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Incident Name: Stewart Fire, Trabuco District of the Cleveland NF
Date: 12/18/58
Personnel:  Joe E Adam
Age: 34
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service since 1951
Position: FS Assistant Ranger on the Prescott NF (1954-1956), was serving as Forest Ranger at Clarksdale; wildland fire crew supervisor

The Stewart Fire started high in the hills east of San Juan Capistrano, on December 14, 1958 from a tracer bullet shot by a ranch youth in target practice. Conditions were windy. The fire took off and raced west toward the Ortega Highway (Hwy 74).

Joe Adam, a district ranger on the Prescott National Forest in Arizona, and two other supervisors from his forest were dispatched with their Hopi crew to help fight the fire in Tenaja Canyon. Joe Adam was scouting the southeast corner of the fire for his crew. He climbed a rock to get a better look and the wind suddenly shifted. The fire blew up, the flames shot up the mountainside, killing him. Three others behind him barely escaped.

The fire -- the largest recorded in Orange County history at that time -- was contained on Dec. 19, 1958 after it consumed about 66,300 acres. Twenty-two homes were destroyed. It took 2,700 firefighters five days to contain it.

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Fatality Site

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Stewart Fire Investigation Report (needed, not available)
  • Historical Wildland Firefighter Fatalities 1910-1996 | A Publication of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group | Brief Description
    • Date: 1958
    • Fire Name & Location: Stewart Fire, Cleveland NF, CA
    • # Fatalities & Agency: 1,  USFS
    • Fire Behavior Observed: Minor flareup in chaparral under weakening Santa Ana conditions.
    • Remarks: Firefighter scouting in brush ahead of fire.
  • News Articles: Joe Adam named as fallen
Joe Adam named as fallen Joe Adam named as fallen
Joe Adam named as fallen Joe Adam named as fallen
  • Stewart Fire (1958): (no longer online: use the waybackmachine)
    The Stewart Fire is a fire that burned in San Juan Capistrano in 1958, consuming about 66,300 acres, the most in county history. Twenty-two homes were destroyed. The fire started on Dec. 14, 1958 and was contained on Dec. 19, 1958. It took 2,700 firefighters five days to subdue the blaze.

    The fire started with a tracer bullet. High in the hills east of San Juan Capistrano, Jerry Stewart, 21, was shooting targets on his father's ranch. He fired one shot he didn't know was a tracer -- tracer bullets are modified to accept a pyrotechnic charge in their base so they will light brightly when shot. The bullet passed through an oak tree and ignited dry brush on the other side.

    Stewart tried to stamp out the flames, but it was too late.Fanned by strong winds, the fire raced west toward Ortega (74) Highway. Firefighters tried to make a stand at the highway, but embers leapt the road and burned several summer cabins in the San Juan Hot Springs area. They later laid a 2-mile hose line from Los Pinos Peak to the front line. The landscape was so rugged that Marine helicopters had to airlift firefighters to the front.

    Joe Adams, district engineer of Prescott National Forest in Arizona, led a crew to render aid in Tenaja Canyon. He climbed a rock to get a better look at the fire; the flames suddenly surged toward him. He was the fire's only fatality.

  • Doug Campbell, BEHAVE and CPS Risk Mitigation Model Alignment of Forces

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Media Articles and Reports.


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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

Ranger from Yavapai Dies in Coast Flames
From The Prescott Eveninbg Courier: Link to Online Article
Friday, December 19, 1958

The El Cariso Fire Memorial where the drinking fountain included the name Joe E. Adam is located in Riverside Co. at 32353 Ortega Hwy, Lake Elsinore (El Cariso Village), CA 92530. The memorial was also referred to as the "Decker Fire Memorial" by some, however the drinking fountain also included the name of Joe Adam who died on the Stewart Fire on December 18, 1958, not on the Decker Fire in 1959. The story of the memorial and the drinking fountain.

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Contributors to this article: Doug Campbell, Julian "George" Lee


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