National Wildfire Coordinating Group

2022 Week of Remembrance Day 3

Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5  |  Day 6  |  Day 7


Perspective from the Redmond Interagency Hotshot Crew

Today’s topic is dedicated to the fallen firefighters on the Fish Lake-Gibson Creek and Thirtymile Fires.


A group of men and women standing on rocks wearing helmets engaged in a discussion.

In July of 1977 on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in North Central Washington, long-range spot fires were occurring around the Fish Lake Fire. Ron Neely, District Assistant Fire Management Officer, and a crew of seven firefighters relocated their efforts from Fish Lake to size up a new spot fire. This fire would later be called the Gibson Creek Fire.

  • 1445: Neely sizes up the fire at 1 acre; 3 minutes later, it’s 5 acres. The fire was crowning and moving fast up the canyon.
  • 1540: Garbled distress messages are heard on the radio and a helicopter is used to try to find Neely.
  • 1545: Air attack reports fire at 200 acres.
  • 1557: The time on Neely’s watch when he was found, marking the time he perished in the burnover.

Twenty-four years later in July of 2001, again on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Thirtymile Fire was detected near the location of the Gibson Creek Fire. In a steep canyon 30 miles north of Winthrop, Washington, a cooking fire escaped and began burning in hot dry conditions. Spot fires formed and fourteen crewmembers and two civilians were involved in an entrapment. Fourteen shelters were deployed, and four firefighters lost their lives.

After the fatality at Gibson Creek, one of the recommendations made by the investigation team was “The region (R6) develop two Redding type crews to provide experience opportunity for our upcoming fire professionals.” The Redmond Interagency Hotshot Crew (IHC) was chosen to meet this critical need. Since 1980, the Redmond IHC has been providing a learning platform for firefighters from various state, federal, and international partners.

Staff rides provide valuable learning opportunities to firefighters. The intent of the program to is to enhance leadership and team building skills within the dynamic and challenging wildland fire environment. The Thirtymile Mile Staff Ride has been one of them. With the proximity of Thirtymile to Gibson Creek, Redmond crew leadership have incorporated the two events into one trip. During these visits, the crew has been involved in maintaining the Fish Lake-Gibson Creek trails and preserving the integrity of the site as a place of learning.

It is hard to quantify the value of these trips. Each person takes away something different from the experience. As firefighters, we engage in these staff rides in a tactical manner, learning from decisions made and the environmental conditions that contribute to fire behavior. The unspoken lesson is that we will not forget our history. Returning to these sites demonstrates that lesson in a tangible manner. We honor the memory of our fallen brothers and sisters by maintaining and propagating this learning culture.

Never Forgotten

Ron Neely, Tom Craven, Karen FitzPatrick, Jessica Johnson, and Devin Weaver

Purple Ribbon
“I had a profound experience on the staff rides with Redmond. Putting myself in the shoes of the men and women who lost their lives brought an elevated level of humanity to the tragedies they experienced. For me, this highlighted the way human factors in fire can impact us. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to pay respect, think critically and learn.”
Staff ride participant 



Week of Remembrance
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2023

Have an idea or feedback?
Share it with the NWCG 6MFS Subcommittee.

Follow NWCG on Twitter  and Facebook