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Incident Name: Barrett-Cottonwood Morena Fire on the Cleveland NF
Date: 10/2/43
Personnel: 11 lives lost
Age: 17-20 years old
Agency/Organization: US Marine Corps and US Army

9 US Marine Corpsmen
Roger D Kirkpatrick, WA
George F Lehman, CO
Ralph O Peters, OK
Frank O Rogers, CA
Wilbur V Rossen, MN
Norman L Shook, IN
Ishmael W Wesson, TN
L Rex Wheasel, IN
Elmer C Winkelman, CA
1 US Army, 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldier)
Leroy Carter
1 unknown
(possible civilian)

More than 70 Marines from the Pine Valley training camp and the 10th Army Buffalo Soldiers Cavalry Regiment from Camp Lockett fought the fire on 10/2/43, building indirect handline in a steep drainage. When the strong Santa Anas (E winds) diminished, the normal canyon SW winds increased, reversing the direction of the fire and pushing the marines up into Hauser Canyon. Their retreat to a safe area was cut off. Almost all were caught and injured; 4 outran the fire. 9 Marines and 1 Army soldier (and possibly 1 civilian) were overrun and died.

Hauser Creek Memorial to the Marines that died Hauser Creek Memorial to the Marines that died

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Approximate Burnover Location

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Hauser Creek Fire Investigation: Report (1,784 K pdf)
  • Excerpts from an historical military internet page: The California State Military Museum, A United States Army Museum Activity

    Although the troops received extensive training in the art of soldiering, they were not prepared for fighting fires, a job they were often called upon to perform. According to Col. William L. Hastie, who was stationed with the 10th Cavalry at Lockett as a second lieutenant, "God knows most of us didn't love fighting fires, [but] we often found ourselves doing it on weekends when we had other things we would rather do." (reference 96: from Col. William L. Hastie, USAR, Pismo Beach, California to James Hinds, Alpine, California, 13 June 1987, 5, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, 10th Cavalry Box, Campo, California.)

    In September and October of 1943, four major fires ravaged 25,100 acres of the back country. On 9 September, the Indian Creek Fire destroyed 4,100 acres. On 22 September, two fires erupted; the Potrero fire burned 4,000 acres, the Viejas fire 1,000 acres. The biggest and most devastating fire began on 2 October. Known as the Barrett-Cottonwood-Morena Fire, it destroyed 16,000 acres over a five-day period. (reference 97: from San Diego Union, 7 October 1943, sec. B, p. 1)

    Troops from Lockett (Campo) were called on to fight the fire. In addition, marines from a small training facility in Pine Valley were trucked in. While fighting the blaze in Hauser Canyon several miles northwest of Campo, five of the marines burned to death when they were overtaken by the fast-moving fire. (reference 98: from San Diego Union, 5 October 1943, 1-2) Four died later in the naval hospital in San Diego.

    The following day on October 3, Cpl. Lawrence Carter was also killed by the fire in Hauser Canyon. According to Hastie, Carter became separated from the main body of soldiers fighting the fire. When the corporal found himself surrounded by the fire, he attempted to escape by running up a hill. He was unable to outrun the blaze and burned to death. (reference 99: from Col. William L. Hastie to Jim Hinds, 13 June 1987, 10 Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, CA.)

  • Mountain Empire Historical Society, story of long ago San Diego by Jeff Smith: The Hauser Canyon Fire: Part 1 (478 K pdf) | Part 2 (874 K pdf) | Part 3 (1,198 K pdf)
  • VFW Magazine, March, 2003.
    Two hard hours of intensive fireline work found the Marines being forced into Hauser Canyon. Things got progressively worse because of the canyon’s especially steep slopes. Rushing flames pushed the Marines into a rut. Wind shifts and inversions of flame sheets cut off their retreat to a safe area. Three Leathernecks thought they could race through a wall of flame and break into a safe zone. But the fire front was deep and wide, and they became the first of 10 men to die there. Four Marines later died in the Naval Hospital in San Diego. The next day, now reinforced by the 28th Cavalry, 10th troopers were starting a backfire when a corporal became separated from his platoon. Running uphill close to the fire, he was burned to death. Besides the 10 fatalities, 73 military personnel suffered burn injuries. "The Marines and federal foresters had retreated before the rushing flames" reported The San Diego Union. "A wind shift sent fire leaping at them, and cut off their retreat ... The fire `ran over’ them, and although none of the leaping flames actually touched the men, five more -- four Marines and a soldier -- died of burns suffered in the heat."
  • Laguna Hotshots: Hauser Staff Ride

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Contributors to this article: Laguna Hotshots, SoCal CalFire

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