Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

     November 6-12, 1955
     La Tuna Canyon Fire

In Memory of
Auto Fireman James L. Catlow
Engine Company 39
Who died of burns fighting 
This fire on November 12, 1955
And Posthumously Awarded the Medal of Valor.

The La Tuna Canyon Fire

Mountain Patrol

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As nearly as it can be determined, the La Tuna Canyon holocaust had a very innocent and unspectacular birth. Two eight year old boys, in their own back yard in the 9600 block of La Tuna Canyon, and, without any malicious plans for the future, were preparing a noonday feast. A strong easterly wind carried enough of their fire across a clearing to ignite the adjacent hillside brush. One of the boy's father responded with department-like speed to their cry for help and valiantly attempted to extinguish the burning grass and brush with a garden hose. The wind quickly drove the fire through the tinder dry fuel and out of his reach. The father immediately called the fire department and the rest of the account of the fire is a matter of radio log history. The first-in Company reported a large, rapidly growing brush fire and immediately asked for additional help. This indication that a major brush fire was burning out of control heralded in five nightmarish days and nights of wind driven fires in the rugged western half of the Verdugo Mountains.

The 1955 La Tuna Canyon fire is actually a series of fires that burned in many directions at the beckon of wind and terrain conditions. At various times there were two or three major fire heads on the rampage simultaneously. A daily box score might help straighten out the maze of radio messages and on-the-scene reports that were issued.

Sunday, Nov. 6--
12:30 P.M. to 2:00 P.M.

Fire traveled north and east to the Shadow Island Dr. area and an attempt was made to hold along the Green Verdugo Fire Road.

1:45 P.M. to 3:00 P.M.
A second and separate fire in the 9800 block of La Tuna Canyon. This was maliciously set by an eleven year old boy who apparently wasn't satisfied with the fire to the north.

2:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Fire jumps Green Verdugo Fire Road on a half-mile front and is stopped above the homes along Day and McGroarty Streets, west on Ora Vista.

6:00 P.M. to 8:00 A.M., Monday
Fire break constructed along east flank of the fire from the Green Verdugo Fire Road to the St. Elizabeth grounds in La Tuna Canyon.

Monday, Nov. 7--
10:30 A.M. to 12:00 Noon

Fire breaks out of the Shadow Island Dr. area and is driven north and west to Sunland Blvd.

12:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M.
Fire is driven south and west to La Tuna Canyon, Tuxford St. and Sunland Blvd.

3:30 P.M. to 4:30 P.M.
Fire front moves east to endanger homes in the Glencrest-Bluffdale area.

5:30 P.M. to 6:30 P.M.
Fire front moves west and south to Glenoaks Blvd.

7:00 P.M. to 10:30 P.M.
Fire front moves east to cross Wildwood Fire Road and south across Chandler Fire Road to the Mother Cabrina area.

10:30 P.M. to 9:00 A.M. Tuesday
Fire moves slowly to the east in the high hills between La Tuna Canyon and Glen Oaks Blvd.

Tuesday, Nov. 8--
10:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.

Fire moves rapidly to the east up La Tuna Canyon and sweeps over the Tujunga hill-side homes on Reverie Road and Tranquil Dr.

2:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.
Fire continues east toward the Hostedder Fire Road and south toward the Verdugo motorway.

2:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M.
Fire moves north toward Tujunga and is stopped behind the homes along Verdugo Crestline Dr.

3:00 P.M. to 11:00 P.M.
Extensive back firing along the Green Verdugo Fire Road blocks any further northward progress of the fire.

Wednesday, Nov. 9
Cold trail and patrol operations of the fire area.

Thursday, Nov. 10
Continued cold trail and patrol operations.

12:30 P.M.
Flare up along Verdugo Crestline Dr.

Friday, Nov. 11
Continued cold trail and patrol operations.

Saturday, Nov. 12
Completed cold trail and patrol operations.

* * *

The many directional shifts of the fire clearly indicates that erratic wind conditions hampered the Department effort to control this fire more than any other single factor. Fire fighting efforts were further compounded by an inadequate water supply and road conditions throughout the major part of the fire area.

It will be necessary to describe this fire and the fire control operations as a series of separate fires. Bear in mind this one very important fact--the control and final extinguishment of the La Tuna Canyon Fire was accomplished through the combined cooperative effort of many individuals and agencies. It is not possible to record individual or agency credit in an article of this size. Still, in fairness, it must be clearly established that the cooperation of outside agencies contributed immeasurable to the successfulness of the operation. The Los Angeles County Fire Department furnished many fully manned Engine and Tank Companies as well as the steady procession of Camp Crews and bulldozers seen in operation throughout the extent of the fire. The Federal Forestry gave us timely aid with six pieces of fire equipment with crews and a large hand tool crew. The fire departments of Burbank and Glendale added some very needed additional assistance whenever it was required.

When you consider this and the assistance contributed by the Police Department, the Board of Education, the Red Cross and other agencies, and the hundreds of hardworking citizens, the surprisingly low property loss figure is readily understandable. Now let us examine the records as it points out one fire at a time.

It has already been stated that a growing major brush fire greeted the first assignment companies as they pulled in to the fire. Their efforts were directed at curtailing the lateral movement of the fire along the north wall of La Tuna Canyon. By this time, the fire had such a speed, that catching it along the ridge was out of the question. As additional companies arrived, they were sent up Sunland Blvd. to Shadow Island Dr. and up a dirt road that is called "the airport road." The main ridge south of Sunland Blvd. has been fairly well leveled off in an unsuccessful effort to give the San Fernando Valley a fog-free airport. Though it is no landing strip, it is an ideal fire break and with aggressive hose line work, the northern and western movement of the fire was temporarily brought under control.

The eastern flank of the fire posed an entirely different problem and was later to give us no end of trouble. At this time, the directional head of the fire was to the east over rugged brush covered hills and canyons. This area has no fire breaks or fire roads and the fire gave the tractor crews no time to construct hasty breaks.

One energetic attempt to block the eastern progress of the fire was made with the net result of proving once again, that a 4-wheeled drive tank wagon will go practically anywhere that there is room for its tires. Utilization ridge lines and trails suitable only for goats or bulldozers, the tank wagon with an eager 15-man crew gave the fire a temporary setback. As it proved out, this effort was 10 minutes late and a 1000 foot of hose short.

When this effort failed, a fear became a fact! Now it was clearly demonstrated that the City of Los Angeles had an uncontrolled fire burning in inaccessible terrain. Further, the fire was burning so swiftly that there was little possibility of establishing an organized position to block the fire's immediate progress. By 1:45 P.M. rugged terrain and a strong wind gave the initiative to the fire, and for the next four hours, the fire fighter fought a dangerous and heroic defensive battle. No homes were lost, but Autofireman James Catlow was so severely burned that it cost him his life.

Separating the homes in Sunland from the fire was a single brush covered ridge. Running along the crest of this ridge strategically located turn-arounds and water tanks, and has been fire tested many times in the past as an adequate defensive position. Once again the decision was made to defend along the road. Hastily, the equipment was redirected to this location. A 2 1/2" hose line was laid from the fire road down to a hydrant on the Sunland side and was immediately loaded. About 10 pieces of equipment were on hand to be spotted when a very dangerous situation developed. The wind suddenly changed toward the north and drove the fire out of the lateral canyons and up the slope toward the Green Verdugo Fire Road. Though this action on the part of the fire was anticipated, its speed and the intensity was simply overpowering. Quickly, the rigs were spotted in the closet available cover and many protective lines were laid. For a distance of 100 or more feet along the road, the fire was aggressively, though futily fought. 1 1/2" fire streams nearly disappeared in the furnace-like heat. As the main body of the fire swept over the position, all water was directed to protect the men and the equipment from the effects of the intense heat. Men without hose lines laid in the mud and were kept wet from nearby rigs. Some men stacked up on the ground like hot cakes with the top man keeping the pile wet with a hose line.

It was during this momentary eternity that Autofireman James Catlow brought everlasting credit to himself as well as everyone in the fire service. Hose Wagon 39 was in a narrow spot in the road, as the fire hit there too fast to actually get set. He was able to get two lines into action, and by working one, he performed superhumanly in an effort to protect his equipment for future use, and to keep the road open for men who were ahead of him. His injuries were not accidentally incurred, as he could have retreated merely 10 yards to relative safety. His act of heroism required unbelievable determination and demonstrates to all to see and realize that a devoted fireman will do his full duty regardless of personal cost.

The fire swept over the Green Verdugo Fire Road on a half-mile front and continued its relentless courses toward the many homes along Day and McGroaaty Streets in Sunland. Attempts were made at both the east and west flanks to stop the downhill progress of the fire, but it quickly outdistanced the available tanks and pumpers were hurried into the Sunland community and the northern movement of the fire was stopped on the slope, before the homes were endangered. At the same time, tractors constructed hasty breaks along the flanks of the fir4e. By 5:00 P.M. this northern front was secured.

An hour later a mass of City and County personnel and equipment was assembled on the eastern flank of the fire on the Green Verdugo Fire Road. Three bulldozers and nearly one hundred men with hose lines and hand tools worked throughout the night to construct a fire break down into La Tuna Canyon. Proof of their good work is attested to by the fact that no amount of wind and flare ups could push the fire across the break they constructed. This type of night operation is very hazardous, and two stuck bulldozers in the burning brush, many falls, and countless crashing boulders impressed this truth on everyone's mind. In spite of the difficulties, everyone was justly proud of their work on the Sunday Fire.

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Monday was the day of big plans. Monday was also the day of big winds. The big plan phase of the day began about two in the morning. Even the most pessimistic planner could vision the final containment of the fire by noon. The "B" shift "firefighter" gave the A shift "cold trailer" the usual pep-talk routine. From all indications the day's work was going to be a routine operation of putting the fire to bed and picking up the hose. By working all through the night on the east and south flanks, the big job was done. We thought!

Around 2:00 a.m., Monday morning, the west flank began to flare up down in Del Arroyo Canyon. It was a lazy little fire without much promise for the future. With reluctance, it was determined that this flank would have to wait until dawn to be secured. Actually the terrain was so rugged and unfamiliar that a night operation was considered too risky to personnel. At the time, it appeared wisest to plan and assemble men and equipment for a daylight attack. Considering everything, it was a rosy dawn on Monday morning.

Now in this area, early morning winds are rare, seldom if ever are they gusty, and they simply never blow to the north west. Yet this was the combination that faced the fire fighter. The prepared line went down into the canyon quickly and an energetic attempt was made to halt the fires westward move. Frustratingly, the fire kept just beyond the reach of the nozzle. Soon the wind took charge of the situation and drove the fire up the north wall of the canyon toward the Sunland Blvd.-Dale Ave. area. This flare-up was aggressively fought, and with a directional change in the wind, was soon controlled.

This change in the wind was certainly no bargain. Because of this severe and gusty north wind, the fire fighter battled one crisis after another from 10 o'clock in the morning until 10 o'clock at night. Control of the fire as utterly out of the question. Just saving homes, taxed the capabilities of the fire fighter to the utmost. For every fireman on the scene, this was certainly one day of trial by fire. With brains, guts and a little water, nearly a hundred homes were saved from destruction or damage by fire.

Tank wagons and Patrol trucks had a field day in this fast traveling fire. For the most part, the fire did not allow enough time for an Engine Company to lay and pick up. Getting set once during the six or seven periods of crisis was a real accomplishment and a well performed task.

The spread of this fire is more easily realized by stating that two mountain Patrolmen in one rig layed hose, fought fire, picked up and moved to the head of the fire, eight separate times during a forty minute period. The success of a score of tank crews is indicated by the low structural loss figures. Ignoring an unknown amount for contents, $12,000.00 should cover the losses of the Nursery office, two garages and the various sheds destroyed.

One illustration of fire fighting during "Operation Leapfrog" can be considered typical of the whole day's work. Envision a rig racing into the yard of a hillside from just minutes ahead of the onrushing fire. Hose lines were quickly laid and loaded by the tired but well drilled crew. The driver stuffs every available garden hose into the top of the tank and starts refilling regardless of the water level in the tank. Hurriedly the structures are closed up, then shrubbery and combustibles are cleared away from the structures and butane tanks. The long cared for cypress hedge is put to the axe, and the wail of the property owner is answered with a friendly "I'll chop-you push." Occasionally burning out ahead of the fire is started where there is time. There the fire hits and for the next 3 or 4 minutes, the fire fighter lives in a nightmare of blowing smoky heat, sparks and dirt while he keeps himself, the structure and the rig covered with water. After the main fire passes, the little fires around the house are extinguished, the roof and eaves wet down, and the inside of the house and attic is checked. Then the hose is "figure eighted" on the top of the rig and the race is on once more to get ahead of the fire. Left behind is one more example to prove that a determined crew with reasonable clearance and a little water can save someone's home and years of memories from destruction by fire.

Monday was a day of successful defensive fire fighting. The fire fighter never looked better in his whole life.

This was the day the wind blew toward the East! During the early morning hours the homes along the upper canyon floor of La Tuna were protected by a large fire fighting force as the fire moved eastward behind them. By nine o'clock in the morning the fire had crossed over and outflanked a fire break that had been laboriously constructed during the night. The wind came up early and began to push a large fire up La Tuna Canyon toward the Tujunga homes that lie in a big brush filled basin at the top of Hillhaven Ave.

As in the rest of the Mountain area, this fire has been preplanned for years by the first-in company and the mountain patrol. A careful survey indicated that 43 homes would be directly threatened by a large fire in this area. By 10 o'clock in the morning this anticipated large fire was an immediate reality. Here again, the speed of the fire vastly increased the danger to the fire fighter and reduced the time of preparation. All available tank wagons, booster tanks, and all Mt. Patrol rigs were rushed to this area. The water supply in the vicinity was reinforced by a hose line up Hillhaven from Foothill Blvd. Through a combination of sound planning, good leadership and a maximum effort by all concerned, we were ready when the fire hit.

The fire had a front of approximately two blocks initially. It was the most impressive phase of the week long battle. Preceding the fire line by 75 yards was a wave of flame over 100 feet high. There was no smoke at ground level and surprisingly little heat as volumes of fresh air were being sucked into the fire. The noise of the fire and the fact that the sun was completely blotted out, contributed more to the unreality of the situation than did the heat.

For the fireman on the scene, there was little or no time to watch the awesomeness of the fire or the queer antics of the domestic animals as they were freed from their pens. It was the same old familiar rush of clearing combustibles away from structures and butane tanks and of laying the all important hose lines.

These facts can be flatly stated here and now. Every home that could be saved by the use of water, was saved. Tank vehicles should not waste any water in wetting down thick brush ahead of such a large fire--save every drop for the personnel, the structure and the rig. The mobility of a water carrying rig in this type of a fight is of singular importance. When one house is safe, pick up, refill and become available to the officer in charge.

The main body of the fire swept over the homes in the Reverie Road-Tranquil Dr. area at about 11 o'clock in the morning. The local inhabitants, who barely got out of the path of the fire with an armload of valuables were afforded a dreadful view from various vantage points. All that could be seen through the smoke and fire were glimpses of firemen working small lines and rigs moving to the various houses. Not even the bravest soul would predict even limited success for the 40 to 50 firemen battling in the area. As the smoke cleared to reveal some homes still safe and as the radio reports began coming in, hope began to push aside the gloom. As before, the combination of guts, water, and a little clearing around the structures had won another battle against a powerful fire.

The emotional impact of this discovery on the part of the home owners cannot be described easily. A person who is forced to abandon his life long possessions and memories to apparently inevitable destruction by fire is not too coherent in his praise and thanksgiving when he finds that all is not lost. Fire and smoke failed to put the lump in the fireman's throat that came with the realization that the babbling praise and tear filled eyes of the local population was not caused by smoke and excitement.

Even with all the efforts of the fireman, the fire took too big of a toll. Structure loss in this area were two homes and garages and nine sheds, all valued at $40,000.00. This figure does not show the value of the contents of the structures, the damaged homes, or the destroyed domestic animals.

Though the main fire moved on to the east to be controlled by bulldozer and camp crews, the Tujunga community was far from safe. At about noon, the fire along the slopes of La Tuna Canyon turned north, and many homes along Verdugo Crestline Dr. were threatened. Each home was protected in turn as the fire came up to it. Even though everyone worked steadily for 2 or 3 hours, the fire nowhere reached its moving intensity.

At 3:00 p.m. drastic action was taken by the fire fighter that for once and for all was to take the initiative away from the fire. Large scale back-firing operations were commenced. It was clearly evident that the fire along the slopes of La Tuna Canyon would continue to burn northward on a wide front. In this area, the green Verdugo Fire Road is on the La Tuna downhill side, and it is not a good defensive position. It was wisely decided to back fire from the road even though a mile and a tenth is quite a fire to deliberately start.

The actual operation was a gigantic affair and smoked over 140 fire fighters and nearly thirty pieces of equipment. It required the hose and pumping duties of nine pumpers to furnish the relay line that was 2.1 miles long. Including patrol rigs, there were about 20 tank wagons used. Working with calculated movement, the job was completed in about six hours. The conduct of the operation was an organizational masterpiece. Additional men and equipment were sent up from Base Camp as they were required. The brush above the fire road was carefully wet down before back firing was commenced. Every inch of this private fire had over-lapping hand lines to keep it under control. Observers at vantage points were constantly on the lookout for spotting behind the back fire. Complete and enthusiastic cooperation on everyone's part was the order of the day. In all, it was a completely safe operation, even if it did scare the Sunland-Tujunga Civilians half out of their wits. They thought we were back firing from Catalina!

At about midnight, the main fire made its last big run. Flames estimated at one hundred feet high roared up to meet the back fire. By this time there were a hundred yards of cleared ground between the Fire Road and the main fire. Only small sparks got into the unburned brush, and in wet brush they did no harm. With the exception of one short lined flare-up on Thursday. The La Tuna Fire was all over but the shouting!

It is not fair to the firemen who successfully executed this operation to slight this phase of the fire. It's not that we pity them for the sweat they expended, but their's was an extremely important job.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday is officially logged as "Patrol and Cold Trail Operations." What a masterpiece of understatement!! Many men swung brush hooks and shovels for hours just to insure that the fire would not eat up one more valuable square foot of ground cover. Headlights and flashlights could be seen at all hours of the night in the areas that had not yet been secured.

This job was hard, unspectacular labor. From no angle can it be considered fun. The hills were steep and rocky and in some places the brush was so thick, axes had to replace the brush hook.

One typical operation took place early Friday morning. A night crew had come out for supper at midnight from a very steep area. They reported growth too big for brush hooks, a ragged fire line with large hot spots well into the unburned brush, and, a hose line at the crack of dawn was agreed upon as the solution for this situation. Men and equipment were assembled and the line was flanked out at the top. The hill was so steep, it took only 12 minutes to get 1750 feet of 1" hose down to the hot spots. Thirty minutes later, the fire was put out for keeps. It took two hours and a half of the most strenuous work to get the hose and crew back to the top. This operation points out the thoroughness and seriousness of the work of the cold trailing crew.

The value of a good cold trail shows up in two important ways. It insures that a fire, once controlled, will not rekindle to embarrass and plague a battleweary fire department. It prevents further burning and guarantees that additional tons of mud and boulders will not be washed down on the homes below when the winter rains strike. The cold trail does nothing for the burned over area, but it can represent thousands of dollars saved from the flood damage toll. The simple log book statement of "Patrol and Cold Trail Operations" represents miles of very successful cold trails and a well performed completion for a job of fire fighting.

The La Tuna Canyon fire didn't go out --it was put out! Every fire fighter can be justly proud of an excellent record and his job well done.


The La Tuna Canyon Fire

La Tuna Canyon is a peaceful little valley nestled between peaks of the high Verdugo Mountains which form the north side of the San Fernando Valley and separate it from the Sunland-Tujunga area of the City of Los Angeles. This valley is popular for its rural atmosphere providing country living within a highly urban community. The primary attraction is the panorama of beautiful trees and orchards lying next to lush brush-covered mountains rising on all sides.

Sunday, November 6, 1955, was a day of low humidity, high temperatures, and fairly strong winds; the sort of day not unheard of, but somewhat unusual for the month of November. The season's rainfall to date in Los Angeles was almost unmeasurable. Hot, dry days with occasional drying winds had created tinder-dry conditions which made one feel that brush would ignite if you so much as snapped your fingers.

Two small boys playing at being campers in their own back yard allowed their kindled campfire to get beyond their control. Very quickly the fire spread to the dry brush nearby. The boy's father attempted to extinguish the fire, but it was beyond his control. At 12:27 p.m., the first fire companies were enroute to a reported brush fire at 9645 La Tuna Canyon Road. It was several days later before these companies were back in quarters.

Until this time, there were many references made to the '38 brush fire in the Santa Monica Mountain area. Old-timers talked about a week or more of straight fire duty. They talked about many problems, of limited water supplies, of severe structural exposures, of wicked fire tricks. They talked about "mountain time," and of going without food and sleep for many hours. They implied, if not directly so stating, that this was the roughest, toughest, and the most unusual fire-fighting experience that a fireman could face. Rookies had little to argue such impressive tales--until 1955.

The La Tuna Canyon fire burned over an area of more than forty-five hundred acres. Two homes and two guest houses were lost, along with several out-buildings, automobiles, trailers, fences and miscellaneous improvements. The fire cost the City of Los Angeles several thousand dollars in extraordinary operating expense. It cost citizens much more than this in property damage and loss of valuable water shed. There is a good chance that winter rains, already starting, may increase the loss through flood damage. Already, plans for flood protection in this area call for expenditures of one hundred thousand dollars. But, property damage as high as it was, is infinitesimal--for a fireman's life was lost!

The initial report of the first-in fire company was that a major brush fire was in progress already involving about twenty acres. A second-alarm assignment was requested and very soon the greatest movement of apparatus and equipment in the history of the Los Angeles Fire Department was under way. Twenty-two calls for additional equipment were made. These ranged from a single unit to six engine companies.

Apparatus was called for and responded as quickly as the need became apparent. Thirty different engine companies, more than one-third of the total L.A.F.D., worked on the fire. Thirty-eight engine companies were involved in move-ups, all but ten of which eventually moved to the fire. Fifteen Tank Wagons, all those in service except three left in strategic locations; nine Booster Tanks, all those in service except one in the Harbor area; ten Patrol rigs; one lone Truck Company; and many miscellaneous apparatus and vehicles responded to the fire. All told, more than one hundred twenty fire department vehicles were operating at the scene of the fire. Almost everything got into the act, possible the only types of apparatus not represented were the Foamites, Water Towers, and Fire Boats.

To gain some appreciation of the potential fire fighting striking force in the wide area of operation, consider these figures:
Water capacity of booster tanks:

  • 30 Engine Companies ----- 9,280 gallons
  • 15 Tank Wagons ---------10,700 gallons
  • 9 Booster Tanks --------- 3,600 gallons
  • Total Capacity --------24,380 gallons

How much water was used on the fire?
Your guess is as good as anyone's. It was plenty, yet not enough to make the job easy. This could be a good problem in hydraulics, if enough factors were known.

Bear in mined that these are all L.A.F.D. equipment. L.A.County worked with nine of their companies and other equipment; the Forestry Service with six units. Both were of inestimable value in helping control this fire.

The first department-wide recall of the off-duty platoon since 1943, during World War II, brought on duty almost the total manpower of the department. Almost every member of the Los Angeles Fire Department was involved in this fire in one way or another. He may have been on the fire lines; transporting men, equipment, or supplies; or fighting fires in other parts of the City. The best estimate of number of men on the fire lines at any one time is four hundred.

Many times firemen found themselves in strange surroundings, working at strange jobs.
A veteran Salvageman suddenly found himself involved in the operation of a pumper in a relay operation;
a Truckman pulled more hose than be believed existed;
a Boatman shoveled madly.
Everybody doing a terrific job and giving credit to everyone else. Even "Hillmen" complimenting "Flat-landers"--and vice versa.

The recall of the off-duty platoon was probably the greatest single factor in the control of the fire. It not only provided reliefs for men on the fire line, but permitted the manning of relief apparatus for active duty to fill vacated engine houses. In at least one instance, this additional manpower was used to good advantage. It eliminated the need for calling for help to handle a king-sized water sweep, the result of a ruptured main in a large department store.

The Signal Office was a busy place throughout the fire. Dispatching and routing so much equipment, and knowing at all times the location of the equipment, was a mammoth problem of communications. Besides dispatching to the big fire, assignments had to be made to other fires, since by no means was there a "fire holiday" in appreciation of the big one. Business calls through the Signal Office were also necessarily considerably more than normal.

Some variations from normal operations had to be made to handle this unusual situation. For example, some Engine Companies equipped with two triple combination apparatus were split and ran as two separate engine companies. Relief apparatus were pressed into service so that even though thirty engine companies were in on the fire, only thirteen engine houses were vacant, and most of these were in areas were coverage could be made quickly.

One of the big differences between this fire and the one of 1938 was the increased and more accurate communications facilities, particularly radio. Most of the apparatus in on the fire were radio equipped. In addition, twenty-eight "handie-talkies" were in service, some of which were brand new from a shipment just received and quickly unpacked for service.

Although a second radio frequency is licensed for fire department use, the system as yet has not been completely installed due to lack of necessary equipment. However, this second frequency was used to great advantage by Radio Service technicians in checking coverage and coordinating repair services without interfering with the heavy air traffic on the existing frequency.

A communications center was established at Base Camp, from which all Signal Offices could be contacted by radio. Although the Base Camp was not located in the best area for radio reception, effective radio communications were maintained at all times with occasional relaying of messages either from unit to unit, or with the help of the Signal Office always ready to complete contacts over dead spots.

The transmission and receiving of radio messages at the Base Camp were by means of "Junior's Casket." This portable emergency unit got its name from the fact that, when closed and ready for transporting, it looks like a small gray casket. Although this unit has been available for emergencies for some time, this is the first time that it has been used at a major fire. The set is a basic mobile unit stepped up to sixty watts, giving it about twice the power of the conventional mobile unit. It can be operated from an A.C. power supply, a three and one-half K.W. portable generator, or storage batteries. Added reception quality was obtained from an antenna thirty feet high.

Radio Service used its station wagon service car equipped with complete radio repair facilities and supply of spare parts. Servicemen were kept busy correcting breakdowns of equipment which was to be expected with apparatus in continuous operation over rough terrain. Many of the difficulties were traced to loose connections due to excessive vibration.

Supplying food at a fire of this magnitude and duration presents a problem of planning and timing. Getting a hot palatable meal to hard-working firemen on time and in adequate amounts is hard enough under normal conditions, can you imagine the difficulties under the stress of this critical brush fire?

Supply and Maintenance, charged with the responsibility of arranging for and delivering an adequate food supply, did a terrific job under adverse conditions. Over two thousand hot meals, more than one thousand sandwiches, and hundreds of dozens of doughnuts and sweet rolls were served to hungry fire fighters. Apples, cakes, cookies, vegetables, salads, and many, many cartons of cold milk were available and consumed. How much coffee? It may have been enough to put out the fire if it could have been delivered to the right place at the right time.

The food bill came to $5,746.70, much more than the department is budgeted for this purpose. As a matter of fact, this sum amounts to about a five year allotment. Thus, emergency funds must be appropriated by the City Council to satisfy the bill collectors.

Less mechanical troubles developed than was anticipated in an operation involving more than a hundred vehicles in rough usage. Only three major mechanical breakdowns required apparatus to go off-duty for an extended period of time. These involved a Tank Wagon with clutch trouble, a Triple Wagon with clutch trouble, a Triple with transmission trouble, and a tractor with a damaged tread.

Several apparatus were damaged by fire, most of which involved minor damage to paint. However, a Hose Wagon was severely damaged and a Buick sedan was almost a complete loss when caught in a sweeping fire running over the Green Verdugo fire road near the junction of the Sherman Grove fire road.

Department mechanics were kept busy with minor mechanical troubles such as replacing radiator hoses, making carburetor adjustments, and correcting electrical system difficulties. Less trouble developed from battery failures than was reasonable to expect with apparatus running steadily and lights and radios in almost continuous use. Six to twelve batteries were either being charged by portable charging units, or in transit to apparatus to prevent delaying shutdowns. The dual battery set-up on later model apparatus proved very helpful in reducing shutdowns due to discharged batteries.

Very little pump trouble developed, and those that did were not serious. Careful and complete routine maintenance by operators is undoubtedly an important factor in the efficiency and reliability of apparatus under extended and rough operating conditions.

Damage to hose through bursting and loss due to fire was relatively minor considering the hazards and strenuous use to which the hose was subjected. The Storeroom delivered 5,000 feet of one and one-half inch hose to the fire to augment that carried by the various companies. The Hose Carriers also provided hose sorely needed at critical points. Hose and equipment was quickly supplied to fully equip seven relief triple combination apparatus for active service. Three of these triples responded to the fire.

Many injuries were suffered by firemen. Unfortunately, the life of Auto-fireman James Catlow was taken when he and other firemen were caught in a wicked trick of the fire sweeping over Green Verdugo fire road. Witnesses say that the action of the fire at this point was in effect a fire storm. About one hundred firemen reported injuries to the Receiving Hospital, about half of which were recommended off-duty. For the most part, firemen were treated for foreign bodies in the eyes, but injuries also included minor scratches, burns and poison oak infection.

Help from other agencies was outstanding. Police work in traffic control was a masterful job which permitted the movement of fire apparatus without undue interference. The Red Cross established evacuation centers at schools and churches to help the many people who were forced to leave their homes for their own safety. The Board of Education was most helpful in making available their facilities for a fire department base of operations. Public utilities, especially the Department of Water and Power were always available and ready to handle any problem that arose in connection with their installations.

This was a big fire--it was a terrible fire--it was an educational fire. Every fire department employee was involved in some way whether actually on the fire lines, or in the background planning and coordinating the many phases of such a large scale operation. Without the close cooperation and earnest effort from every sub-division of the department, the results could have been even more serious. This was a fire where every man had a chance to display initiative--the initiative that saved many a home when the odds were in favor of its burning. This was a fire experience that will be talked about for a long, long time. Here firemen proved themselves, and others were made. This is the Los Angeles Fire Department.


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The Volunteers|Era of the Horses
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