Loop Fire - November 1
This Day in History is dedicated to the 12 El Cariso Hotshots who lost their lives and the 11 others who received life-threatening burns on the Loop Fire. “We as firefighters can most honor them by recognizing and cherishing the lessons they have imparted to us at the greatest price” – Paul Gleason
November 1, 1966 – The Angeles National Forest in Southern California is known for its steep, rocky terrain and common strong, dry, downhill wind, known as Santa Ana winds. 0519 A fire is started by a faulty electric line on the Nike Missile Site, on an exposed ridge at the head of Loop Canyon. Chamise, sage, and sumac are the dominant fuels, with critically low live fuel moistures. Santa Ana conditions prevail and the fire is driven downhill rapidly by 60 MPH NE winds toward an urban area at the bottom of the canyon. The temperature is 73 degrees with 15% relative humidity (RH). At 0520 A lookout reports the fire. 0536 Initial attack takes place. 0600 More crews arrive. 0830 The Fire Weather Forecaster issues a warning of Santa Ana conditions in the fire area, a high temperature of 95 and 10% RH. Firefighters are experiencing E-NE winds at 40-60 MPH. 1300 The temperature is 80 degrees and a 12% RH.
1430 The El Cariso Hotshots arrive at Contractors Point above Loop Canyon. They receive instruction to leap-frog the other crews and cold-trail down the east flank. Much of the fire’s edge is in or near a chimney canyon. Winds are decreasing but there is still considerable channeling and eddies. 1500 The El Cariso crew decides it is possible to cold-trail down the chimney and tie in with the crews working the lower edge of the fire. It is noted that there is no clean black. 1535 Only 500 feet away from tying in with cat lines at the bottom, the terrain is too steep and they decide to go indirect 50-100 feet away from the fire’s edge. They are working in an area of unburned fuel and hazardous topography and are unaware that the fire has established a hot spot at the base of the chimney below them, burning in sumac bushes and heavy litter. Their escape routes are inadequate. 1545 A flare-up occurs and the order to “reverse tool order” is immediately given to the crew.
In less than 1 minute the fire flashes through the 2,200 ft. chimney overcoming the 23 firefighters.
In 1966, this incident made us recognize the need for downhill line construction guidelines.
- Review the Downhill Check (green) section of your Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461. Discuss how you and your crew will realistically apply this checklist.
The El Cariso crew was not notified that the assignment had previously been turned down.
- Review the How to Properly Refuse Risk (gray) section of your Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461. Identify what must be communicated and to who, if an assignment is turned down.
Crews working at the bottom of the fire saw that the fire had moved below the El Cariso crew in the chimney. Unfortunately, the crew leaders could not communicate a warning to El Cariso since it was not common for crew leaders to carry or be issued radios as we do today.
- Identify the protocol your crew/unit has to inform others of hazards.
When the flare up occurred, 11 crew members moved into and near an emergency survival area. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and fire shelters would have lessened the severity of their injuries.
- Ensure that your crew has the appropriate PPE, that it is in good condition, and it is known how to wear/use it correctly.
Many firefighters across the country will fight fire in Southern California at some point in their career.
- What unique topographic, weather, and fuel conditions will you be watchful of?
Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center
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