Incident Name: Bell Valley Fire
Date: 08/11/1973, approximately 1635 hrs; Died from Injuries 08/28/1973
Personnel: Steve Mark Arrollado
Agency/Organization: Califronia Department of Forestry (Now CAL FIRE)
Summary: On Saturday August, 11 Steve Arrollado was working with an Engineer on an area of the Bell Valley fire. They had deployed a hose lay; the Engineer was in the process of moving the engine, while Arrollado was working the nozzle. Arrollado was quickly overcome by smoke and heat and moved into the burn area in steep terrain. He received 3rd degree over 40% of his body, and 2nd degree burns over another 20%. He was transported by helicopter to the nearest hospital, and then moved to a University Facility that was better equipped to treat burn injuries. He died from his injured on August 28.
Accident Site (approximate)
- Accident Investigation: Full Report (848 K pdf)
- Three decades after young firefighter's death, a memorial will honor him
From the San Diego Union Tribune: Link to Online Article
By Anne Krueger, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
August 20, 2004
Three of Steve Arrollado's sisters, Val Woods of Washington state, Chris Marshall of South Carolina and Dana Abruzzo of Ramona, worked at Abruzzo's home compiling photographs for a tribute to their brother, who died in August 1973 of burns suffered in a fire near Potrero. A long-overdue tribute will be paid tomorrow to a young firefighter whose death 31 years ago brought about changes that made battling wildfires safer.
At the Rancho San Diego headquarters of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, a memorial with a bronze plaque will be unveiled in honor of Steve Arrollado. The seasonal firefighter and Santana High School graduate died Aug. 28, 1973, from burns he suffered 17 days earlier while fighting a fire near Potrero in East County.
The memorial is the result of months of effort by John Harms, who was Arrollado's captain at the CDF Warner Springs station, and by many other firefighters around the county. "It could have been sooner, but it's never too late," Harms said. The memorial, crafted of stone from the area where Arrollado fell, will be dedicated at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at CDF headquarters at 2249 Jamacha Road. The ceremony will be open to the public.
The 18-year-old Arrollado had recently graduated from Santana High in Santee and had worked as a seasonal firefighter for just three weeks when he was critically injured. As a result of his death, CDF firefighters began wearing cotton and fire-retardant clothing instead of polyester shirts and pants that can burn into the skin. The incident that led to Arrollado's death is still used as part of the training classes at the CDF academy for firefighters.
Steve Arrollado was 18 when he died of injuries suffered while fighting a fire. "Just about any wild-land firefighter you speak with today will say, 'Oh yeah, I remember that class,' " Harms said. "It has benefited thousands of firefighters."
CDF Capt. Bob Alvarez attended school with Arrollado and is still friends with his younger brother, Jim. He said the death of Novato firefighter Steven Rucker in the October wildfires was the impetus that renewed interest in creating a memorial to Arrollado.
Alvarez said Rucker was the first firefighter since Arrollado to die or suffer major burn injuries while battling a wildfire in San Diego County. "To lose only one says a lot for the training that we've gone through and how we've used Steve's accident as something to learn from," Alvarez said.
Arrollado and another firefighter were trying to contain a 350-acre fire about one-fourth of a mile south of state Route 94 when the blaze rapidly got bigger than they expected. Arrollado, who was fighting his first major brush fire, was overcome by smoke and flames. His clothing caught fire, and he was badly burned.
He was taken to Route 94, where a television news crew covering the fire taped his rescue. A U.S. Forest Service helicopter landed on the freeway, Arrollado was taken aboard, and the helicopter then took off into the smoke-filled sky. Initially, Arrollado's friends and family thought he might survive his burns, but he died of respiratory arrest at University Hospital's burn center, now known as UCSD Medical Center.
Members of Arrollado's family are coming from around the country to attend the unveiling of his memorial. Jim Arrollado, a Rancho San Diego resident, fondly recalled his rivalry with his brother over sports. Both played football and basketball, sometimes on the same team.
"We were very close," Arrollado said. "We had a lot of love for each other." Arrollado's sister, Dana Abruzzo of Ramona, remembered her brother as a quiet person with a gentle spirit. She said she was moved by the effort to create a tribute to him. "I just find it amazing that this has been in someone's heart this long," she said. "It's a testament to the type of person Steve was. He touched a lot of hearts."
Harms said he never forgot Arrollado, even after he quit as a CDF firefighter in the late 1970s and went into a private manufacturing business. He said every firefighter he contacted wanted to help with the memorial. "As a firefighter, there's just a connection that doesn't go away," Harms said. "We should have done this a long time ago."
- Tribute in the Burn Institute Beacon, San Diego - From Page 4 (824K pdf); no longer online
On Saturday, August 21, 2004 a memorial was dedicated In Memory of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Firefighter Steve Arrollado–31 years after his death. A Santana High School graduate, Steve made the ultimate sacrifice for his profession in his efforts to protect others. Steve died from burn injuries suffered in the line of duty fighting a brush fire in Bell Valley, east of Portreo on August 28, 1973. As a direct result of this tragedy, new safety requirements were implemented which included flameresistant clothing and improved survival training for all wildland firefighters.
A monument was built at the Monte Vista California Department of Forestry Station on Jamacha Road. Friends, family, and more than 200 fire service and forestry personnel attended the dedication emceed by Santee Fire Chief and Burn Institute Board Member Bob Pfohl. Family members flew in from as far away as Washington and North Carolina to pay tribute. The effort was spearheaded by former CDF Captain John Harms, who, along with many other caring volunteers from the fire service and the community, made this memorial possible. Sincere appreciation is extended to a number of individuals and organizations for their donations of time and memorial gifts.
- California Memorial Firefighter Wall in Sacramento, CA: California Memorial LODDs by Wall Order. (84 K pdf) --see page 13
Contributors to this article: FC 180, SoCal Cal Fire
Please support the Wildland Firefighter Foundation