How’s this for awkward? A few Bridgeport Ranger District fire crew and trail crew guys fighting a timber fire on the West Walker Ranger District as 32 smokejumpers from Redding, California, and Medford, Oregon, soon aided by air tankers and helicopters and reinforced by Forest Service crews including one of 26 Sho Pai firefighters from Owyhee, Nevada, later joined by hot shot crews from the Cleveland and Lolo national forests, a crew of Santo Domingo firefighters from New Mexico, and additional Toiyabe National Forest firefighters—along with our fire control officer and just two of our district’s firefighters—handling a remote several-hundred-acre range fire on our own district.
Fire Control Officer Marion Hysell spotted the smoke rising behind the Bodie Hills on the evening of July 8, 1965, while returning to the Bridgeport Ranger Station from Twin Lakes. As soon as he got to the station, he dispatched me with four firefighters in the pumper and followed in the Jeep with two others. As darkness fell, Marion and Toiyabe National Forest fire staff officer Blaine Cornell, who was scouting the fire from the air—operating under the philosophy that no fire is worth a man’s life—agreed that a night attack on this fire, burning in remote rugged country of relatively low resource values, would be dangerous and impractical. We were sent back to the ranger station to prepare for whatever the supervisor’s office cooked up for the next morning. They planned a daybreak attack that would involve extensive air operations and off-forest crews.
Citing our district’s high fire danger and low manning level, Marion had asked the supervisor’s office not to strip it of all its own fire-qualified personnel. So, instead of going to the Wichman Fire with Marion and just two of our firefighters, I was back on patrol the next day.
As usual, Marion’s call was a good one. Shortly after noon the next day, as I was completing a Buckeye Canyon patrol, my radio crackled with the Bridgeport Ranger Station report to the Toiyabe National Forest dispatcher of a fire at Stockade Flat. That fire, just north and west of Devils Gate on the West Walker Ranger District, had been reported to the station by passing southbound motorists.
Range Conservationist Ken Genz, acting as district ranger between Ranger Bob Hoag’s transfer to the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho and arrival of a new district ranger from Utah, had sent our two-man trail crew, recalled from their Hoover Wilderness camp when the Wichman Fire took off, to check it out. The fire was burning in Jeffrey pine timber and logging slash, and threatening to run. All they could do was try to head it off and call for help. I was already rumbling back to the ranger station when Ken called.
“You and Crawford will have to take a couple more guys up there and handle it. I’ve requested an air tanker.”
Maurice Crawford assumed the duties of fire boss and, handing me the air net radio, told me to handle air operations.
I cranked up the pumper and all six of us built fireline for all we were worth. The air tanker, an old Navy TBM, responded to my request for a good drop across the head of the fire. We held the Stockade Flat Fire to about five acres, and were released when Alpine District and West Walker District firefighters—not so fresh from our Wichman Fire—arrived to mop up.
Meanwhile, the Wichman Fire had been controlled, and the Bridgeport District crew was to relieve the remaining smokejumpers and hot shots being released the next morning. I didn’t join this mop-up operation. Instead, I went up New York Hill to provide radio relay services. But that’s another story.
Adapted from the 2018 third edition of Toiyabe Patrol, the writer’s memoir of five U.S. Forest Service summers on the Toiyabe National Forest in the 1960s.
Note: A reader pointed out an error in the March 25, 2023, “Robinson Creek Fire” article. In the second sentence of the twelfth paragraph, the sentence should read “Before the fire was two hours old” rather than “two years old.” Thanks to that reader!
1 thought on “Stockade Flat Fire”
For parties who can’t help but be curious as to whether the plane in this story dropped fire retardant… Les said it was reddish and he thinks it was Phos-Chek.. and so the world turns.