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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.

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Accident Site (approximate)

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

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Media Articles and Reports.

1987 deaths of Denis Cullins and others 1987 deaths of Denis Cullins and others
1987 deaths of Denis Cullins and others 1987 deaths of Denis Cullins and others
  • 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).

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

Denis Cullens Monument near Ukiah, CA Denis Cullens Monument near Ukiah, CA
Denis Cullens Memorial Plaque near Ukiah, CA Denis Cullens Memorial Plaque near Ukiah, CA
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

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Contributors to this article: John Watt, John Hawkins, NorCalTom, Connor Zwicky, Bob Zwicky for monument photos, Mellie, SoCal CalFire

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