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. Additionally, severe burns were experienced by Heavy Equipment Operator Clarence McCauley. He later died due to complications from the burns. A book about this fire, “Beyond Tranquillon Ridge”, was written by Joseph N. Valencia.
On November 1, 1966, 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 on the Loop Fire that day. Another two members succumbed from burn injuries in the following days. Most of the nineteen members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time.
Lessons learned from the Loop Fire resulted in the checklist for downhill line construction, improved firefighting equipment, better fire behavior training, and the implementation of new firefighter safety protocols.
The La Brea fire is burning across the highway from where the 1979 Spanish Ranch burned 30 years ago today. The August 15, 1979 wildfire claimed the lives of four California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) firefighters who were working on an indirect fireline 40 miles east of Santa Maria, California. Those four firefighters were Captain Ed Marty, and firefighters Scott Cox, Ron Lorant and Steve Manley.
Joe Valencia wrote, Area Ignition, which is a book about the 1979 fire. Joe also put together a document on the Lessons Learned site that gives a brief summary of the incident.
Here is the cover page from Joe’s document.
The Spanish Ranch fire is one of the in our recently revised partial list, by date of the year, of some of the more famous, or infamous, multiple fatality wildland fires around the world over the last 150 years.
The air tanker base that was down-graded earlier this year from a full-time base to a call when needed base is again seeing very heavy use as air tankers reload there while working on the La Brea fire 24 miles east of the base. In May during the Jesusita fire the Santa Maria air tanker base set a new national record for the most fire retardant pumped in a single day–158,000 gallons, according to an article in the Santa Barbara Independent by Nick Welsh.
On Saturday, the first day of the La Brea fire, eight air tankers worked the fire. For Tuesday, ten air tankers have been requested, including four heavies, four S-2s, and one single engine air tanker. And, the 7,200-gallon Martin Mars will arrive in the area at noon today to work the fire and will be refilling its tanks by scooping water from Cachuma reservoir which is 24 miles south of the fire.
Five type 1 helicopters (three Aircranes, one S-61, and one Vertol 107) and at least four type 2 helicopters (all Bell 212s) are expected to be working the fire today.
HERE is a link to a video at KSBY about the air tanker base and the La Brea fire.
On August 8, 1959 the El Cariso Hot Shots experienced the first of two fire tragedies the crew would be involved in. The fire was the Decker Fire located in the foothills above Lake Elsinore, California. Seven people were overrun by fire and six lost their lives. Three were members of the El Cariso Hotshot Crew.
In 1966 12 members of the crew were killed when they were entrapped on the Loop Fire.
This discussion will begin right here at 10 pm ET, and 7 pm PT.
We will have the honor of chatting with Joe Valencia, a former firefighter and the author of Beyond Tranquillon Ridge and the recently released Area Ignition. Mr. Valencia was a firefighter working on the Honda Canyon fire which is the subject of Beyond Tranquillon Ridge.
You can replay the discussion by clicking HERE.