#TBT from the NFPA Archives: Remembering the Loop Fire Disaster

Blog Post created by jrodowicz Employee on Nov 1, 2018

On November 1st, 1966, twelve members of the El Cariso Hotshot Crew lost their lives while battling the Loop Fire in the Pacoima Canyon of the Angeles National Forest.


This photograph of the full crew was taken in October of 1966.
The fire was caused by a faulty electrical line at the U.S. Army’s Los Pintetos Nike Missile Site at 5:19AM on the morning of November 1st. With 40-60 mph Santa Ana winds pushing the fire downhill, suppression efforts “were focused on protecting the missile facility and establishing a control line south from that facility toward Contractors Point” (which was a key anchor point on the east flank of the fire).
By the time that the El Cariso Hot Shot crew arrived on-scene at 14:30, there were already multiple crews and several tankers working a large fire edge that had crossed the control line near Contractors Point. Line Boss Hugh Masterson briefed El Cariso Superintendent Gordon King with instructions to “leap-frog the Del Rosa crew and to cold-trail the fire edge if possible.” (For those unfamiliar with the term, cold-trailing is a method of using the extinguished edge of a fire as the fireline.) Masterson also said that “the main ridge could be used as an alternate if impossible to follow the burned edge.”
Superintendent King led his crew to a small bench below the south point of the ridge (see Point A on figure above.) They held there until they were able to determine whether it was possible to cold-trail the fire edge all the way down. King had a visual of the Los Angeles County crews that were working the lower edge and thought they could tie in with them. 
By about 15:30, the El Cariso Hotshots were fully committed and were cold-trailing their way down through the steep rocky chimney canyon (approaching Point E on the figure above.) About the same time, The Los Angeles County crews that were working west along the bottom of the slope had stopped by a deep gully. “The gully was adjacent to and just below the chimney canyon.”  Because of a lack of radios among many of the crews (including the El Cariso Hotshots), there was no communication between the two groups, but they were able to see each other.
“According to these same observers, sometime between 15:35 and 15:45 the fire started to cross the bottom of the gully. Within the next 5 to 10 minutes the fire crossed the gully, made a run upslope to the bottom of the chimney, and then flashed very quickly up the length of the chimney. The steep rocky terrain made it very difficult for firefighters to move toward the previously burned area. Terrain conditions combined with the rapid fire spread resulted in all members of the El Cariso Hotshot Crew being burned over as they worked from this stand location and up several hundred yards in the chimney above.”
The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Programhas set up a Staff Ride website where participants are put in the shoes of the men who were at The Loop Fire, as it is known. It serves as a Case Study and an opportunity for people to learn what happened and ask questions about decision-making.
For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.
The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.Library staff is available to answer research questions from members and the general public.