Loop Fire (California) – November 1, 1966

Category: 
This Day in History
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2021

 

This Day in History is a brief summary of a powerful learning opportunity and is not intended to second guess or be judgmental of decisions and actions. Put yourself in the following situation as if you do not know the outcome. What are the conditions? What are you thinking? What are YOU doing?

Today’s 6MFS 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

Incident Summary:

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. At 0519, a fire was started by a faulty electric line at the Nike Missile Site on an exposed ridge at the head of Loop Canyon. Chamise, sage, and sumac were the dominant fuels, with critically low live fuel moistures. Santa Ana conditions prevailed, and the fire was driven downhill rapidly by 60 mph northeast winds toward an urban area at the bottom of the canyon. The temperature was 73 °F with 15% relative humidity (RH). At 0520, a lookout reported the fire. At 0536, initial attack takes place. At 0600, more crews arrive. The Fire Weather Forecaster issued a warning at 0830 of Santa Ana conditions in the fire area, with a high temperature of 95 °F and 10% RH. Firefighters were experiencing east-northeast winds at 40 to 60 mph. At 1300, the temperature was 80 °F with 12% RH.

 

The El Cariso Hotshots arrive at Contractors Point above Loop Canyon at 1430. They receive instruction to leapfrog the other crews and cold trail down the east flank. Much of the fire’s edge was in or near a chimney canyon. Winds were decreasing but with continued considerable channeling and eddies. At 1500, the El Cariso crew decided it was possible to cold trail down the chimney and tie in with the crews working the lower edge of the fire. It was noted that there was no clean black. Only 500 feet away from tying in with cat lines at the bottom at 1535, the terrain was too steep. They decided to go indirect 50 to 100 feet away from the fire’s edge. They were working in an area of unburned fuel and hazardous topography and wereunaware that the fire had established a hot spot at the base of the chimney below them, burning in sumac bushes and heavy litter.Their escape routes were inadequate. At 1545, flare-up occurs and a “reverse tool order” (turn back and get out fast) was immediately given to the crew.

 

In less than 1 minute the fire flashes through the 2,200-foot chimney, overcoming the 23 firefighters.


Discussion Points:

The Fire Record 1966 shield graphic showing flames,and thunderbolt in front of mountains and timber.In 1966, this incident made us recognize the need for downhill line construction guidelines.

The El Cariso crew was not notified that the assignment had previously been turned down.

  • Review How to Properly Refuse Risk in the IRPG (gray section). Identify what must be communicated and to whom if an assignment is turned down.

Crews working at the bottom of the fire saw that the fire had moved below 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 in place 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 your crew has the appropriate PPE, that it is in good condition, and they know how to wear/use it correctly.

Many firefighters across the country will fight fire in Southern California at some point in their careers.

  • What unique topographic, weather, and fuel conditions require you to be watchful?

Special thanks to Rich Leak, Ed Cosgrove, and the El Cariso Hotshots for sharing their stories and history.

 

 

Additional Resources

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

Have an idea? Have feedback? Share it.

EMAIL | Facebook | URL: https://www.nwcg.gov/committees/6-Minutes-for-safety
MAIL: 6 Minutes for Safety Subcommittee • 3833 S. Development Ave • Boise, ID 83705 | FAX: 208-387-5378