Incident Name: Lauder Fire, 22 mi NE of Willits, CA
Date: 09/29/87, approximately 1000 hrs
Personnel: D. Lee Cullins of Arcata, CA
Age: 29 years
Agency/Organization: California Department of Forestry (now CAL FIRE)
Position: Helitack Crew Member
Summary: On the morning of September 29, 1987, near Willits in Lake County, CA, five members of the Helitack crew on Copter 102 from Kneeland Helitack in Humboldt County, were removing vegetation in the path of a "spot fire" started by embers which were blown a short distance ahead of the main Lauder Fire. The larger fire suddenly roared in their direction and the smaller spot fire merged with it. All 5 crew members were entrapped and deployed their shelters. Denis Cullins died and the others suffered burn injuries covering 15 to 50 percent of their bodies.
MTDC did a review of the fire shelter's performance. Annual wildland firefighter refreshers present the incident for lessons learned.
Accident Site (approximate)
- California Department of Forestry: Green Sheet
- Review of Fire Shelter Performance: From MTDC
- LA City Fire Department Brush Fire Operations Manual, circa 1991, search on Lauder (1,755 K pdf)
- NWCG Safetygram for 1987 (single page excerpt)
- Lauder Fire Fatality Case Study, (17 min) Wildlandfire Lessons Learned Center YouTube, Published April 20, 2012
- Theysaid: J. Watt's Lauder Fire Bullet Points 5/27/05 excellent bare bones description of what happened (then scroll up one)
- Wildland Firefighter Memorials and Monuments Photo Page
- From an AP article in the Lodi News Sentinel on 10/3/87
- The incident was filmed by an inmate correctional officer, who turned it over to an investigating officer. The video tape was stuffed in the officer's sleeping bag to protect it from the heat, but the bag was stolen from the officer's vehicle when he stopped at the Lake County coroner's office en route to have the tape duplicated, said county spokesman Jim Wattenburger.
- Marijuana growers may be linked to fires
10/11/87 Online article (no longer online)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California forest officials believe warring marijuana growers may have ignited the fires that killed one firefighter and destroyed thousands of acres of timberland on the North Coast.The largest fire began in a marijuana drying shed in Lake County, Loren Poore, a regional law enforcement officer for the Department of Forestry, said. "We do not know if it was an accidental or intentionally caused fire, but this is the one that caused our crew of firefighters assigned to a helicopter to be overrun. One was killed and four were seriously burned," Poore said. The blaze, known as the Lauder fire, spread from the marijuana shed and nearby garden to 1,250 acres before it was controlled. Poore said CDF personnel and the Lake County Sheriff's Department were looking for suspects, who could be charged with murder in the case. CDF Director Jerry Partain said several fires in the North Coast region may... (see the link for the rest of the article).
- USFA Database: Denis Lee Cullins
- Directions to the Memorial Location can be found on the WLF.com Monument/Memorial Page
Here are photos of the firefighter memorial for Denis Lee Cullins who died on September 29, 1987 on the Lauder fire. Denis was a Helitack crew member on Copter 102 from Kneeland Helitack in Humboldt Co. California. I was part of the rescue team that treated and medivaced the crew off the fire. This process took several hours from locating the crew to treating their burns and placing them in burn kits. Then a Coast Guard helicopter with a cable winch raised each victim one at a time off the fire and flew them to a waiting medical helicopter that flew the the burn center in Chico, CA. ...Zwicky
- California Memorial Firefighter Wall in Sacramento, CA: California Memorial LODDs by Wall Order. (84 K pdf) --see page 17
Contributors to this article: John Watt, John Hawkins, NorCalTom, Connor Zwicky, Bob Zwicky for monument photos, Mellie, SoCal CalFire
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