2023 Week of Remembrance Day 5
Loop Fire (California) – November 1, 1966
Today’s topic is dedicated to all wildland firefighters.
May we never stop learning.
In learning from our shared history, we have the opportunity for a second chance. We ask that as you and your team read and study our wildland fire history, carefully:
- Consider the facts as they are presented to you,
- Apply all the knowledge of fire behavior and firefighting principles at your command, and
- Add the benefit of hindsight of knowing what happened when arriving at your conclusions. In this way, we will each gain the advantage of a second chance in making these vital decisions.
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 5:19 a.m., 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 El Cariso Hotshots arrive at Contractors Point above Loop Canyon at 2:30 p.m. 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 3:00 p.m., 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 3:35 p.m., 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 were unaware 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 3:45 p.m., 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. Ten will perish immediately, and two will succumb to their injuries in the coming days.
Many of us have and will likely again face a similar decision. We might easily have made the same decision King (El Cariso Crewboss) did. But HINDSIGHT and critique are giving us a second chance.
The Loop fire occurred 57 years ago, and firefighters continue to learn from this tragic event. Following this incident, the Downhill Checklist was created and is still used today.
- Review the Downhill Checklist in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461, page 7.
How do you share your lessons learned? Big or small. How do you facilitate a learning culture in your program or organization? What was your crew or resource’s most recent teachable moment?
- 10 & 18 Poster, PMS 110-18
- 10 Standard Firefighting Orders, PMS 110
- 18 Watch Out Situations, PMS 118
- Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
- NWCG Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
- NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
- RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
- Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center
Have an idea or feedback?
Share it with the NWCG 6MFS Subcommittee.