Incident Name: Loop Fire, Angeles National Forest
Personnel: 12 lives lost
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service
Position: El Cariso Hotshots
Kenneth Barnhill, 19
Raymond Chee, 23
Frederick Danner, 18 (died sometime after 11/24)
John P Figlo, 18
Joel A Hill, 19
Daniel J Moore, 21
James A Moreland, 22
Carl J Shilcutt, 26 (died 11/6)
John D Verdugo, 19
William J Waller, 21
Michael R. White, 20
Stephen White, 18
On November 1, 1966, the El Cariso Hotshots, a U.S. Forest Service Interregional Wildland Firefighting Crew, was trapped by flames as they worked on a steep hillside in Pacioma Canyon on the Angeles National Forest. An unanticipated upslope wind came up in afternoon and a spot fire was fanned and funnled up the steep canyon. The crew was cutting handline downhill and part of the crew was unable to reach safety in the few seconds they had. Ten members of the crew died on the Loop Fire that day. Another two members died from burn injuries in the following days. Most of the 19 El Cariso crew members who survived were critically burned and remained hospitalized for some time. The Downhill Indirect Checklist, improved firefighting equipment and better fire behavior training resulted, in part, from lives lost on this fire.
(Four US Marines were also killed on a nearby Camp Pendleton fire on the same day.)
El Cariso Hotshot Crews 1 and 2 in October, 1966; crew photos with identification compliments of the El Cariso Hotshot crew website.
Crew 1, October 1966
Left to Right, Back: Joel Hill, Steve White, Jay Shilcutt, Steve Bowman, John Verdugo, Bob Chounard
Middle: Dan Moore, Rodney Seewald, Bill Waller, Andy Silkwood, Jim Reichard, Jim Mooreland
Front: Ed Cosgrove, Jim Brown, John Moore
From Crew 1: Joel Hill, Steve White, John Verdugo, Dan Moore, Bill Waller and Jim Mooreland all died from burns they received on the Loop Fire of November 1, 1966.
Crew 2, October, 1966, photo compliments of Rodney Seewald.
Left to right, Back: Glen Spady, Pat Chase, Pete Achberger, Fred Danner, John Figlo, Joe Smalls, Mike White
Middle: Jerry Smith, Joe Beaty, Ken Barnhill, Frank Keesling, Tom Rother
Front: Richard Leak, Raymond Chee
From Crew 2: John Figlo, Mike White, Ken Barnhill, and Raymond Chee, died from burns received on the Loop Fire of November 1, 1966. Carl Shilcutt and Fred Danner died in the hospital at a later time.
Map of final control line from the Accident Report
- Forest Service: Loop Fire Investigation Report (7224 K pdf)
- Photo of mountainside with handline location (from report):
- Historical Lessons Learned - Angeles National Forest: Loop Training Exercise, 1967 (9,212 K pdf, very large)
- From NWCG Leadership Committee: Loop Fire Staff Ride
- Doug Campbell, was the former supe of the El Cariso Hotshots and Gordon -- their capable leader at the time of the burnover -- was and is his good friend and colleague. Doug always said "If Gordon could be caught unaware, anyone could." What happened to Gordon and the El Cariso crew caused Doug to seek a better method both to predict fire behavior based on old wisdom of hotshot supes and to communicate when and where fire behavior will change. CPS, the Campbell Prediction System -- or the Fire Signature Prediction Method -- was born. Trainers and trainees carry on using the method. Today there's a new generation of advocates with new technology: Bruce Schubert, working with Doug and Will, is computer modeling the prediction process using a combination of BEHAVE and Doug's CPS.
- Personal Account of Rich Leak, an El Cariso Hotshot -- Loop Fire survivor.
- Fire weather and fire behavior in the 1966 Loop Fire
by C. M. Countryman, M. A. Fosberg, R. C. Rothermel and M. J. Schroeder,
Fire Technology Vol 4, No 2, p. 126-141, 1968
- Video of 3-D simulated progression of the fire, locations of the crew and a fine interview piece by Gordon Knight, remembering what he saw and heard that day. This was used in the 2010 Fireline Safety Refresher Training at NAFRI.
- Fred Danner's story of the Loop Fire:
Letter dictated to his mom who wrote it in shorthand and later transcribed it.
- More from Freddie's mom Connie and his brother Jesse on Freddie's last days in the hospital
- Loop Fire Survivor Gerald Smith LLC YouTube, published March 4, 2013. Sharing his story near the fatality site at the Loop Fire Staff Ride in 2012.
- Loop (Nov 1, 1966) and Glen Allen (Aug 20, 1993) Fires Fatality Case Study LLC YouTube, published April 20, 2012
- HOTLIST: The Loop Fire 1966
- They Said It: Search on Loop Fire, for example 3/4/2004 and scroll up and down, also 3/13/2010
- Newspaper Front Page Nov 2, 1966 (1548 K pdf)
- Newspaper Front Page Nov 3, 1966 (353 K pdf)
- Newspaper Front Page Dec 22, 1966 (374 K pdf)
- Newspaper Front Page Jan 11, 1967 (353 K pdf)
- Loss and Rebirth in a '66 Fire: Twelve men died fighting the Loop blaze, but their deaths inspired new safety protocols. The survivors have struggled to build new lives.
11/4/2006 | Online Article
MOST were college students and adventure seekers, young men who spent the summer of 1966 choking off forest fires across the West, cutting trees and brush for days on end for about $2 an hour.
One day that fall, the crew was dispatched to a narrow ravine near Sylmar to help contain a blaze in the Angeles National Forest.
This was the 18th fire of the season for the 31-member El Cariso Hotshots. It looked like a mop-up operation, removing what little fuel remained in the burnt-over chute.
Gordon King, the crew's leader, told his men to travel light, to grab tools but leave their portable fire shelters in the truck. Their $5 government-issue fire-retardant shirts were useless after repeated washings had leached out the protective coating. Most of the men didn't put on gloves, and they rolled up their sleeves in the afternoon heat.
The 32-year-old King was a no-nonsense commander who led by example, outworked everyone and didn't say much because he didn't have to.
He was a student of fire, attuned to the way the fluctuating forces of sun, slope, smoke, wind and heat determined its course. King believed he could predict what a fire would do.
As he led his men into the abyss, they believed it too.
A faulty power line near Pacoima Dam sparked the fire before dawn. Fueled by 60 mph Santa Ana winds, the blaze blackened 2,000 acres around Loop Canyon and filled the northern San Fernando Valley with thick plumes of smoke.
When the El Cariso Hotshots entered a rocky ravine east of the canyon about 3 p.m., the fire was largely contained.
At 3:35 p.m., an unexpected shift in wind caused a small spot fire to develop below the crew. Within seconds, super-heated gas had raced up the 2,200-foot canyon and exploded, trapping the firefighters in 2,500-degree heat.
In 60 seconds, it was over.
Twelve hotshots died, among them three 18-year-olds, three 19-year-olds and two brothers. Ten others were burned, many critically.
The Loop fire of Nov. 1, 1966, was a watershed in wild land firefighting. It led to a clearer understanding of the perils posed by narrow canyons, of the way they could, with the slightest meteorological provocation, become chimneys poised to explode with the tiniest spark.
Sayre Fire: Hallowed Ground for Firefighters
by Brian Humphrey, LAFD Spokesman who tells "the story behind the name of El Cariso Park" which served as the Incident Command Post during the Sayre Fire in 2008. | Online Article
With the flames too tempting a focus, nary a reporter would ask the question. A question which when answered, would put both meaning and perspective into the Herculean effort of firefighters working the Sayre Wildland Fire.
For 'El Cariso' was not merely chosen as a nice sounding name for the 79-acre park, but rather a distinct honor bestowed upon hallowed ground to honor the memory of twelve wildland firefighters, members of the El Cariso Hotshots. Ten would die on the mountain and two would later succumb, in a November 1, 1966 wildfire that scorched the same area of the western San Gabriel Mountains that burned this week. (more at the link)
- From the ashes, monumental memories
11/7/12 | Online Article
Last week, a memorial was relocated in the San Fernando Valley, a bit of granite that was moved for improvements at El Cariso Community Regional Park. The marker is modest, standing in sharp contrast to the tragedy it commemorates: Forty-six years ago this month, 31 young men were dispatched to a wildfire near Sylmar, and only 19 of them survived.
Rich Leak was 19 that summer, the gung-ho son of a Camp Pendleton fire captain. “All my life,” he recalls “I had wanted to be a fireman.” After attending a summer firefighting program at the U.S. Marine base, he had joined an elite ground crew of “hotshots” based near Lake Elsinore, so called because they were dispatched to the hottest parts of forest blazes. By 1966, his second year with the El Cariso Hotshots, he was a crew foreman, traveling the West to cut fire lines and clear brush around raging wildfires and “loving the excitement and the adrenalin rush.”
The Nov. 1, 1966, call came on a hot day at the end of a long fire season: A faulty power line had sparked a brushfire near Pacoima Dam. Whipped by Santa Ana winds, the blaze had charred some 2,000 acres around Loop Canyon. But it appeared to be dying by the time Leak and his fellow hotshots got what they regarded as an easy assignment... (more at the link)
- In 1997, 30 years later, the Loop fire fallen and survivors are read into the Congressional Record.
- Website with many photos and personal recollections: El Cariso Hotshots 1966 maintained by David Westley, a crew member in 1966
- Memorial, dedicated 30 years after the fire, in 1996
Contributors to this article: Gordon King who presented at a hotshot meeting in the mid-2000s, Doug Campbell, David S. Westley and Scott Gorman for the memorial marker photos. Rod Seewald sent the crew photos to the webmaster of the El Cariso Hotshot site in the fall of 1966. It's unknown if he is the photographer. Firefighters who organized and produced the Staff Ride after Gordon's Hotshot talk did a great job. There were others who shared stories, too many to name here. If you'd like to be added to this list, please let me know via the Planning Contact. Mellie
Please support the Wildland Firefighter Foundation