1959 Decker Fire memories

We got a note today from Anna Dailey about the 1959 Decker Fire, which Bill Gabbert wrote about back in 2013. Three of the six firefighters killed on the Decker were El Cariso Hotshots — Bill Gabbert’s old crew.

Boyd Edwards, El Cariso Hotshots
Boyd “Mike” Edwards, El Cariso Hotshots

“I just read the report on the Decker Fire of 1959. My 2nd cousin Boyd M. Edwards was killed on that fire. Although Boyd, or Mike as the family called him, was killed about 2½ years before I was born, I grew up knowing how his death devastated our family. Not much was shared with me regarding his death, all I knew was that he died the summer after high school graduation fighting a fire. Now I know many of the details and I was in tears reading it. RIP to everyone who lost their lives that day and the days that followed.”

Anna attached a picture of Boyd, who was buried in Huntington Beach, California. She said she never knew until reading Gabbert’s report this week that her cousin lasted 8 days in the hospital before he succumbed to his injuries.

(NOTE in Gabbert’s 2013 news post that there used to be a report about the Decker Fire on wildfirelessons.net and it’s no longer there. The 1959 report is HERE.)

Bill Gabbert wrote in 2016:
The official report did a pretty good job of explaining the important facts of August 8, 1959. But more than half a century later, a former firefighter who served on the El Cariso Hotshots from 1963 through 1966 conducted extensive research on what happened that day in 1959 and assembled many details that were not included in the U.S. Forest Service report. Julian Lee, Professor of Biology, Emeritus at the University of Miami (now living in New Mexico), made available to us his 27-page description of the Decker Fire. It is very well written and comprehensive, laying out the details of what occurred during and after the fire, as well as providing some analysis.”

Map from Julian Lee’s report on the fatal Decker Fire:

Map from Julian Lee’s report on the fatal Decker Fire.


The Decker fire, 51 years ago today


Decker fire, 50 years ago today

California: Falls Fire

(UPDATE at 2:42 p.m. PDT, August 6, 2013)

Falls Fire
The Falls Fire burned close to many homes. August 6, 2013 photo by Marc Peebles

Information Officer Marc Peeples told us that the evacuations have been lifted for LakeLand Village and Rancho Capistrano. Decker Canyon remains under a mandatory evacuation order.

One of the factors that slowed the fire activity late in the day on Monday was the rising relative humidity. At 6:41 p.m. on Monday at the Temescal weather station 10 miles north of the fire it was 38 percent which is fairly high to sustain rapid fire spread in southern California brush. At 6:41 a.m. Tuesday it was 87 percent and fell to 49 percent by 9:41 a.m.

In spite of the high humidity, Mr. Peeples said there was beginning to be a little fire activity in some of the canyons on the fire Tuesday morning.


(UPDATE at 8:44 a.m. PDT, August 6, 2013)

DC-10  drop on Falls Fire, August 5, 2013
DC-10 drop on Falls Fire, August 5, 2013,, from KCAL video

The Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center reported at 8:30 a.m. PDT that the fire has burned 1,416 acres and is zero percent contained. The fire continues to move south and east and has established itself in the San Mateo Wilderness, but is holding at the ridge lines. They said the it has potential to move further north, resulting in additional structure threat and could also move into Morrell and Decker Canyons. LakeLand Village, Rancho Capistrano and Decker Canyon remain under mandatory evacuation orders, according to the Coordination Center’s 8:30 a.m. report.

Marc Peeples, an Information Officer on the Incident Management Team assigned to the fire, said at 8:45 this morning that the fire is 5 % contained and is being fought by 265 personnel. Other resources on the fire include 6 helicopters, 6 fixed wing aircraft, 16 crews, and 45 engines.

The Cleveland National Forest has not updated InciWeb since about 7 p.m. Sunday and it also says the evacuations are in effect for Lakeland Village, Decker Canyon and Rancho Capistrano residents, in spite of a report from KCAL saying some of the evacuations had been lifted.

The report from KCAL said the Ortega Highway may remain closed for days or weeks, due to firefighters working along the highway, guard rails that have to be replaced, and power lines that were damaged.

The video also has some footage of Tanker 910, a DC-10, making some impressive retardant drops adjacent to houses.


Wakoski’s Incident Management Team was scheduled to assume command of the fire Tuesday morning.

The fire was reported at 10:06 a.m. Monday west of El Cariso Engine Station in the Cleveland National Forest.


(UPDATE at 9:25 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013)

At 9:15 p.m. the Cleveland National Forest reported the fire had burned 1,500 acres. Mandatory evacuations for Lakeland Village, Decker Canyon and Rancho Capistrano residents. Ortega Highway is closed to non-residents. Closures are at Grand Ave in Lake Elsinore and Antionio Parkway in Orange County. The evacuation perimeter is for residences between Grand/Ortega Highway and Grand/Corydon on the west side of the lake.

Official information about evacuations can be found at InciWeb.

Excellent photos of the Falls Fire.

The videos below are from the Press-Enterprise.


Falls Fire photo
Falls Fire as seen from LA’s NBC 4 at 5:13 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, looking southeast. (click to enlarge)

(Originally published at 5:54 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013; we will update this article as needed.)

A wildfire that started Monday morning in southern California between Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano spread east almost four miles and is threatening homes in the Lakeland Village community on the west side of Lake Elsinore. In the photo above captured from television at 5:13 p.m. PDT, the fire had moved across the South Main Divide road and was burning downhill at a moderate rate of spread. It appeared to be approximately 500 to 1,000 feet west of the homes in the photo in Lakeland Village south of the Ortega Highway.

Falls Fire, near Ortega Hwy and Grand, August 5, 2013
Falls Fire, near Ortega Hwy and Grand, August 5, 2013. Photo by Ken.

As this was written at 5:54 p.m. PDT, the fire was even closer to the homes and can be seen occasionally on NBC 4’s live video feed. It was burning vigorously less than 200 feet from homes.

Several helicopters and air tankers, including a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, are assisting firefighters.

Referencing the map of the Falls Fire below, the fire has spread across the South Main Divide and is much closer to Lake Elsinore than shown in the heat data that was collected at 1:47 p.m. PDT today.

Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013
Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, showing heat detected by a satellite. The red squares indicating heat can be as much as a mile in error. (click to enlarge)

The media is reporting the fire has burned 1,200 acres.

It is burning near the location of the 1959 Decker Fire (see the map above) which entrapped seven firefighters. Five of them lost their lives; three were members of the El Cariso Hotshot Crew. The east-facing slope above the lake is infamous for unusual wind patterns, which was a factor in the fatalities.

3-D Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013
3-D Map of Falls Fire at 1:47 p.m. PDT, August 5, 2013, looking northwest. The red squared represent heat detected by a satellite; they can be as much as a mile in error. (click to enlarge)
DC-10 finishing drop on Falls Fire
DC-10 finishing a drop on the Falls Fire, August 5, 2013. Note from Bill: I examined the drop based on the known length of a DC-10, which is 180 feet, and calculated that this drop is approximately 1,620 feet long. The length of a drop from a P2V for coverage levels 4 to 10, ranges from 180 to 430 feet.