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Incident Name:  La Tuna Canyon Fire, a series of windswept fires burned over 5 days.
Date: 11/6/55 (died 11/14/55)
Personnel:  James L. Catlow
Age: 35
Agency/Organization: Los Angeles Fire Department Engine Company 39
Position: Auto Fireman

Summary: From the La Tuna Canyon Fire Report: ... 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.

4500 acres burned, along with 2 residences, 2 guest houses, several out-buildings, some cars and trailers.

James Catlow from the LAFD Memorial Archive

James Catlow, LAFD Auto Fireman James Catlow, LAFD Auto Fireman

La Tuna Canyon Firestorm La Tuna Canyon Firestorm

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In the Verdugo Mountains (NE San Fernando Valley).

La Tuna Canyon Fire Map La Tuna Canyon Fire Map

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Map of the Fires of 1955: California Aflame 8/27-9/13 (500 K pdf)
  • LAFD memorial website reported:

    "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."

  • LA Fire: The La Tuna Canyon Brush Fire of 1955 in memory of James Catlow

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