90 to 95 percent of the fire’s edge during that 27 hour period. This indicates that there is still a great deal of work left for the 660 personnel assigned — 12 hand crews, 51 fire engines, and 6 helicopters. The fire added another 5,882 acres to bring the total up to 43,931 acres.

There were no huge areas of fire growth like Saturday night when two large fingers, 2 and 4.5 miles long, raced off to the northeast. Generally on Sunday the fire spread in most areas less than a tenth of a mile, however there were some locations where it grew half a mile to a mile.

The Walker Fire is now 5 miles west of Highway 395, 15 miles northeast of Quincy, and 17 miles south of Susanville.

Here is information from a Monday morning update issued by the Incident Management Team:

The fire activity decreased last night over the fire area. Containment line that is in place held. On the east side of the fire, dozer line was constructed around the northeastern leading edge of the fire near Round Mountain and Stoney Creek. Hose lays will be installed to reinforce the containment lines. Dozers continued progress constructing dozer line advancing north from Ingalls Peak. Crews constructed line directly along the southeast-east edge of the fire which held as well. Firefighters constructed fireline around the structures on the southwest edge of the fire to further protect the structures. The fire is staying in place at the 25N42 road. Structure preparation is complete around structures to the west of Wheeler Peak drainage.

The weather forecast for the fire area for Monday calls for 61 degrees, 37 percent relative humidity, and west-southwest winds of 13 mph gusting to 22. This could encourage fire growth to the east-northeast. Tuesday will be cooler with higher humidity and a 53 percent chance of about 0.04 inch of rain, conditions less conducive to fire growth than on Monday.

There will be a transfer of command today from a Type 2 Incident Management Team to a Type 1 Team (California Team 4).

Excellent video footage of the Tenaja Fire by FirePhotoGirl

FirePhotoGirl video Tenaja Fire
Screengrab from FirePhotoGirl’s Tenaja Fire video.

FirePhotoGirl, a prolific and very skilled photojournalist, captured some excellent video footage of the Tenaja Fire which burned 2,000 acres at Murrieta in Southern California September 4 and 5. Check it out below; it is used here with her permission.

Bonus video below:

She sacrificed her equipment to get the video footage: