2. Lady Bug Fire – 95 Acres - This fire, our
second fire, was on the Angeles National Forest, from July 16 through July 19. I don’t remember much about the Lady
Bug Fire. I do recall seeing a large plane drop fire retardant as we rode in our crew truck to the fire. The terrain was very
steep, rocky and rugged on the Angeles National Forest.
3. School House Fire –
3245 acres – I cannot remember anything about this
fire on the Los Padres National Forest. I just recall we were in the habitat of the California Condor, an endangered species
of Vulture with a wide wingspan. I never saw one.
4. Indian Fire –
950 acres – This fire was near the El Cariso
Hot Shot camp on the Cleveland National Forest. I believe we were on this fire from July
24 through July 26. The fire was caused by a small plane crash, killing the flight instructor and a California
Highway Patrol student pilot. It appeared they were flying up a canyon and down drafts caused them to fly into the ground.
The fire was so hot around the airplane that there was melted aluminum on the ground! We cut fire line within 20 feet of the
bodies of the two men killed in the crash. They were burned beyond recognition and one body was on top the other. You could
see flesh burned off the fingers and tops of their sculls and intestines protruding from one burned charred body! This was
a sad and terrible sight to see. The brush had burned out very clean from the site of the plane crash to the top of the ridge
and it spread over the top to the other side and burned downhill.
5. Owl Creek Fire
– 105 acres - This fire was on the Salmon
National Forest in Idaho. We were traveling to and were on the fire from August 5 through August 12. It was
almost like going on a vacation away from the brush fires in Southern California. We were flown to Salmon, Idaho in a DC-3
US Forest Service plane. I think it was a DC-3 used by US Forest Service smoke jumpers. I recall we landed on a very small
landing strip and they held back traffic along a road at the edge of the air field so we could land.
were taken by school bus to as close as possible to the fire by road. We then had a long walk into the Owl Creek Fire and
a long walk back out later. The fire started from a lightning strike. Smoke Jumpers had parachuted in on it, but they were
not able to hold their fire lines. They abandoned the fire and walked out, so we were told.
We found their fire tools near a partially constructed fire line. Maybe they heard we were coming
and just left the fire but I can’t imagine leaving fire tools behind.
Fire line construction
in that country was easy compared to working in the brush country of Southern California. The Idaho terrain was steep and
rocky in places. However, it was beautiful country. On one occasion, a large log came rolling down the mountain and we saw
a bear on the run not far from where we were working. The bear may have dislodged the log.
On that particular fire,
there were large, tall scattered pine trees with grass underneath. It was mountainous and very steep. But, the hazard there
was burning pine cones which would roll down against a tree on the uphill side. If you were below the tree, you may not see
that it was burning on the opposite side, the up hill side! Later, it would burn through the trunk near the base at
stump level, and the tree would fall! It would fall without warning! This was a serious hazard one had to watch for constantly,
day and night. We would hear trees falling all during the night.
After we completed a fire line around the fire,
we patrolled and did some mop up until early in the morning, then we settled in for the night. Rod Seewald and I teamed up.
We were spread out along the fire line in teams of two. It was really cold that night and the sky was clear. We built a warming
fire in the burn. I recall digging out a shallow depression and putting some pine needles in it for some cushioning to lay
my paper sleeping bag in. Even though it was close to 100 degrees during the day, it was near freezing at night and felt especially
cold in the early morning hours before sunrise. It was really cold getting out of that sleeping bag!
day, a pack train of mules and two men on horses (maybe mules also) brought us some hot food in stainless steel containers,
loaded in pack saddles on the mules. It was really good food and so neat to see it brought in by pack mules, and what looked
like two cowboys on horses (or mules), just like from a western movie, including pistols in their holsters and gun belts!
I washed out some clothes in Salmon
River. We did get to take a bath in the Salmon River and was it ever cold! It was like ice water!
left that fire by plane, we may have been overloaded as there was a moment during takeoff, I was not sure we were going to
clear the barbed wire fence at the end of the landing strip. Jim Brown recalled this incident also. Hazards abound!
6. Round Mountain Fire – 20,000 acres – This fire was on the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California. It was in heavy timber instead
of brush. It was very different from the brush country of Southern California. About all I recall on that fire was that it
was very dusty and hot and the timber was fairly large and dense. Also when in fire camp one day, the sun was blackened out
from the heavy smoke and ashes were raining down like snow! The ground and everything was covered in the gray ash! And it
looked like a dirty gray snow! It was difficult to eat at the fire camp tables as ash kept raining down
on the food. Also some kind of wasps kept flying around and landing on our food, making eating tricky. I believe it was on
this fire we got to go to a motel and clean up and rest overnight, as we were fairly close to a town. I am not sure when we
were on this fire, but it was sometime in the latter part of August 1966.
Jackson Fire – 40 acres – This fire was on
the Angeles National Forest. It was rocky and very steep terrain. I am not sure if this was the fire but it was one of the
fires on the Angeles that we climbed a cliff one night. It may have been on the Lady Bug fire on the Angeles. When we got
on top the mountain, a large hawk, flew up in the face of Tom Graham, but he dodged it in the nick of time. The next day I
remember seeing the cliff we climbed from a distance and was shocked we had climbed it! I don’t know how high the cliff
was that we climbed that night, but it was possibly 40 or 50 feet high! I believe we were on this fire
only two days from August 25 to August 26.
I don’t recall which fire, but we were on
top of a ridge one time, and large bombers were making fire retardant drops. It was calcium borate slurry, a red liquid chemical
mix. We watched the small “birddog” plane lead the bombers into a deep canyon of thick smoke to direct the drop
and both planes would disappear out of site for a few seconds until they came up out of the smoke. The planes sometimes made
the sounds of a dive bomber like in a World War II movie. You would sort of nervously “hold your
breath” until the planes came back out of the smoke.
One time a bomber
flew directly over us and we could actually see the pilot smiling from the cockpit in the front of the plane! It was an old
World War II bomber with the glass windows in front. When we were near these fire retardant drops, we were instructed to lay
down flat on the ground on top of our fire tool (to protect it from the sticky slurry) and hold on to the base of a bush or
something. Although the slurry would usually turn into a fine mist or droplets like a misty rain, we were
told it could come down in mass and cause serious injury or death if one was struck by the several ton load.
red slurry droplets would cover everything exposed: hardhat, headlamps, canteens, etc. It dried to a light
pink color and had a sort of rough “bumpy” feel to the touch. We proudly “wore”
the droplets as a “badge” of our exposure to the hot line and nearness to the fire. AKA: El Cariso was
We were riding in the back of our crew truck one
time, either hurrying to a fire or moving to another location. We were traveling on a very narrow dirt
road. One side of the road was a shear drop into the canyon below. I recall the outside dual wheel of the truck appearing
to be hanging over the edge of the road. Rocks and dirt were breaking loose from the edge of the road and sliding down the
mountain. We thought we might slide off the steep embankment at any time. Several of us climbed up on our
seats holding to the top of the truck cargo boxes and preparing to jump from it, should it appear the truck was about to slip
off the road. That definitely was a nerve-wrecking ordeal!