Decker fire, 50 years ago today

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.

Decker Fire graphicFor more info:

Ashland, Oregon fire, 1959

It was 50 years ago, Saturday, that two fires threatened Ashland, Oregon. Here is the beginning of an article about the fires, from the Mail Tribune:

It was 105 degrees on Aug. 8, 1959, when two fires broke out in the dry grass above the railroad tracks by Jackson Hot Springs, near Highway 99 and South Valley View Road.

The fires grew quickly, driven by steady winds, and began climbing through the Ashland Mine Road area toward Wrights Creek canyon, raising a giant plume of smoke and ash.

By nightfall, the flames had traveled five miles to the crest of the Ashland watershed, and thousands of awed townsfolk watched as the flames consumed big pines and firs that exploded in the dark. Many feared the flames would creep into town.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival went on with its production of “Antony and Cleopatra,” despite the flames on nearby hills, helping the Ashland Fire Department keep traffic off the streets.

“It was a terrible conflagration,” said Bill Patton, the festival’s retired executive director. “The trees exploded like Roman candles in the intense heat. The wind was blowing. It was amazing. We’d turn and look at the audience and here were a thousand faces, cherry red, reflecting the flames.”

The actors playing Antony and Cleopatra were visiting Ashland, staying in the motor court then located in Lithia Park, recalled Patton’s wife, Shirley. “When they left for the theater, they took their precious things with them. But the fire stopped at the crest.”

The rest of the article is HERE.

Mann Gulch fire–60 years ago

On August 5, 1949 on the Helena National Forest, a wildfire entrapped 15 smokejumpers and a fire guard in Mann Gulch. Before it was controlled the fire took the lives of 13 men and burned nearly 5,000 acres.

The fatalities:

  • Robert J. Bennett
  • Eldon E. Diettert
  • James O. Harrison
  • William J. Hellman
  • Philip R. McVey
  • David R. Navon
  • Leonard L. Piper
  • Stanley J. Reba
  • Marvin L. Sherman
  • Joseph B. Sylvia
  • Henry J. Thol, Jr.
  • Newton R. Thompson
  • Silas R. Thompson
The 13 men who were killed in the Mann Gulch fire. U. S. Forest Service photo.

The story of this fire was told by Norman Maclean in his book “Young Men and Fire”.

The Six Minutes for Safety overview of the fire is HERE.

As Wildfire Today reported earlier, on August 2-5, 2009 the Helena National Forest along with the National Smokejumpers Association will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Mann Gulch fire at the Meriwether picnic area through informal interpretive programs highlighting the Mann Gulch Fire, impacts the Mann Gulch tragedy has had on firefighting techniques and smokejumping and the associated equipment.

Three smokejumpers—John McKinnon, Carl Gidland and Roland Anderson—will at the Meriwether picnic area to speak to people about Mann Gulch, current and historic fire fighting techniques and much more.

Here is a photo of Mann Gulch taken in 2008, from The Travels of John and Breya.

Rock Creek fire, 70 years ago today

On July 28, 1939 near Orovada, Nevada the Rock Creek fire took the lives of five firefighters.

It started at 11:15 on July 28th, 1939 from lightning. The point of origin is located approximately five miles southeast of Orovada, Nevada and four miles due east of the Highway 95 monument. Between 15:30 to 16:00 the fire burned explosively downhill in a westerly direction, under the influence of a thunderstorm directly over the fire that produced 40 to 60 mile per hour downdraft winds. A crew was entrapped and 5 died.

More information about the Rock Creek fire can be found at the Fire Leadership site. Additional infamous fires are listed in the Infamous World Fires publication on our Documents page.

Anniversary of three infamous fires

Three infamous fires occurred on July 22:

1977: Bass River fire in the Bass River State Forest in New Jersey. A 2,300 acre fire killed four firefighters from Eagleswood Volunteer fire Department.

1998: The Kareas fire near Athens, Greece. The fire was fanned by a strong “meltemi” wind (north direction) along the west to southwest facing slopes of Ymettus mountain. The fuel in the area was Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) forest.

Firefighters in a number of fire trucks that were on a road that ran parallel to the main fire about 200 m higher saw a new branch and drove back (northwards) trying to escape. The three firefighters in the last truck, probably due to the smoke or due to inexperience in forest firefighting, stopped their truck exactly at the turn of the road in the narrowest point of the canyon. They abandoned it, although they had plenty of water and some safety distance and fled uphill, towards another road that ran parallel to the one they were on until then about 100 m higher.

They were caught by the heat and the smoke in the canyon and perished. One young volunteer firefighter who was with them also died. Their bodies were found at a short distance (about 120 m) from the fire truck, which they had abandoned. The truck received little damage. It is quite probable that if they had stayed in the truck they would have survived. The results of the Fire Service investigation on the incident were never publicly announced.

2003, Cramer Fire, Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho. Two helitack crewmembers from the Indianola helitack crew rappelled into an area in order to build a helispot (H-2) above the fire so that a crew could be flown in to secure the west flank of the fire. The rappell spotter estimated it would take one hour to clear the helispot.

About 5 hours later the two helitack personnel requested to be picked up by helicopter and said “Send them in a hurry.” At that time, however, two helicopters were down, one for 30-hour maintenance and the other for refueling. Fifteen minutes later a helicopter attempted to pick up the crewmen but could not land because of the smoke. The fire burned over the area and the bodies of Jeff Allen and Shane Heath were found 75-100 yards from the helispot. Their fire shelters had not been deployed.

This was the first known wildland fire where a firefighter was under threat of criminal liability for his actions.

More infamous fires can be found in the Infamous World Fires document on our Documents page.

Thirtymile fire, 8 years ago

For a lot of reasons, this fire is going to be a part of the heritage of wildland firefighters for a long time.

The Thirty Mile Fire was first discovered during the evening of July 9, 2001. During the afternoon of July 10 high winds developed causing the Thirty Mile Fire in the Chewuch River Valley, north of Winthrop, WA to blow up and grow from approximately 5 acres to over 2500 acres within 2 ½ hours.

21 firefighters and 2 civilians were entrapped in a narrow canyon of the Chewuch River Valley. Fires shelters were deployed in an area surrounded by fire on all sides. Four firefighters were killed and another four firefighters and 2 civilians were injured.

Those killed 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.